Run the Course: Fundraiser for Special Olympics

Plainville has a long history of supporting Special Olympics. Above, Irene Alonzo carries the torch in to a recent gymnastics event in February at Farmington Valley Gymnastics. Alonzo was escorted by State Trooper Greg Fascendini and his K9 Ale.

STAFF WRITER

Just across Plainville’s border, a starting line has been drawn to raise money for the Special Olympics Connecticut, and the Law Enforcement Torch Run that benefits it. A 5K run or walk, “Run the Course,” is being planned for April 27 at Hawks Landing Country Club, 201 Pattonwood Dr. in Southington.

Race officials are reaching out to as many towns and cities as possible to encourage their participation in the race. The race will be led off by the Southington Police Department, along with officers representing their own communities, followed by first responders, school staff and students.

“We are looking to get as much community involvement as we can get, because I think for everyone, it brings such awareness,” said race director Gina LaPorte. “This could be the start of bringing this race from state to state, like the torch runs do.”

Gina’s husband, Dan Laporte, selected the golf course as the race course.

“It’s the first of its kind that we know of where people are going to run on the golf course,” he said. “That way it’s safer, less intrusive to neighbors, we won’t have to close roads or worry about traffic. We thought it’d be a fun concept to start something like this and hopefully it will grow to other communities and be continued.”

The LETR began in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas when Kansas police chief Richard LaMunyon thought up the concept to help law enforcement be active in the community and support Special Olympics Kansas. Two years later, LaMunyon presented the program to the international association of chiefs of police (IACP), who decided to endorse LETR, helping it to become the largest public awareness and fundraising group for Special Olympics. Now, LETR goes state to state to raise money for each state’s Special Olympics.

Last year, LETR ran through Southington and rallied community support. The experience was inspiration for Gina and Dan LaPorte to create “Run the Course” to benefit LETR.

“When I did the torch run last year, I was just so excited,” said Gina. “Superintendent Tim Connellan played a huge role. He timed it so that every school they ran by, he had the entire schools come outside. The whole town participated. It was so cool.”

Holly Dougherty, wife of Bob Dougherty who runs Special Olympics Connecticut, said LETR “gives you goosebumps,” and not only empowers the runners, but empowers the athletes, too.

“These law enforcement do this on their own time,” said Dougherty. “We always see negative things about law enforcement and this is just such a beautiful thing they do.”

According to the regional director of LETR Joe Carlone, law enforcement raised over $59 million last year for athletes around the world through fundraisers like “tip a cop,” “cops on tops,” and “polar plunge.”

“It’s a passion, and I always say it’s something that law enforcement does for the love of the athletes, because they bring so much joy and happiness to our lives,” said Carlone. “The athletes are happy when they see us and see what we do for them, but they bring more to us than we do to them.”

Runners will meet at the Southington High School and be shuttled over to the race course. Runners will receive their bibs on the shuttle ride.

During and after the race, a cash bar will be open until 11 a.m. All participants over age 21 have one bloody Mary, mimosa or beer on the house. All athletes will be provided with food and water.

Organizers of the race hope to see community organizations come forward to run the course, including sports teams, clubs, businesses and more.

Registration is $15 for sports team members, $35 for other runners, and “virtual runners” can donate $25. The race begins at 8 a.m. Shuttle service from the high school will run from 6:30 to 11 a.m. To register for the race, visit localraces.com. Select “Southington” and type “Run the Course.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.