By Mary O’KEEFE
For the 30th year, law enforcement officers will run 120 miles across the desert from Baker to [Las] Vegas.
Los Angeles County sheriffs and Glendale and Los Angeles police will join hundreds of other law enforcement officers and personnel as they make their way through Death Valley this weekend in an annual relay that was started by two LAPD officers.
Chuck Foote and Larry Moore started the race as a way for officers to maintain physical fitness and camaraderie with fellow officers. The event, now titled The Annual Challenge Cup/Baker to Vegas Relay, has officers running 20 legs while experiencing not only extreme temperatures but extreme altitudes as well.
The relay begins 25 miles north of Baker, Calif. on Highway 127 and continues to the finish line inside the Hilton Hotel Convention Center in Las Vegas. Team starting times are staggered depending on their previous running times, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each team runs 20 legs varying in length. One of the longest lengths is 10.7 miles, and some of the route climbs an altitude of 4000 feet.
This year the Hollywood LAPD team will be running in memory of Officer Nicholas Lee, who was killed in a traffic accident while on duty on March 7. He worked out of the Hollywood division.
“There are a great number of teams that will have a photograph of an officer who was killed in the line of duty,” Foote said. “There are about 35 [this year] including numerous California Highway Patrol [officers running].”
The relay began with LAPD and LASD but now has 262 teams – including FBI and Secret Service – participating from around the world.
“This [growth] is what I thought would happen. Over the years it slowly grew [as word spread] from one cop to another,” Foote said.
The two original agencies still have a strong presence; LAPD is sending 36 teams and LASD 39. But it is not only the variety of agencies represented that has grown over the years; it is also where they are traveling from that has changed.
“You run with law enforcement from around the world,” said Sgt. Burton Brink, LASD Crescenta Valley Station. “We have run with officers from Australia, Great Britain and Canada.”
“This year there will be a team from Germany,” said Glendale police Lt. Tim Feeley.
Teams traveling from other countries is not a surprise to Foote.
“I have traveled that far for [law enforcement events]. They know the destination. You tell them Las Vegas and everybody knows,” he said.
Foote continues to be very involved with the relay.
“Nothing is the same in this race two years [in a row],” he said. He added that he is happy to see the relay continue to grow.
“It has an allure that is hard to ignore,” he said.
The call to run is something Feeley understands well. A 20-year veteran of GPD, this is also his 20th time running Baker to Vegas. It is the 26th year GPD has been involved in the relay.
Training begins early. The Glendale team begins training hard around January.
“At the end of every Baker to Vegas, we say we are going to start [training] right [away],” Feeley said.
But life gets in the way and the time to train gets pushed back. He said that they do organize the runners by those who will take the longer legs and those who will take the higher altitude portion.
“As tough as it is we look forward to it every year,” Feeley said.
The relay is a way to promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle but it is also about bonding with other officers.
“It is nice to be with people you have a common bond with,” Feeley said.
“And to rekindle old friendships,” Brink said.
Brink said there is some “shop talk” but mostly it is just a time to run and connect with fellow officers.
LASD Crescenta Valley and Altadena stations combine for one team. Brink said the two teams are proud of their run and the challenge to do better than they did the year before.
And once you’re on the team it is hard to leave. Feeley said one of their fastest runners, Steve Davies, retired a few years ago but is still on the team.
In addition to those who run, 20 members with alternates, there is a large support team that follows along in vehicles and shuttle runners throughout the race.
“This year our new chief [Robert Castro] will be out there. He ran the [relay] with his old agency,” Feeley said.
Brink will be on scene as well, heading a command center, and several deputies and volunteers from the CV Station will be on hand to help support the runners.
GPD and CV sheriffs had to raise from $3500 to $5000 to be part of the relay, including entrance fees. The officers pay for their hotels, too.
The agencies raise funds over the course of the year. Anyone who would like to donate to GPD can do so through the Glendale Police Officers Association, www.glendalepoa.com, and for CV sheriffs through the CV Sheriff’s Support Group, www.cvssg.org. Write checks to either agency and indicate Baker to Vegas in the memo line.