Holding a torch for Special Olympics

Coast Highway turned into a running trail for police, lifeguards and firefighters Thursday morning.

Public safety personnel from Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, UC Irvine and the city of Irvine passed a torch throughout Orange County as a lead-up to the June 8 and 9 Special Olympics Southern California at Cal State Long Beach.

About 20 employees from Laguna's Police, Fire and Marine Safety departments donned T-shirts and running shoes for a 5.5-mile jog that took them from the police station on Forest Avenue north along Coast Highway to Newport Coast Drive, where the torch was passed to Newport Beach police.

Laguna safety personnel ran in the bike lane, buffered by a police escort and a fire engine.

Firefighter Zack DeJohn and Fire Capt. Thomas Padden each ran half of the leg and took turns driving the fire engine.

Lifeguard Tom Cantrell, 26, has a good friend with cerebral palsy. The two met when they were 5.

"He's doing good," Cantrell said. "I still see him often."

Joseph Gorin, 25, of Laguna Niguel, who ran the Laguna portion, sipped Gatorade as the group waited to hand off the torch to Newport.

Gorin, who has cerebral palsy, is set to play golf in the Special Olympics.

He wasn't sure if he was going to continue onto the next portion with the Newport officers, who would run the torch up Coast Highway to Dover Drive and onto Irvine Avenue — a total of seven miles — where Costa Mesa police would take over.

"It depends on my legs," said Gorin, who walks to the bus stop every day to go to his accounting job at Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo.

Newport Beach Police Officer Nate Farris, whose cousin has autism, participated in the run for the first time.

"It's about giving back to the community," he said.

Det. Brad Miller has run the past two years.

"It's great for the kids," he said. "We have fun and it's doing something for a good cause."

Costa Mesa police were set to run the torch four miles through the city to hand it off to UCI police, who would then run it through campus to hand off to city officers. Irvine police carried the torch for four miles before giving it to Tustin police.

More than 4,000 officers and Special Olympics' athletes are likely to run 1,500 miles through 200 Southern California communities from May 28 to June 8, according to the organization's website.

"This is the one time to show the community ...[that law enforcement officers] are giving back," said John Watkins, torch run manager for Special Olympics of Southern California.

More than 1,100 athletes will compete in six sports, including basketball, gymnastics and bocce, at the Special Olympics.

Richard LaMunyon, a police chief in Wichita, Kan., created the torch run in 1981 as a way to involve officers in raising awareness for the Special Olympics.

This year, more than 85,000 law enforcement officers from across 35 countries are expected to participate in the run.

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