The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

June 3, 2013

Officers carrying a torch for Special Olympics

3-day relay will start in Pittsburgh, end in State College

— Groups of law enforcement officers, including several Johnstown officers, may be seen running the streets today through Thursday, but they won’t be chasing criminals.

They’ll be participating in the third annual Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run, transporting the Flame of Hope 150 miles from PNC Park in Pittsburgh to Medler Field in State College, in anticipation of the Special Olympics Summer Games.

The three-day relay is to be begin at PNC’s home plate, and participating officers are to work as a group to get the torch to Medler park in time for the Summer Games’ opening ceremonies, according to Johnstown police Officer Mike Kanuch, who is to participate in the run.

“We’ve probably got about seven or eight officers participating,” he said, adding that they will run their part of the relay on Wednesday.

“We have two legs in the race – from the Nanty Glo Sheetz (along Pace Street) to the Ebensburg Sheetz (along Admiral Peary Highway) and from the Ebensburg Sheetz to Rowena Drive.”

The run is held as a charity benefit to raise money for competing athletes, Kanuch said.

“The Special Olympics is law enforcement’s No. 1 charity across the country.”

Though it may be common for officers to aid the community, Kanuch said he is honored to be able to raise money and awareness for the competitors.

“It’s a great cause,” he said. “We’ve met some tremendous people across the years.”

Although the competitors may not have all the advantages of other athletes, Kanuch said they are more than worthy of his support.

“One time, I heard a story where a local athlete, who was competing in a race, was winning, and then, he noticed one of the other competitors was having trouble,” Kanuch said.

“He actually stopped, grabbed her hand and escorted her. What person, racing, would give up that first place?”

Similarly, Officer Mike Plunkard said he sees the run as a way to give back to the community.

“I’m a K-9 officer, and the only way we are able to have a K-9 unit is through community support,” he said. “They support us, so it’s just another way to help out and give back to the community.”

In addition to the run, Plunkard said he and Kanuch have been participating in the the Laurel Highlands Polar Plunge, a fundraiser held at the Quemahoning Reservoir in Boswell in which participants support Special Olympics athletes by jumping into icy-cold waters, for about the past four years.

“Officers need to raise a minimum of $50 to participate in the plunge, but most of our officers have raised much more than $50,” he said.

The money raised during the plunge is used in the Winter Games, Plunkard said.

“The run is the same type of event but for the Summer Games,” he said. “We try to raise as much money as we can.”

In the past two years, law enforcement groups raised more than $120,000, according to Special Olympic Pennsylvania website.

While participating in the run and plunge has helped raise money, Kanuch said Johnstown police officers organized their own fundraising event May 25 at the Daisytown Sportsmen’s Club – a three-gun marksmanship competition for civilians and law enforcement.

The competition included tactical-based challenges with pistols, shotguns and sporting rifles, he said, adding that participants had to make a minimum donation of $50.

“We are hoping to make it an annual event. Every officer in the department was involved,” Kanuch said.

Because of his participation in these events, Plunkard said he has benefited, as well as the athletes.

“I’ve been able to see those athletes compete, and it gives me personal satisfaction to know I helped those guys go out.”

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