For 27 years, the Flame of Hope has passed through Odessa.
And for 27 years, John Miller has either watched it arrive or help carry it along the way.
"It's almost indescribable," Miller said of the feeling he got while watching nearly 50 Delaware State Police Training Academy recruits arrive at Troop 9 in Odessa on Thursday evening. "This is the kind of thing that law enforcement is born to do."
A retired captain with the Delaware State Police, Miller was part of the very first torch run in 1987 and has served as its first, and only, director since 1991.
"The first couple years we did this, I ran in all three counties, because you had to," he said. "We probably only had a 100 runners total that first year. This year, we'll have 600 so it's really come a long way."
The annual Delaware Law Enforcement Torch Run kicks off the Special Olympics Summer Games each year with a three-day, 160-mile journey from the Rehoboth Beach Bandstand to the opening ceremony at the University of Delaware's Bob Carpenter Center, where the outstanding athlete of the year uses the torch to light a cauldron and officially open the games.
This year's Torch Run began Wednesday night and resumed this morning with torches starting out in Delmar, Georgetown and Lewes uniting in Harrington before heading up Del. Route 13 through Dover and Smyrna before finally arriving Odessa, where the run pauses overnight.
"It's a real honor to be a part of Special Olympics and help the athletes out," said state police academy recruit and Middletown resident Daniel Eby, who ran with the torch from Smyrna and carried it into Odessa. "It means a lot and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Recruit Carrie Rambo of the Millsboro Police Department carried the torch the final few hundred feet to Troop 9, the last of her 22-mile jog for the day.
"I was all the way at the end but then when we started coming down hill I guess it was just my turn," she said. "It was fun. It's hard, but if you're focus, you're good to go."
In addition to helping raise attention of the Special Olympics' Summer Games, the Torch Run also helps raise money for the event – now in its 43rd year – with officers holding several fundraisers throughout the year and the actual runners purchasing T-shirts and shorts.
During its 27-year history, the Delaware Law Enforcement for Special Olympics has raised more than $4.4 million, according to Special Olympics spokesman Jon Buzby.
"The running of the torch across the entire state is the perfect lead-up to the Summer Games, as it displays the passion and commitment that officers from every jurisdiction have toward Special Olympics, not just during the torch run, but year round," he said. "It's that same type of passion and commitment that will be on display by the athletes at the Summer Games."
Page 2 of 2 - The heavy rains expected tomorrow could put a damper on the remainder of the Torch Run, which is slated to resume in Odessa at 9:45 a.m. Friday.
Lt. Daniel Hall of the Delaware State Police Academy said organizers will hold a conference call early tomorrow morning to decide whether to proceed.
"In the 23 years I've been doing this, we've run in the rain, but never in a downpour like the one they're expecting tomorrow," he said. "Safety is our primary concern and we don't want anything to happen to the runners."
Even if the remainder of the run is cancelled, Hall said the officers will still carry the torch up to the Bob Carpenter Center for the opening ceremony.
Buzby said the softball competition will be postponed until next weekend, but events for the 700 athletes slated to compete another five sports Friday and Saturday will be moved inside and proceed as scheduled.
For the latest information, visit www.sode.org and click on the Weather Update banner at the bottom of the page.