JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro officers and firefighters have joined forces to help local athletes get to the Special Olympics.
The annual Law Enforcement Torch Run kicked off Tuesday morning.
Officers and firefighters took off their gear and put on some running shoes to make a difference in a different way.
Detective Brian Arnold with the Jonesboro Police Department said this event is an important one.
"We raise more money for Special Olympics every year," Arnold said. "We raise money through a number of fundraisers. The event today is more about raising awareness for our athletes who have intellectual disabilities."
Detective Arnold said all it takes it getting involved once to want to help.
"The reason I've done it all these years is once you get involved you get to know the athletes," Arnold said. "It's not a person you're seeing on a part-time basis. It's not something you see once a year. A lot of these athletes are my friends. When I first started going to state competitions, I got to give a lot of awards to the athletes. But, over the years, I've made so many friends I don't give out as many awards because I've got to watch them participate. They'll call me a week ahead of time to make sure I know when they're competing. So, a lot of my time now is spent watching my athletes participate in the games. I've met athletes from all over the state and some who are international gold winners."
Zach Chester, a firefighter with the Jonesboro Fire Department, said he helped with one event and was immediately hooked.
"I did a fundraiser and I enjoyed the camaraderie with the officers and fellow firemen," Chester said. "Then I decided I was going to help out with one of the events and the athletes sealed the deal. When you see the athletes light up when they get their awards, when you watch them compete it's a feeling you don't get anywhere else."
Arnold said attending the Special Olympics makes a huge difference in the lives of our Region 8 athletes.
"It's the ability to compete," Arnold said. "Whether they win or lose, they're just happy to be able to compete. And competition drives people and it always makes you better. When these athletes come in and they win a bronze medal they say I'll be better next year. But I got my bronze medal and I'm just as happy about that as I am getting a gold medal. And they're just as happy with their friends getting the gold medal as they are. So, it's really heartwarming to see them participate and give 100% every time. . .it just gets you."
Arnold said all the money they raise helps local athletes with their costs.
"We have seven athletes and unified partners that are going to the USA games," Arnold said. "The games are in July. That costs around $2,000 a piece, but we pay 100% of that. Arkansas is one of only five states that does that. Most other states require athletes to pay a portion of that. So, all the money we raise with the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Tip a Hero and the Polar Bear Plunge all stays here in Arkansas to support our athletes."
Chester said watching the athletes compete and interact with each other will change your life.
"People need to come out and volunteer just for the athletes," Chester said. "When you see the athletes light up, when you see the fire in their eyes as they compete or their faces when they receive their award it's amazing. If they get a bronze instead of a gold, they're still thrilled. It's something that you don't see every day. These athletes are incredible. Their drive, determination and heart is unmeasurable."
Arkansas has 14,000 to 15,000 athletes who attend Special Olympics from all age groups.
There are 21 competitions they get to participate in.
If you are interested in getting involved by volunteering or donating, click here.