A police officer awards a medal to an athlete.

WHITE MARSH — Thanks to Baltimore County first responders, the Maryland Special Olympics athletes can both afford their yearly expenses and have a loving support group.

“It’s really one big family between us and the athletes,” Officer Tyler Rivers said. “You really get to know the athletes on a personal level after a couple of years.”

Rivers and other Baltimore County police officers have participated in many fundraisers with Special Olympics athletes, such as the annual law enforcement torch run, polar bear plunge and fundraisers at restaurants. White Marsh Fire Captain Wes Fischer said many officers love to raise money for the athletes, especially after they present them with a medal they won at a competition.

“If you’ve never given a metal to an athlete, it really is amazing,” Fischer said. “They work so hard all year round to compete in these events and when they are awarded a medal by a police officer they could not be happier.”

First responders in Baltimore County started raising money for the Special Olympics about 30 years ago. Fischer said the police department realized they were in a great position to not only raise money for the athletes, but to raise awareness as well.

“It’s more than just fundraising,” Fischer said. “We raise awareness so people know what Special Olympics does. We act as the torch barriers for the Special Olympics.”

In the state of Maryland, law enforcement personnel carry the torch for 8,033 athletes.

Tyler said all the money from last week’s food truck event went straight towards funding new uniforms, equipment, food and travel expenses for the athletes.

“Us as a department, we are trying to get out there more and raise money and awareness at more events because we are such a big department,” Tyler said.

The next big fundraiser the department will be having for the Maryland Special Olympics will be the annual polar bear plunge at Sandy Point State Park in January. Roughly 10,000 people every year participate in the plunge to support their special olympic athletes.

“The polar bear plunge is our most successful event in Maryland,” Fischer said. “Really, it’s a whole year ‘round event with all the fundraising we do. I’ve been doing things like the torch run and plunge for about 12 years and I really enjoy being with them. All the athletes look at police like we are heroes. To them, we are really rock stars.”

Tyler said the amount of appreciation the police receive from the athletes helps keep their relationship so strong throughout the years.

“I’ve taken some of my co-workers out to events the past few years and they say to me ‘we have to come back next year, we love it.’”

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