In the final stretch of the Hudson County section of the 34th annual NJ Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run June 9, Jersey City Sergeant Kevin Kot quickly rounded a corner onto Communipaw Avenue, dropped to one knee, and presented the torch to wife Anna Kot, a Hudson County Prosecutor's Office sergeant.
The gesture was complete with dramatic flower petals and a large rose he'd hidden in his shorts. They then continued running into Kearny and Newark, simultaneously holding the torch.
“This is the third year that I've passed the torch to her,” Kot said, after the Hudson County officers handed the item to Essex County officers to continue the run. “Just trying to keep it interesting. We've been married fifteen years. You have to keep it fun and exciting.”
The run began earlier that day in North Bergen's Braddock Park and wound through Guttenberg and Union City before heading to Jersey City Heights. Then, officers aimed for the Shawn Carson and Robert Ngyuen Memorial Bridge into Kearny, and later entered Newark. The event totaled around 13 miles.
The run raises money to benefit the New Jersey Special Olympics, a series of competitions for disabled children and adults, held annually. The games took place that same weekend; the torch was part of the opening ceremony at The College of New Jersey.
Though over 20 officers from North Bergen, Union City, and Jersey City's police departments entered, the MVP's were Lieutenant Cynthia Montero and Officer Saray Durango from the North Bergen Police, who ran from start to finish together. It was a testament to the department being the sixth ranked in the state as a fundraising agency for the Special Olympics.
“Thirty-five years young,” an exhausted Durango said after finishing. “I feel good. I couldn't have done it without all the motivation.”
“It feels great,” added Montero,” who had salt on her face. “Like she said, we couldn't have done it without each other.”
Earlier in the day, the North Bergen officers gathered in Braddock Park's northernmost section near 90th Street to prepare for the grueling challenge.
“I've been doing it since I came on the job in 2000,” said Captain Arthur Del. “The chief of police actually got me into participating and becoming very entrenched in the Special Olympics and helping out the special needs children of New Jersey.”
(Though he reached the finish line alongside Montero and Durango, Del admitted to having only run five miles before “cheating” and catching a ride to the last two miles of the run.)
“We all come together to do this as a department,” said Sergeant Michele Bartoli, who was participating in her fifth torch run. She had previously done half-marathons and Spartan Races. “It's a really good cause.”
Sergeant Eddie Moyano has been participating in the run for over 10 years and has been an active fundraiser for the Special Olympics. He also organizes an annual dodgeball tournament of 10-12 teams of local agencies and businesses at the Recreational Center to help raise money for the Olympics.
“Jersey City police usually puts together a team.” Moyano said. “West New York police puts a team up. The Hudson County Sheriff's have a very good team.”
Of the torch run itself, he said, “I've finished the full thing twice. I haven't been running though, so I don't know how far I'm going to get.”
For extra motivation, NJ Special Olympics athlete Joseph Maccagnano, 50, made an appearance before the officers. He has previously participated in the Torch Run, along with bowling and track and field events at the Olympics. Sister Dorothy Oms took him in about 10 years ago, after their father passed away. “Everybody says it's unusual for siblings to take one in, but are you kidding me?” Oms said. “He's my life.”
Unfortunately, Maccagnano was unable to participate in this year's run. “He used to, when he was younger,” Oms said. “Now he just kind of shuffles. It's the age, the weights that caught up on him.”
Before the runners departed, Chief Robert Dowd delivered a pep talk. “It's a really great thing you're doing getting involved in this,” said Dowd, who did not run. “You should be proud of yourselves. You should be proud of the department. This group that's here, I'm proud of you. I hope that this becomes a little bit of a tradition and you come back here next year.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at email@example.com