Annual Torch Run celebrates Thunder Bay's Special Olympics athletes and supporters

For Thunder Bay's Special Olympics athletes, the program is about more than just sports.

Event also a fundraiser for local Special Olympics programs

Special Olympics athletes, coaches, supporters, and volunteers begin the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run on Sunday at Chapples Park in Thunder Bay. (CBC News)

For Thunder Bay's Special Olympics athletes, the program is about more than just sports.

"The reality is Special Olympics is not just a sport organization," said Thunder Bay Police Const. Julie Tilbury, coordinator of the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics.

"It is also, for a lot of them, their lives," she said. "It's where their best friends are, it's where they get their supports for every day activities."

That's why, Tilbury said, events like the Torch Run — which took place at Chapples Park in Thunder Bay — are so important.

It's a show of support for the city's Special Olympics programs and their athletes, volunteers and coaches — participants walked a lap around the Chapples loop, carrying the Special Olympics torch, had refreshments and played games — but it's also a fundraiser.

And given that Special Olympics programs are important to participants for so many reasons, Tilbury said it's vital it's accessible as possible.

"We don't want to have any financial barriers," she said. "Special Olympics will offer programming at very reasonable rates to athletes who want to compete."

A 'great fundraiser'

Denita Minoletti, treasurer and event coordinator for the Thunder Bay chapter of Special Olympics Ontario, said the Torch Run is one of the larger fundraisers for the program, raising over $100,000 over the last several years.

"It's a great fundraiser for us," she said. "It's great awareness, the athletes absolutely love to be out."

Minoletti said Special Olympics runs 18 sports in Thunder Bay, as well as the Active Start program for people aged two to six. About 375 athletes participate, she said.

Money raised at events like the Torch Run goes to "equipment, running our sports, startup of sports, helping with travel when our athletes have to go to competition."

Tilbury expected Sunday's Torch Run to raise about $15,000.