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The following article first appeared in the April edition of our Silver Medal Sponsor's website, www.berkshirehomestyle.com

Sean's Run
- By Jennifer Stoner

With Velcro straps secured around their ankles (timing chips embedded), standing shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow, the fastest runners will stand poised and alert at the starting line, anticipating the sound of the air-horn to indicate the start of the race. Behind them, just as excited for the horn to blare, the slower paced runners and walkers will form the remainder of the group; they too wear the Velcro ankle straps with timing chips—their times are just as important to them as well. At last, the horn sounds and the runners are off. The runners vie to take the lead spot, with only the motorcycle escort out in front of them acting as a sentinel and signaling to the spectators and cars along the route that the race has begun.

This scenario could be the beginning of most any road race, but it isn’t. Much has happened throughout the prior year—and years—to prepare for this particular race and the day’s events that lead up to its grand finale, and the awarding of thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants.

It’s a race organized and designed with the purpose of bringing a community of runners and advocates from Columbia County and beyond its borders together. It’s a day when awareness, partnerships, tributes, scholarship and spirited competition are held in honor of a talented young man and aspiring runner. His name was Sean Patrick French. He was a junior and honor student from Chatham High School, and an ardent runner and record setting athlete at the age of 17. He was a passenger and casualty in a drunk-driving car crash on New Year’s Eve in 2002. This 5K race, Sean’s Run, was organized by a group of volunteers (adults and students) shortly after his death, to raise awareness as a community “to help kids make better choices, to get them to better understand why they should never ride with an impaired driver, why they should not consume alcoholic beverages until they are 21, why they should wear their seatbelts.”

During the past seven years, their efforts have grown and developed beyond the yearly race by contributing grants (with the proceeds raised) to organizations like SADD, MADD and RID in the community and Columbia County. Legislation has been enacted in New York State; Sean’s Law requires the suspension of a license for 16 and 17 year olds who are arrested on drunk driving charges. An Education Expo and valuable information is available the day of the race each year; there are tributes to victims and survivors of impaired crashes; and the World Championship Battle of the Belts seatbelt contest for high school student teams throughout the region also takes place on the day of the race. Scholarships are awarded to graduating runners from area high schools. The Sean Patrick French Memorial Scholarship is awarded to one college-bound senior girl and boy at Chatham High School. Those awarded this $1,000 scholarship must “express and demonstrate compassion and sensitivity to all types of people and include all in his or her circle of friends.” The Love of Running Scholarship is open to college-bound Columbia County high school seniors who have participated in at least two seasons of varsity level Track & Field or Cross Country. At least two $500 scholarships, one to a boy and one to a girl, are awarded based on their submitted essay describing how running has helped to prepare them for college and adulthood. A third scholarship is also available to college-bound high school seniors who qualified to compete in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) State Cross Country Championship. Again, $500 is awarded to one boy and one girl.

As you can see, the committee that produces the Sean Patrick French Memorial Run/Walk is dedicated to producing a well organized race; one that raises funds, which are then, in turn, used to raise awareness about underage drinking, the importance of seatbelt use, and positive behaviors. The goals of this committee and race benefit all the students in our communities—not just those who love to run.

It’s a family-friendly, fun and competitive race for runners and walkers, young and old. Awards are given to the first female and male overall runners, and to the top three female and male runners of each age group. A youth mile race, Meghan’s Mile is also open for younger runners (awards also given). There’s music; nourishing snacks for after the race; hundreds of photos are taken of participants along the route to view online and purchase if they so choose; and posted results are available within minutes of completing the race/walk. On Sunday April 26th, hundreds, and most likely, thousand-plus participants, will gather for the 8th annual running of Sean’s Run at Chatham High School in Chatham, NY. Will you? If you do, you’re sure to “Feel the Spirit.”

Go to www.seansrun.com for registration forms, details and additional information.

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