NORMAL - Thousands of excited athletes, fans, volunteers, parents and coaches converged on the Illinois State University campus on Friday for opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games. Photo gallery
Josh Latina of the Carpentersville Police Department carried the Flame of Hope into a packed Bone Student Center for a reception during the final leg of the 1,500-mile Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Torch Run participants arrived at ISU with an escort of motorcycles and squad-car sirens blaring.
It was Latina's first year participating in the fund-raiser, and he ended up with the torch by sheer chance.
"I've never experienced anything like this. Just the smiles on everyone's faces. The energy they have is overwhelming."
About 3,600 athletes and partners will compete in six sports over the weekend, with the help of 1,700 coaches, 2,000 family members and 2,500 volunteers.
The Torch Run is part of a series of events the law enforcement community does leading up to the Summer Games to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics Illinois.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan praised the law enforcement community at the reception prior to Friday night's ceremonies at Hancock Stadium.
"To me, this is the most exciting, enjoyable event I go to all year," she said.
Madigan hailed Torch Run participants for raising about $2 million for Special Olympics Illinois this year, noting when the fund-raiser began 21 years ago it raised $14,000.
Athletes ready to compete
Dustin Dickens of Elburn started competing in the Special Olympics when he was eight.
Now 22, he has three gold medals for powerlifting. He said Friday he is already looking ahead to the World Summer Games in China in October.
"It's gonna be like I'm the champ," said Dickens.
Pam Stivers of Wheeling, mother of Kristine Stivers, 19, who competes in the softball throw, said she finds the Summer Games so thrilling words cannot describe it.
"It's overwhelming," she said.
"It makes them equal. It shows they have accomplishments," said Pam Stivers' sister, Kathy Rominski of Wheeling, who made T-shirts featuring Kristine's photo in support of her efforts this weekend.
The following awards were presented at Friday's Special Olympics Illinois Summer Games reception in Illinois State University's Bone Student Center.
Outstanding Athlete: Carol Ann Newton, Harrisburg
Outstanding Coaches: Mike & Chrys Sroka, Roselle
Outstanding Families: Dan, Lynda and Susie Doyens, Sycamore; and Bill, Paula and Sarah Boys, Decatur
Outstanding Volunteers: Kelly and George King, Westville
Outstanding Organization: American Legion and Auxiliary
Outstanding Media: WIFR Channel 23, Rockford
Outstanding Facility: Mount Vernon Township High School