Special Olympics athletes, coaches and supporters and Whanganui Police staff stopped traffic in central Whanganui on Wednesday as the Special Olympics Flame of Hope travelled through the city.
To cheers and toots of support, the group walked from the Bell St police station through the central city to Cooks Gardens where they had a photo next to the Peter Snell statue. The group then went to the Whanganui District Council where they were met by mayor Hamish McDouall.
It was part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) in which torches are being relayed from each end of New Zealand to Wellington in the lead-up to the Special Olympics National Summer Games 2017. The Games will be held in Wellington on November 27-December 1.
Special Olympics Wanganui bocce coach Paul Gibson said eight local athletes - Cathy Boyle, Judith Bradley, Brigitte Brightwell, Linda Fredricksen, Grant, McCullough, Darryl Smith, Thomas McLeod and Paul Raumaewa - will compete in the Games.
"Our team are all bocce players," Mr Gibson said.
"They are all very good individual players and they also perform well as a team so we're hoping for good results in Wellington.
"We want to say thanks to the community for supporting us. The Wanganui Lions Club is a big supporter of Special Olympics and the Christmas gift wrapping they do to raise money for us helps fund athletes to go to national and international events. We also want to thank Hire It who are providing vehicles for us to travel to the Games."
Mr Gibson said Special Olympics Wanganui was always looking for more coaches and volunteers.
"At the moment we don't have coaches and management to be able to run athletics and basketball. It's a big commitment but it's extremely rewarding."
Whanganui Police area commander Inspector Nigel Allan said his staff, along with police throughout the world, were keen supporters of Special Olympics. The LETR started in 1981 and raises awareness and funds internationally for Special Olympics. Relay participant and police-dog-in-waiting Hagar (named after cartoon character Hagar the Horrible) attracted particular attention from people, especially children, on the route.
Mr McDouall said the team would go to the Games with the best wishes of the entire community.
"Go and be our ambassadors and tell everyone how great Whanganui is. Tell them that Whanganui is New Zealand's number one Olympic town."