By Michael Bennett
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Ridgetown Independent News
Taking the renamed Mike Currie Memorial Torch Run on the road led to a record number of participants and funds raised.
On Sept. 16, a total of 116 participants raised more than $13,500 in Blenheim for the 2024 Special Olympics Ontario School Championships that will be held in Ridgetown and Chatham.
“We well surpassed anything we’ve ever had before,” Sgt. Jason Herder, the event organizer, said. “We’re at $13,500 – and counting – and that’s without any corporate sponsorship, that’s just with people signing up and donations.”
The previous top total was $10,200 from the 2018 Law Enforcement Torch Run.
Participants had options of running or walking five- and 10-km routes or biking on 30- and 60-km courses through Blenheim and the South Kent countryside.
It was the first time the Torch Run was held outside of Chatham.
The event, which was first hosted by the former Chatham Police Service in 1988, was renamed the Mike Currie Memorial Torch Run in honour of the former CKPS constable who led the local Special Olympics program, torch runs and other fund-raising activities for close to 30 years.
Currie died suddenly last October while on vacation in Turkey.
“We were so honoured to hear that the run was renamed the Mike Currie Memorial,” said Emily Vollans of Ridgetown of the tribute to her late father. “He has had such a huge impact on the entire community, and that showed today.”
“It’s so special that the money raised in his honour is going towards such a large-scale event,” Vollans said of next year’s Special Olympics coming to Chatham-Kent.
Currie’s family participated in the Torch Run – his wife Pauline, daughters Emily (Vollans), Lindsey (Zulfiqar) and Melissa (Comiskey), grandchildren Audrey, Connor and Tom Comiskey, Savannah and Charlotte Vollans. The grandchildren donated $270 to the Special Olympics by making and selling painted rocks by donation.
Herder credited the record numbers and funds directly to the respect everyone had for Currie.
“It goes back to honouring Mike and everything he has done for the Special Olympics community and the Torch Run,” Herder said. “There were people from the Toronto way who had worked with Mike at the beginning of the LETR (Law Enforcement Torch Run).”
“Today speaks for the love for Mike and his family and everything he has done for those communities,” Herder said.
Herder’s father, Rob Herder, a CKPS constable who died of cancer in 2020, was also very instrumental in the local Special Olympics program along with Currie.
The 2024 Special Olympics Ontario School Championship games will occur in Ridgetown and Chatham on June 10-12, 2024.
Basketball and bocce ball will be played at Ridgetown College and Ridgetown District High School.
The other events will be in Chatham, including soccer and floor hockey at St. Clair College and the track and field meet at the Chatham-Kent Community Athletic Complex.
Athletes from across Ontario will be housed in the Ridgetown and St. Clair college dorms.
The Ontario School Championships mark the first time Chatham-Kent has hosted the Special Olympics since the provincial games were held here in 1997.
With the success of this year’s event, the 2024 Mike Currie Memorial Torch Run will return to Blenheim next September.
“This park is beautiful. It’s a great place to start and finish, so we’re coming back here next year,” Herder said of the Talbot Trail Place setting.