ROCKINGHAM — The 11 runners in the annual Special Olympics Torch Run had a surprise participant join them about a mile into the trek.
Deputies from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and probation and parole officers from the N.C. Department of Public Safety Community Corrections started the journey at the Richmond County Animal Shelter, with Zach Allen leading the way carrying the torch.
When they ran by the Alco gas station on U.S. 74 Business, a small black and white dog ran out to tag along.
The pup kept pace as the runners continued past the ruins of Great Falls Mill, up U.S. 1 to Steele Street, ending at the Hitchcock Creek Greenway.
The dog and some of the runners stopped at the picnic tables while Deputy John Edwards and a few others ran the park’s trail.
For Edwards and those who ran the trail, the trip was about 5.5 miles.
Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge joined them for lunch, with a message from Sheriff James Clemmons, who was out of town, saying that he appreciated their continued support for Richmond County Special Olympics.
Special Olympics Coordinator Theressa Smith also joined them at the park.
The overcast skies and cool breeze were a relief from years past.
“The weather was perfect,” said Edwards, who has organized the run for the past several years. “Normally it’s 100 degrees and humid; today it’s like 80 … everybody still sweated, though.”
Edwards is no stranger to the torch run, having participated since the late ‘90s. Other veterans missing this year were Deputy N.L. Forester and Chief Probation Officer Jason Graham.
The Rockingham and Hamlet police departments and N.C. Highway Patrol have also had runners in the past.
“We’ve got some younger deputies that have just been hired and you can tell they’re in a lot better shape than the older guys,” Edwards joked. “Even though I still try to stay in shape, it shows. Age is showing on me a little bit.”
He said he’s got about three years left to go.
As for the dog, Edwards said she seemed to be doing a lot better than they were.
Animal Control was called to come pick up the dog, but couldn’t because the shelter is full, so they planned to take her back to where she joined them.