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Fired up: Torch run celebrates Special Olympics athletes

NATCHEZ — Rain did not stop nearly 50 athletes who paraded down Main Street on Thursday morning behind an Olympic torch carried by law enforcement officers.

Mercedes Costley, age 30, took off with a wide grin in her wheelchair almost as fast as those running on their feet.

“I ran, too,” she said, proudly. “I ran right behind the sheriff.”

Natchez hosted the final 2019 Law Enforcement Torch Run before the Mississippi Special Olympics this weekend in Biloxi, where athletes from throughout the state are traveling to compete in various sporting events, said area director Tommie Jones.

Thursday’s torch run allowed law enforcement agencies to help sponsor the Olympics by purchasing a logo to be featured on T-shirts and social media pages, Jones said, as well as allowing the athletes of all ages to shine in their communities before heading to the big games on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“This group starts as young as 8 years old,” Jones said, “and our oldest, Willie Johnson, is 74.”

Sirens sounded through the streets as Adams County Sheriff’s deputies held off traffic while the group ran from Broadway Street up Franklin Street and down Main Street.

“The Special Olympics gives these athletes an opportunity to participate in physical activities and Olympic-type sports — track and field, bowling, aquatics, tennis — those are all things they will be competing in when we get to Biloxi,” Jones said. “Our goal is to help them stay physically fit and give them the chance to showcase some of the things they’re good at in whatever sport they are interested in.”

One participating athlete is Nathan Gaudé, who has been trained by his grandmother and long time swim coach, Rose Minette Gaudé, to compete in the games.

“Since he could walk or even stand, he was in the pool,” said Nathan’s mother, Patricia Gaudé Huffines.

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