NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The Special Olympics Summer Games are set to begin this weekend. That means, right now, hundreds of law enforcement officers are running across the state with the Special Olympics torch.

“To see the smiles on their faces and to know how much we mean to them because of all the things that we do and the money that we raise,” Tom Madera, Torch Run co-director. “It’s just a great, genuine experience. Life-changing. It really is.”

Whelen Engineering hosted the start of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Wednesday morning.

“We have a lot of folks that work within our factory with special needs, and some of them become athletes in the event, so it attracted us to that whole thing many years ago,” said Geoff Marsh, Whelen Engineering President & CEO.

The first leg stepped off with Essex Resident State Trooper Mark Roberts doing the honors.

“The torch run is something I look forward to every single year,” Roberts said. “I’ve been running it pretty close to 17 years now, and it’s one of those magnificent experiences to know that what we do here goes to support the Special Olympics.”

The Special Olympics provides sports training and competition all year, but the summer games are coming up over the next two weekends. More than 1,500 law enforcement officers will take turns carrying the”Flame of Hope across the state to draw attention, and it is not easy.

“Not only does it get heavy, it’s hot,” Madera said. “So, you’re constantly switching arms back and forth. But the heat that comes off that thing is a little intense.”

Some of your favorite morning anchors already know that. Alyssa Taglia has run with the torch before. Laura Hutchinson has, too, and she will carry that torch again Thursday. Gil Simmons has also run in the past and will run through Madison on Friday. They all say it’s a great feeling and a great honor, but there’s one even better thing, and that is when a Special Olympian joins in.

“When we’re holding it together, that’s when it means a lot to us,” Madera said. “That unity, we’re running together. We’re here to raise awareness for them, and to see them run side by side with us is a great, great experience.”

If you want to know where the torch is right now and when it will be near you, click here.