ST. JOHN VALLEY – In an event that spanned the St. John Valley from Fort Kent to the southernmost Van Buren town line, local law enforcement personnel turned out in record numbers to participate in the annual, statewide Special Olympics Torch Run on June 6.
At least two of the St. John Valley legs of the event included 20+ year veterans of the annual event. This year, for the first time, local Special Olympians also participated in the run.
Ten law enforcement officers left the Fort Kent Police Department at approximately 8 a.m. in the morning to kick-off the Torch Run.
Maine Forest Ranger Richard Martin said, “I think this is the biggest turnout we’ve ever had for runners.”
Martin, Forest Ranger Craig Caron, District Forest Ranger Lance Martin, part-time Fort Kent Police Officer Steve Hoglund, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer Jon Anderson, CBP Officer Tom Levesque, CBP Officer Ben Gagnon, and Van Buren Station Patrol Agent in Charge Mark Albert started from the Fort Kent Police Department and ran to Pelletier Road, just west of Dragon Products Company in Frenchville.
Maine State Trooper Dan Marquis and CBP Port Director Dave Albert escorted the runners in a Border Patrol SUV and a state police vehicle.
Port Director Albert said, “Once we get out of town, we try to have only a couple of runners on the road at a time.”
The runners relayed for part of 16.5 mile trip.
Levesque agreed saying, “It doesn’t take long for the traffic to back up.”
Levesque said he thought one of the runners, Patrol Agent in Charge Albert, had organized the Fort Kent leg of the run and been participating for the previous 23 years. This year, Anderson coordinated the Fort Kent leg and recruited runners from all of the local law enforcement agencies.
He said he was hoping to recruit local Special Olympians to participate in the Fort Kent leg of the event next year, and to concentrate more efforts on fundraising.
CBP Officer Wendy Greenlaw coordinated the Madawaska leg, which spanned the distance between Pelletier Road in Frenchville and the church in Grand Isle, a distance of 12.8 miles. CBP Officer Kerry Lagasse ran the entire leg of the Torch Run, the only participant in that leg of the race to attempt the entire distance.
His teammates, including Sheriff Jim Madore, who Lagasse said heard has run in this event for 23 consecutive years, Madawaska Police Chief Carroll Theriault, Madawaska Police Officer Danielle Levesque, Border Patrol Agent Dennis Levesque, and CBP Officers Scott Albert, Lagasse, Louis Desjardins, Dave Beaulieu, and Greenlaw relayed through the event. CBP Officer Robert Guerrette escorted the runners for their trip.
Lagasse said he’d also heard that retired Police Chief Ron Pelletier ran in the event for 25 consecutive years previous to this year’s absence.
Greenlaw said she’s been aware of the Torch Run for years, having worked in a police agency downstate previously and having a family member who took part in the Special Olympics. She moved to the St. John Valley a few years ago for work, and has been involved with the event in this area since that time. Like Anderson, this was her first year as the lead organizer for the event.
She said she worked in conjunction with the Madawaska Police Department and Chief Theriault to organize the event, and that the police department in Madawaska generally plays a leadership role in coordinating that leg.
This year was the first year that Special Olympians in the area participated in the event.
“It’s exciting to see Special Olympians in our area come out,” she said. “I thought it was really neat to see them participate.”
Again echoing what Anderson said, Greenlaw said the Madawaska crew would like to start organizing more in advance of the event next year to incorporate a local fundraiser.
“We’d like to do a little more getting into the community, building awareness of what the Torch Run supports,” she said.
The Madawaska leg runners handed off the torch at the church in Grand Isle to Border Patrol Agent George Ferland, who met up with the rest of the Van Buren runners at Kennedy Terrace, and continued through to the southernmost Van Buren town line, a distance of 16.3 miles.
Van Buren Police Officer Cameron Dufour organized the last leg of the St. John Valley run. He said he’d seen the run in his two years as a patrolman and wanted to be a part of the event this year.
“It’s for a good cause,” he said.
In this leg, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Keith Toussaint and Ferland, CBP Officer Dennis Kovache, and Van Buren Police Officers Andrew Levesque and Dufour passed the torch. Van Buren Police Sergeant Luc Dyer escorted the runners along with Melissa Obar and Peter Laplante who were driving an ambulance.
A special runner joined the Van Buren team, Elvis, a retired canine member of a Border Patrol K-9 team, said Dufour. Barry Violette, a Special Olympian, joined the Van Buren team for the Torch Run.
Dufour said they raised $910 for the cause. He said next year he hopes to coordinate with the Van Buren school to allow the students to join the procession.
Dufour said, “It’s good when the Police Department can give back to the community and work with people in a happy environment, and raise money for a good cause.”