ANACORTES — Sonja Erlandson is an athlete. Running, basketball, swimming — the 32-year-old Anacortes resident does it all. If the window valance in her bedroom decorated from end-to-end with medals is an indication, she does them well.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Special Olympians like Erlandson will miss out on their premier event this June as the 2020 Washington Special Olympics was cancelled.
“It’s devastating,” said Sonja’s mother, Donna Erlandson. “It’s just one more thing in her life that’s cancelled.”
It isn’t just the Special Olympics that Sonja will miss. One of her favorite activities goes with it — the traditional Law Enforcement Torch Run, where officers from multiple agencies run the Special Olympics torch from Blaine to Joint Base Lewis McChord for opening ceremonies.
“She really does look forward to that torch run and running with law enforcement,” Donna Erlandson said.
However, all is not lost, said Anacortes Police Officer Janet Wilson, who has been the law enforcement coordinator for the Skagit County leg of the Torch Run for about 11 years.
This year, in an effort to continue to raise awareness and funds for the Special Olympics and the athletes that compete in them, the Law Enforcement Torch Run is going virtual with people encouraged to run, walk or even skip to show their support, Wilson said.
“I’m glad we’re able to do it in any manner,” she said. “I think this is a great alternative.”
Organizers are asking people on June 6 to run for 20 minutes and 20 seconds and post a photo of themselves doing so in honor of the Special Olympians. Anyone is invited to join the Skagit County Law Enforcement Team, Wilson said.
“It shows (the athletes), hey, you still have support out there,” Wilson said.
In previous years, representatives from every law enforcement agency in the county participated in the Torch Run.
For them, the Torch Run is another way to show their communities, and some of the communities’ most vulnerable residents, that officers care, Wilson said.
“It’s a positive way to interact with a part of our community that doesn’t get a lot of attention,” she said. “If they get to the point where they need help, then it’s not as big and scary — we’re their Torch Run friends.”
For the Erlandsons, knowing that the Torch Run will continue in any form is a welcome show of support, especially from the department that Donna Erlandson said has always kept a protective eye on her daughter.
“That’s very heartwarming and inspiring to our family to know that they care enough for them to do that,” Donna Erlandson said. “To me, that’s above and beyond.”
While she will be disappointed she cannot participate in the Torch Run with her friends, Donna Erlandson said her daughter will take the loss in stride and look forward to it next year.
In the meantime, the athlete — who has run several ultra-marathons — continues to train.
The annual Special Olympics Washington Polar Plunge, another fundraiser supported by the Law Enforcement Torch Run organization, was also cancelled this year, although she hopes to be able to reschedule it, Wilson said.
“It won’t be quite as polar,” Wilson joked.
For information and to register for the Law Enforcement Torch Run, visit SpecialOlympicsWashington.org and join the Skagit County Law Enforcement group.