LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Lakewood Ranch High School junior Emily Perez, 16, blasted across the finish line in a personal best time of 19:35.7 Friday to win the female division of the 2013 Law Enforcement Torch Run.
"I saw another girl behind me and I whispered to myself, 'I want this,'" said Perez, who was injured for most of the Mustangs' track and cross country seasons this year and couldn't compete.
"This is the best I have seen her in a while," said her father, Sgt. Evelio Perez of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, who cheered his daughter to the finish line on a course set up at Manatee Technical Institute's East Campus.
Perez's blistering pace set the tone for a lightning-fast 5K this year held, as is custom, to benefit Special Olympics.
Bradenton's Stephen Desch, 21, a Manatee Technical Institute Police Academy student, topped the field of nearly 300 runners coming in first in 15:09.9, also a personal best.
"It was a fast course," a smiling Desch said after he crossed the line, nearly a minute ahead of the field. "I felt great."
The second place finisher was Mauricio Falco, a former Venezuela national runner. Falco's time was 16:10.1.
The crowd also gave a warm reception to Special Olympian Tim Freed, 56, a decorated athlete who has been running for roughly four decades.
Freed carried the Special Olympics torch.
"We are so grateful that law enforcement has this race," said Donna Pattison of Special Olympics. "This race will raise the necessary funds so my son and others can attend functions. It pays for meals and everything. The Special Olympic athletes have to pay nothing."
The event was expected to raise roughly $20,000 for Special Olympics, Pattison said.
The winning team was SWAT One, comprised of Andy Ramdath, Joseph Skala and David Byington.
Desch, who has been running about five years, graduated from Braden River High in 2010.
Bradenton's Rocky Bucso finished third overall in 18:31.
Anna Neal of Palmetto finished second in the female division with a time of 19:48. Cristy Snellgroves was third in 20:57.8.