The mega-blockbuster movie "The Avengers" is nothing compared to the sensation Moraga police Chief Robert Priebe will create when he joins the annual Law Enforcement Torch Run on June 19.
The global event, begun in 1981 and now including officers in 50 states and 35 foreign countries, raises awareness and funds for the Special Olympics. Each June, 85,000 law enforcement personnel pound the pavement, carrying the Flame of Hope and the dreams of thousands of young athletes.
"The Special Olympics and law enforcement have been partnering for a long time, but the last time the Moraga Police Department participated was probably 10 years ago," Priebe admits.
Moraga officers have been training at Campolindo High School with Officer Mary Ann Grubb, a former high school cross country coach.
"She has us doing sprints, running bleachers ... she's trying to add to our mileage every day," Priebe says. "For someone who hasn't run in years ... well, I'm in pain."
Although he's a little worried about the four-mile uphill trek he and seven or so other officers will face, Priebe is energized by the local support a recent fundraiser received.
After deciding his department should participate in the Torch Run, Priebe assigned the organizational duties to Sgt. Brian South, a 10-year member of the Moraga force and a 1999 Campolindo grad.
Working with the New Rheem Theatre, South and theater Manager Lindsay Pirkle brainstormed about a special
"We used a (Torch Run) notebook and came up with something that encompassed all of the ideas -- T-shirt sales, local pizza and other food, a raffle and a movie," South explains.
Kids and classic cop movies would be the best hook, South and Pirkle decided, before scanning film titles.
"The Avengers" popped up as a ringer.
"We figured, why not Marvel Superheroes?" Pirkle asks. "Then, it had the biggest box office opening ever, so it all came together."
On May 11, adults and kids in the New Rheem lobby were jazzed and upbeat.
"I'm excited to see it," said Patty Nykodym, who volunteered for the Special Olympics 12 years ago and liked the idea of supporting the athletes again.
Her two boys, 11-year-old Marco and 8-year old Robby, were equally enthused.
"Lots of kids have seen it," they both said.
Asked if they knew any modern-day superheroes, Marco aimed his thumb at a nearby policewoman, earning a smile from his mother and points for equal rights awareness.
Vicki Vansickle, who will compete in this year's summer games, was on T-shirt patrol, but paused long enough to talk about being a Special Olympics athlete.
"I swim the 50 Free, 25 Fly and the 50 Back," she announced. "When I compete, I'm proud of trying the best I can."
Before the movie, the raffle provided young (and lucky) Marco with a Moraga Country Club golf outing, pizza from Pennini's and a Weber Grill donated by Moraga Hardware. Gift certificates from China Moon, Asia Palace and Royal Siam, plus tickets to an Oakland A's game were snatched up by winning ticket holders.
And then it was time for monstrous, lizard-like beasts, men in tights and form-fit female characters in form-fitting outfits. The movie's mass appeal, with strength oozing out of characters' minds as much as out of their biceps (except actor Mark Ruffalo's Incredible Hulk, who confiscates the eco-movements term "green" and redefines it as "mean"), was unquestionable, based on the audience's reactions.
Ron Keimach, explaining why he likes action movies, said, "Goodwill triumphs, just like in life. But in real life, there's fewer special effects!"
Of course, he's never seen Priebe run with a torch, so perhaps life will imitate art on June 19.