Jaren Vargas, 14, was red-faced and winded standing in the parking lot of the ARC of East Ascension, but his ear-to-ear smile told the story of his morning.
“My legs gave up, but I kept going,” Jaren said of his experience in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Louisiana Special Olympics.
Jaren and many of his classmates at East Ascension High School joined law officers, members of the St. Amant High School volleyball team and others in escorting the Louisiana Special Olympics torch through the city of Gonzales on May 19. They ended their run with a celebration at the ARC center.
Jaren, a special education student with the nickname “J-Money,” was the first to carry the torch on the run.
Vicki Vargas, Jaren’s mother, had the same brimming smile as her son as the group ran into the ARC center at the end of the run.
It was an emotional moment for Vargas as she watched her son run with police officers and other volunteers.
“I can’t say enough about what the Gonzales police and Sheriff’s Office does for the Special Olympics and our kids,” Vargas said.
The Law Enforcement Torch Run is just one of the activities sponsored by area lawmen. Officers volunteer to raise money through participation at an annual Polar Plunge and other fundraising efforts. They also volunteer at local games that serve as qualifying meets for the Special Olympics.
Jaren competed and won medals in a recent regional meet, something his mother said he couldn’t have done without the money raised by the lawmen.
Vargas called Ward Webb, the sheriff’s department torch run and polar plunge organizer, “an angel” for his work with area students who want to compete in Special Olympics.
“Jaren and the others couldn’t compete without their help,” Vargas said.
East Ascension High School special education teacher Debbie Ellis rode in a truck with some of her students who were taking part in the torch run for a second year. She said last year just a few took part, but this year almost all participated.
After the run, Ellis handed out water and congratulated her students and thanked the volunteers who ran.
One of those volunteer runners, Brianne Babin, a member of the St. Amant High School volleyball team, said she was glad to help “such a good cause.”
Babin said her participation in the run helped her to learn that the Special Olympians “are just like us and can do what we can do.”
She said her team members bonded with the Special Olympians during the run and want to do more “for the cause.”
The state summer games kicked off Friday in Hammond.