Well before the crack of dawn Tuesday, a pair of Calistoga police officers and Dispatcher Mollie Hardin, along with Napa County Sheriff’s Office Detective John Hallman, were stretching their legs, donning white T-shirts and shoes.

The occasion was a very special run kicking off the 2011 season of Special Olympics by carrying an Olympic torch the length of Napa County, from Calistoga to American Canyon.

They did it with the help of a special friend, Special Olympics champion medalist Kim Price of Calistoga, one of about five global messengers for Special Olympics in the North Bay area.

“I first met Kim about a year ago in front of Silverado Ace Hardware, where she was doing some fundraising for Special Olympics,” said Calistoga Police Chief Jonathan Mills. “She told me all about Special Olympics and invited myself and the police department to become involved.”

This is the second year Calistoga police ran in the Special Olympics torch run, according to Officer Curtis Madrigal, who also ran last year.

“It’s pretty early to get up to go running,” he said. “But it’s fun, and it’s for a great cause, so I have no trouble doing it.”

Price is a longtime Special Olympics participant. As far back as 2001, according to available Weekly Calistogan archives, she has competed at venues from Berkeley to Sacramento. Along the way she has picked up a host of medals. In 2008, for example, Price competed in the Northern California Summer Games at UC Berkeley, where, in a day of swimming competitions, she won three medals: the 25-yard backstroke, silver; 25-yard freestyle, gold; and the 25-yard butterfly, silver.

On Tuesday, the characteristically happy woman only laughed at the early hour, saying she could think of other places than streetside to be at 6 a.m. on a cool morning — like snuggled under her blankets.

Nevertheless, Price, using an electric lighter, added some spark to the event by setting the Special Olympics torch, held by Mills, and posed for a picture with Calistoga police officer teammates before Mills and his partner John Hallman hit the pavement headed south.

Nearly three miles later, Hallman passed the torch to teammates Curtis Madrigal and Mollie Hardin waiting at Heitz Way, where they would grab the flame and head to the next stop, the Big Tree Road CalFire Station.

The Special Olympics

Over the next three days, more than 670 Special Olympians will participate in the 2011 Northern California Special Olympics Summer Games, kicked off by hundreds of law enforcement personnel this past week with a fundraising torch relay and the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron at UC Davis.

Special Olympics provides athletic opportunities that instill the confidence young people and adults with intellectual disabilities need to navigate life more successfully. The program serves more than 18,000 participants and their families throughout Northern California and Nevada year-round.

All programs are free of charge to participants and the best of the best compete in the Summer Games.

“The Summer Games is our largest Special Olympics sporting competition in Northern California,” said Rick Collett, CEO of Special Olympics Northern California & Nevada. “Our hundreds of athletes will be showcased in four sports offered during the spring season — aquatics, bocce, tennis, and track and field.”

Opening ceremonies are Friday, June 24, 7 to 9 p.m. at UC Davis Aggie Stadium. They begin with the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron. The ceremony highlights and honors athletes, coaches, volunteers and fundraisers.

“Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games and sports training programs would not exist without the spirit and energy of our volunteers and corporate sponsors,” Collett said.

Corporate sponsors for the 2011 games include Adobe, Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, Walmart, Jenkins Insurance Group, Enterprise, Durham School Services, Flyers, Kohl’s, U.S. Forest Service, 4-H Clubs, student groups, families, and many individuals.

On Saturday, the games continue at 8:30 a.m. at various locations on the UC Davis campus. On Sunday the games begin at 8 a.m.

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