SOMERVILLE, NJ – Hundreds of law enforcement officers from New Jersey stretched out their leg muscles, laced up their running shoes and stepped up Friday to help carry the “Flame of Hope” through several towns in support of this weekend’s New Jersey Special Olympics Summer Games at the College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.

Now in its 35th year, the trek began early Friday in northern New Jersey with the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police, Elizabeth Police and US Customs Officers, working its way south on several legs carried by officers from Roselle, Roselle Park, Cranford, Garwood, Westfield, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Plainfield, Dunellen and Middlesex before entering Somerset County in Bound Brook.

Somerset County Sheriff officers carried the torch from Bound Brook through Bridgewater and into Somerville, where it was passed on to a team of Somerville Police and personnel from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s office, including detectives and prosecutors that were waiting in front of the Van Derveer School.

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Led by a State Police cruiser and Somerville Police cars, the runners headed down Route 28, onto Gaston Avenue and down Main Street past the Somerset County Administration Building.

They will continue their trek on to Route 206 south, veering off on the Dukes Parkway East exit where they met the Hillsborough Police contingent.

State Police cruisers will escort the Hillsborough Police runners along Route 206 for about 5 miles, the final leg of the run, ending in a parking lot at the intersection of Amwell Road. From there, the torch was driven to the College of New Jersey for the opening ceremonies.

More than 3,000 law enforcement officers throughout New Jersey shucked their uniforms and business suits for running shorts, t-shirts and sneakers to participate in the annual Torch Run. A total of 26 legs were run throughout New Jersey, totaling 750 miles.

More than 2,500 athletes will gather for the opening ceremonies Friday night. A giant cauldron was lit by the torch  to signal the opening of the New Jersey Special Olympics games. The athletes will compete in dozens of events  on Saturday and Sunday.

“Law enforcement officers pledge to serve and uphold the members of their community, so we feel it is our duty to serve the Special Olympics athletes of New Jersey,” said Chief Robert Belfiore, retired Deputy Chief of the Port Authority of NY/NJ and director of the New Jersey Torch Run.

“As a member of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, I always feel privileged to carry the torch,” he added. “This is our chance to become a champion for the cause, to show the members of our communities how talented our local Special Olympics athletes are.”

Each year the “Flame of Hope” run raises over $3 million for New Jersey Special Olympics.