January 29, 2009 in Idaho

Special Olympics torch arrives in North Idaho

Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Special Olympic athlete James Neeson, from Maghera, Ireland, holds the miner’s lamp that carried the Flame of Hope into Coeur d’Alene during the arrival ceremony Thursday, Jan. 29. The Special Olympics Flame of Hope, lit almost three months ago in Athens, Greece, where it began a 37,000 mile voyage across five continents, arrived in Coeur d’Alene to begin the final leg of its journey to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games.
(Full-size photo)

The Flame of Hope has arrived in Coeur d’Alene and is heading for the start of the Special Olympics World Winter Games in southwest Idaho.

The torch began its trek across Idaho on Thursday and is scheduled to be carried by runners through nearly 60 cities.

On Feb. 7, the flame will light the Olympic cauldron at the Idaho Center in Nampa to mark the opening of the games.

Michael Team, a major in the Raleigh, N.C., police department, is one of 118 volunteer runners carrying the torch through Idaho, which is the final leg and called the Law Enforcement Torch Run.

“In law enforcement, you usually get to see the downside of people,” Team told the Idaho Statesman. “No one calls the police when everything’s great. This was the chance to do something positive.”

The torch was lit in Athens, Greece, on Nov. 12 and traveled across four continents before arriving in the United States on Jan. 13.

Since then it has been carried in New York, Los Angeles and during the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C.

In Idaho, 16 identical torches will be used to carry the flame by sets of runners who will cover different sections of the route. More than 70 public ceremonies are planned as the flame makes its way across the state.

Like Team, many of the torch carriers in Idaho are law enforcement officers. Some are from as far away at Turkey and Bulgaria.

Team has been volunteering for 20 years to carry the torch, getting hooked when he started making connections with the athletes.

“You get involved thinking you want to help them,” he said. “But really, you’re the one who receives the personal blessing.”

The run through Idaho will raise about $85,000 for the games.

“We’re called the ’guardians of the flame,”’ said Jim Kerns, Boise deputy police chief and organizer of the Idaho run. “Our responsibility is to make sure the flame gets to the games safely and on time.”

The games are expected to draw 3,000 athletes from as many as 113 countries.

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