With flaming torch in hand, a group of runners made its way down Calle Real in Santa Barbara on Wednesday, flanked by patrol cars.
In the midday sun, the runners pounded the pavement in their sneakers, carrying the torch high.
In Southern California alone, more than 4,000 officers and Special Olympics athletes run 1,500 miles with the "flame of hope" to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics.
Led by California Highway Patrol Cmdr. Mark D'Arelli, the group made a stop Wednesday in the parking lot of the CHP Office at 6465 Calle Real to talk with reporters about the run and the fundraising efforts.
Earlier in the day, officials from California State Parks handed off the torch from Refugio State Beach Park, and D'Arelli and his group ran the torch for 5 miles during their leg of the journey. By the end of the day Wednesday, the torch would be handed off at the Ventura County line.
Multiple agencies were involved in the run this year, including the CHP, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Barbara Police Department, the UCSB Police Department, California State Parks, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, the county Probation Office and the Special Olympics Southern California Santa Barbara Region Office.
Michelle Duke, with the local Special Olympics office, said the organization serves 425 athletes in the Santa Barbara area and thanked the efforts of law enforcement for volunteering for the run and for the work they do throughout the year with fundraisers like Tip-a-Cop events.
The mission of the Special Olympics, which began in 1968, is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, D'Arelli said, and law enforcement agencies have been involved with the torch run tradition since it began in the early 1980s.
He's participated in the torch run for more than 15 years and said Special Olympics events serve people with disabilities by "helping them feel welcome in their communities and develop a profound belief in themselves."
Sheriff's Lt. Butch Arnoldi coordinated the southern Santa Barbara County torch run and said that last year, $1.4 million was raised in Southern California during the run, adding that $100,000 of that was raised in Santa Barbara County.