ST. GEORGE — The Special Olympics torch came through Southern Utah Friday as part of a nationwide torch run to celebrate the 2015 World Summer Games in Los Angeles.
The torch has been on the road since May 26 — one of three “Flame of Hope” torches that departed from Washington, D.C.
The three torch runs will come together again at the Unified Relay Across America final leg in Los Angeles July 10.
St. George falls along the central route of the torch run, and local athlete Jazmine Slama was chosen to light the flame at Dixie State University.
Slama won two gold medals at the 2014 Special Olympics Summer Games in New Jersey, where she represented Utah in various track and field events.
She beat out runners from all over the country in the 1500- and 800-meter runs and took silver in the 400-meter.
Slama is also one of 10 Special Olympians worldwide chosen to run with the torch in Los Angeles for the final leg of the torch run.
Also involved in the run was St. George Police Officer Jeremy Needles, who participated as part of the traditional law enforcement Guardians of the Flame.
Needles and Slama will participate in the Law Enforcement Torch Run that will take the torches around Southern California for almost two weeks before the July 25 Special Olympics opening ceremonies.
Needles was chosen to represent Utah in the torch run.
The two will run about 8 miles per day and visit six to eight communities each day, Needles said.
“It’s something I’ve had to train for,” he said. “I’ve actually lost 10 pounds to try and get my knees in better shape.”
Needles and Slama will get to run right through Disneyland, which Slama said she’s excited for.
“I am very, very happy,” she said.
Her dad and trainer, Tim Slama, said they immediately accepted the opportunity for his daughter to participate in the torch run when she was invited to apply.
“She just practices so hard,” Tim Slama said. “… When she went to New Jersey, they have so much humidity along with the heat, … and she ran her heart out. I never saw her sweat so much in my life.”
Before Jazmine Slama was chosen, a national board with the Law Enforcement Torch Run looked at her athletic ability, participation in the Special Olympics and an essay she wrote about how the Special Olympics have affected her life.
The torch run will give Jazmine Slama several public speaking opportunities along the way, Jennie Vuich, director of development and public relations for Special Olympics Utah, said.
“It’s actually a great opportunity for Special Olympics Utah to say, ‘We have an elite athlete here in our own backyard,’” Vuich said.
The torches will have gone through all 50 states by the time they meet in Los Angeles, Needles said.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run started in Kansas in 1981 to raise money for the Special Olympics, and law enforcement there raised $300 to donate. Now, about $50 million is raised each year, Needles said.
This year, about $100,000 has been raised in Utah, Vuich said.
Needles said he has participated in the state torch run every year since 2005, when he started working for the St. George Police Department.
This is the first Law Enforcement Torch Run to go across the country like this, Needles said, making it a historic run.
What also makes this run special, Vuich said, is the theme of unity that is shown through the name “Unified Relay.”
“It’s about getting people with and without intellectual disabilities to come together to see the value that both communities have and how they can enrich each other,” she said.
While it looked for a while like the torchbearers might have to run through a hailstorm that hit St. George Friday afternoon, the weather cleared up in time for the run and actually cooled the evening down.
Needles and Vuich agreed they were glad the weather had calmed by the time the torch run ceremony started.
“The torch run goes on, no matter the weather,” Vuich said.
- Flame of Hope in Law Enforcement torch passes through Southern Utah
- Special Olympics torch travels through Washington County; STGnews Photo Gallery
- St. George police ‘protect and serve’ Special Olympics athletes; Torch Run through Utah
- Utah Special Olympics Torch Run
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