By Jack Sarantos
While the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games are a special time and event for the organization and its athletes, the lead up to the games rivals it in thrill and dedication. Every year leading up to the Summer Games, over 1,200 law enforcement officers across the Southern California work together to run over 900 miles through 200 communities, taking part in what’s known as the Law Enforcement Torch Run® Final Leg. Starting on May 28, officers run with the Flame of Hope, a lit torch that officially initiates the start of the Summer Games when it arrives at the Games.
Nate Tortorica is one of those runners and a police officer who has been with the Santa Maria Police Department for over 10 years. He first heard of Special Olympics Southern California back during his rookie year with the force in 2008. That year would mark his first involvement with SOSC with him taking part in the Final Leg. Nate ran in the Northern Santa Barbara County portion of the Final Leg, specifically the 7-mile run through Santa Maria.
“The rewarding nature of the Final Leg was seeing the athletes participation and excitement, said Nate. “It is always the highlight of the run…after all, we run for (and with) them.”
The Final Leg represents many things to Officer Tortorica. Among those many things, equality, compassion, and competition are symbolized through the running of the Flame of Hope. “The athletes compete to win, but camaraderie supersedes success” says Officer Tortorica.
Besides taking part in the Final Leg, Nate has attended Special Olympics competitions before, saying that softball was his favorite sport to watch.
Officer Tortorica says he was shocked by the athletes’ raw support for the law enforcement’s engagement with the Special Olympics. He said that one athlete that won a competition declined a medal from Tommy Lasorda, saying he wanted an “everyday joe” like Officer Tortorica to do the honors of putting it around his neck.