The sight of those circling red and blue police lights in your rear view mirror can illicit feelings of anxiety, fear and maybe even anger.
But when the Pittsburgh police motorcycle officers, with sirens blaring and lights flashing, came through the Medlar Field fence during the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Opening Ceremonies Thursday evening, the feelings created were those of joy, admiration and respect.
For the last three years, the Law Enforcement Torch Run has provided a special spark to the state games, raising money year round and creating new awareness for Special Olympics in communities throughout the commonwealth.
For the Summer Games, a three-day torch run begins in Pittsburgh, where master police officer Ray Kein and his partner, Andre Le'Van, have mapped out the route to Happy Valley for the last few years.
But this year, Officer Kein almost didn't make it to the Games. He suffered a massive heart attack while on duty; he says Le'Van administered CPR and saved his life. Kein is still recovering from a quintuple bypass, but he wasn't going to miss the chance to take part in this year's torch run.
"Being on the field with the sirens and the lights, and all of the athletes, wow!" Kein said. "I told some bicycle officers from Philadelphia - wait 'til you see it. It's like Ben Roethlisberger throwing that touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes when he just got his toes in-bounds ... the crowd explodes, and it takes your breath away."
Kein recalled watching a Special Olympics basketball game between a team dressed in blue and another wearing red. A young woman from the red team missed a shot. A young man from the blue team got the rebound, and instead of heading toward his own basket, handed it to the red-shirted shooter and said, "Here, try again."
"That's what Special Olympics is all about," Kein said. "doing your best and supporting each other."
And that's why police officers, sheriffs, constables, prison guards, their children, scout groups and friends take part in Law Enforcement Torch Run activities, including polar plunges and the Beaver Stadium run in the months between the state competitions.
As they carry the torch from town to town, from Pittsburgh to Blairsville to Altoona and finally to State College, the officers are giving Special Olympic athletes, coaches and volunteers a special salute, which comes to a climax at the Summer Games opening ceremonies.
"I was proud to open that gate [at the baseball stadium] and hear the athletes," Kein said. "It was like a Super Bowl-winning touchdown. It sends a chill down your spine."
By the time the torch arrived at Lubrano Park on Thursday, the skies had darkened and rain was pouring down. But the spirit and joy of the athletes would not be dampened; the rain simply served to mask the tears running down the cheeks of so many of the law enforcement officers as they shared in a special memory, celebrating their extraordinary relationship to Special Olympics.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.