Lifestyle

Special Olympics torch passes through North Kitsap

By TARA LEMM

Staff Writer

HOOD CANAL — The closure of the Hood Canal Bridge couldn’t stop this tradition from happening.

As the sun’s brilliant reflection ignited the waters of the canal, it embraced the two canoes paddling westward in a magnificent spotlight.

The canoes were navigated by the Port Gamble S’Kalallam Tribe’s canoe family, who transported with them a symbol of enduring perseverance: The Special Olympics Torch, known as the “Flame of Hope.”

Once docked on dry land after the hour-long journey from Kitsap to Jefferson County and back, Jason Hedstrom, a deputy sheriff with the Kitsap County Sheriff Department, excitedly ran out to the dock and took hold of the torch. Within a matter of seconds a flame burst forth and one leg of the annual journey had been completed.

Each year at the end of May, law enforcement officers across the nation participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, raising community awareness and support for the Special Olympics.

The local torch run began Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., six miles west of Port Angeles, as Clallam and Jefferson county law enforcement officers carried the torch to the edge of Jefferson.

Ron Cameron, chief criminal deputy with the Clallam County Sheriffs Department, ran with the torch about 20 years ago. He said several years back offices on the Olympic Peninsula stopped participating in the run, but started up a few years ago after a luncheon he attended with his boss.

“My boss leans over to me and says, ‘You’ve got something to do,’” Cameron said. “This is the second year of the revival.”

Cameron contacted the tribe to see if they’d help out by carrying the torch across the canal.

Kim Freewolf, a member of the S’Klallam Tribe’s canoe family, said carrying the torch across might become something the tribe participates in each year.

Law enforcement officers in Kitsap have been participating in the run for the last nine years, and on Thursday carried the torch from the Hood Canal Bridge to the Tacoma Narrows.

The annual torch run coincides with the start of the Special Olympics Washington Summer Games, which take place this weekend at the McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis.

Sixteen North Kitsap Special Olympic Viking swim team members are competing at the state tournament on Saturday.

This weekend’s event for the 16 Viking swimmers mirrors the paramount accomplishment and excitement of athletes who are qualifying for the international Olympic Games.

“It is their own personal Olympics,” said Special Olympics swim team head coach Darla Sargent. “This is more important than Christmas and birthdays. These kids swim for this event. It’s an exciting day.”

She said from the time she starts working with the swimmers at the beginning of the year the only wish they have is to perform well at the regional tournament so they can qualify to swim at the state games. A swimmer must win a single gold at regionals to advance to state, and that gold medallion qualifies them for all their races at state, regardless of placement at regionals.

Each of the Vikings will swim four races at state.

And if they win a ribbon or medal that’s an experience they cherish for a lifetime, as it shows them, “That beyond their disability they can compete in a sport that’s highly technical and still win” Sargent said.

“If they get a ribbon they’ll hang it around their neck until school’s out. They don’t come easy. It’s a huge accomplishment,” she continued. “When you see the joy on their face when they do win it is genuine pure happiness. It goes beyond what I’ve seen in team sports in high school.”

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