SPRING HILL — John Soroka had a big smile on his face as he ate a banana and worked on a puzzle book on Nov. 1 after participating in the Law Enforcement Special Olympics Torch Run.
He wasn’t winded, but he had sweat through his shirt as he rested in the computer room at the Arc Nature Coast facility on a cool morning.
About 10 runners from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office and 30 walkers, customers of the Arc, ran the lit torch from the Arc to Spring Hill Elementary School and then back to the Arc, where they were greeted with high-fives from staff and continued into the building for the rest of the day’s activities.
“They cheered us on,” Soroka said of the schoolchildren, who lined the fence, held up motivating signs and shouted encouragement.
Despite the initial cool of the morning, the temperature increased into the low 80s by the end.
Arc customers like Soroka were thrilled to get cheers from the elementary school students who came out to the fence to encourage them, said Deputy T. Chavez, who came in first in the run. He’s worked for the Sheriff’s Office for two years.
Chavez stood with other deputies, drinking bottled water, and talked about how the run gave him such a good feeling, especially when the children at the school encouraged everyone to keep going.
“It was beautiful weather to run,” he said. “Everyone had a great time.”
He said events like this help build trust in the community.
Sheriff’s Office personnel and Arc staff set up tents with snacks, information and motivational items as vans arrived with customers for the day’s activities.
Nancy Stubbs, development director of the Arc Nature Coast and Arc Nature Coast chief executive Mark Barry greeted everyone by name, and there were lots of hugs all around. It’s a friendly place.
“Some of the people that we serve here participate in Special Olympics,” she said, though that has been cut back because of COVID. “The torch is passed on from county to county.”
Barry said the purpose of the run is to move the torch along. “We’re just the host today for the start,” he said.
Sherry Honer, the director for Hernando County Special Olympics, said in the previous week the torch has passed through Clermont, and after passing through counties to the south it would end up at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando on Nov. 13.
“It will light the torch for the games,” she said.
The Special Olympics go year-round, Honer said. “We have 23 different sports in the state of Florida, we have 12 in Hernando County. Right now, for ‘Fall Classic,’ we have powerlifting, we have pickleball and we have rhythmic gymnastics.”
There was no basketball because of a lack of coaches and an indoor facility.
In January, they will have cycling, athletics, soccer skills, tennis and bocce, and in April standup paddleboard. Two athletes in Hernando will be competing in June, Emily Fonseca and Kyle Honer.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis wasn’t running, but he was on hand to welcome everyone. Hernando County School Superintendent John Stratton joined in the run.
Nienhuis said that law enforcement has had a 30-year relationship with Special Olympics.
“One of our primary missions is to protect people who maybe can’t protect themselves,” he said, and Arc customers like law enforcement. “We certainly enjoy the fact that we are able to come out and interact with them on a personal level and raise some money for a really great cause, and have some fun in the process.”
For Soroka, participating gave him a good feeling.
“I had fun walking,” he said. “I did have fun. I joined the crowd.”