Ronnie Moreno , clutching a gold torch, grinned as the flame was lit Wednesday afternoon just outside Big Mama's and Papa's Pizzeria near the border of Burbank and Glendale.
The 52-year-old had just been handed the torch from by a member of the Burbank Police Department, and within seconds, he was off to run 5.5 miles through Glendale, surrounded by an entourage of Glendale police officers — some running, others following on motorcycles.
Moreno, who was representing the Glendale Assn. for the Retarded, has been running in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run for 12 years, and his favorite part — by far — is holding the torch while he runs.
He was joined by nine runners from the Glendale Police Department, which participates in the run every year to help raise money for the Special Olympics.
"There's no hero like these folks," said Glendale Police Officer Sue Shine, who has participated in the torch run for 13 years. "There's just so much joy."
More than 2,000 law enforcement officers from throughout Southern California — including 11 from Burbank — participated in the five-day, 500-mile run, which ends at Cal State Long Beach on Friday. The Special Olympics will kick off at the school on Saturday.
Last year, 125 law enforcement agencies raised nearly $1.2 million for the Special Olympics, which helps fund training, uniforms and transportation for the Olympians.
"I think it's the easiest way to give back to the community while still promoting the importance of health and fitness," said Hayley Stevens, wellness coordinator for the Glendale Police Department, on participating in the run. "I hope that we can all be a motivating force for the Special Olympians."
In its more than three decades, the torch run has raised $414 million for the program, which includes 125 runs in 48 countries.
"Every year, we get to see the joy on their faces because we care enough to do it," said Burbank Police Sgt. Scott Meadows, after his 4.5-mile run through Burbank.
During the run, city and local business employees waved at, photographed and cheered on the runners.
"It's awesome," Meadows said.