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Sean’s Run numbers up this year in
entries and volunteers

By Paul Crossman

Originally Published in the Chatham Courier:
Thursday, April 29, 2010 6:13 AM EDT


CHATHAM — “Wow, that was a tough course,” stammered first place finisher Chuck Terry of Albany as he crossed the finish line at Sean’s Run Sunday, April 25 with a time of 15:58. Though Terry finished more than a full minute ahead of his competitors, nearly everyone walked away from the race feeling like they had accomplished something special, whether it was to remember Sean French or to help educate others on the dangers of drinking and driving.

James Boedin of Millerton took second place in the 5k with a time of 16:48 and Dave Vona of Valatie placed third with a time of 16:56. Emma Gryner of Craryville was the first female to cross the finish line with a time of 21:05.

According to Sean’s Run General Chairman Jeff French, the nearly constant drizzle that wet the ground Sunday did nothing to hinder the race or the turnout, with 1,462 entrants — almost 100 more than last year — and many more coming out to show their support.

Race Secretary and Sean’s father, Mark, agreed.

“Our focus on this is not the front, the best and the fastest,” he said. “Our goal is to do something the community can really get involved in.”

With Sean’s Run growing nearly 300 percent in the past four years, the community has really gotten involved, with everyone from teachers and students to alumni and local residents racing and donating their time to help with the event.

“I do this in the spirit of Sean,” said Chatham Middle School science teacher and runner Jason Kahn. “He was a good kid and we all miss him. I think this would be better if he was here.”

High School teacher and event volunteer Virginia Nightingale agreed.

“I do it because I remember Sean fondly,” she said, “and because I think it’s an important event to teach people about drunk driving.”

Not only did people from all over the community come out, but the event attracted people from all over New York, as well as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania and even Florida.

According to Mark French, what really touched him was the amount of volunteers who offered their support.

“Overall, I’m very impressed with how many volunteers we had from the community,” he remarked. “It’s great that a lot of people came from other places, but they wouldn’t come if we didn’t have a great community organization.”

More than 60 First Niagara Bank employees volunteered on Saturday and Sunday, as well as another 75 individuals from the community, including many students and graduates of the Chatham school district.

More than 250 kids up to age 13 participated in the youth race, Meghan’s Mile, with first place going to Drew McAuley, 12, of Schenectady, with a record setting time of 6:12. Second and third place went to Chase Werner, 11, and Christopher Palladin, 13, respectively. Philmont’s Samantha Taylor placed first in the female division (fifth overall) with a time of 6:50.

Aside from the races, Sean’s Run is also home to the world championships of an unusual, but educational event called Battle of the Belts, which helps teach children of all ages the importance of wearing a seat belt at all times.

The competition involved teams of four sprinting to van, buckling their seat belts and raising their hands when finished. Once everyone on the team had raised their hands and was inspected by a Chatham Police officer, they performed a Chinese fire drill three times until all four members of the team had been buckled and inspected in all four seats.

This year’s Battle of the Belts high school champions were Fonda-Fultonville High School with their team, “J.Rad,” in first, Berlin High School with their team, “Team Buckleup,” in second and The Marathon Project with their team, “The Marathoners,” in third. Chatham Middle School teams “The Bucklin’ Babes” and “The Fruitful Belt Ninjas” came in first and second, respectively, in the junior high age group. Lynch Literacy Academy from Amsterdam took third place with their team, “The Mad Bucklers.”

In addition to the annual 5k race, Battle of the Belts and Megan’s Mile, this year, Sean’s Run added another event, Sea Jem’s Super Saturday Run for Special Needs Kids. In this event, nearly 20 kids with a variety of special needs ran a shorter race around the high school parking lot, receiving the same T-shirts as the contestants in Sean’s Run, as well as various medals and ribbons.

According to Mark French, many people who saw the event said it was really the highlight of the weekend for them. He added that he has been told that Sean’s Run is the first ever road race to attach an event for kids with special needs.

Despite the rain Sunday, the wet weather seemed to encourage many of the runners, with several saying how the cooler air was much better than last year’s 90 degree temps, making it easier for them to run the course and get better times.

Volunteers and runners alike had various reasons for attending this year’s Sean’s Run, with groups ranging from Chatham alumni high school cheerleaders, who just wanted to prove they could run a good race, to semi-professional running groups like the Kinderhook Runner’s Club, who boasted more than 30 members and supported the race on several different levels. Volunteers manning the various anti-drunk driving booths saw the even as a good opportunity to help educate the community.

Others, like Gary Tuthill, see the race in a different light. Tuthill, who began running with coworkers to lose weight, looked at the race as something he could finally do for a good cause. The Chatham resident, who is a member of the Chatham Fire Department and volunteer with the Chatham Rescue Squad, said that he frequently sees drunk driving accidents and fatalities in the course of his work, so he was glad to be able to help out the Sean’s Run cause.

“Quite honestly I hate to run,” he said. “It was really just contributing [to the cause.]”

Even Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo made an appearance at the event. “I think it’s a good issue to focus on, especially this time of the year,” she said. “It’s important for the whole community to come together.”

Doris Aiken, president of RID, USA, was one of the many people who made use of the event to try and teach people about the dangers of both alcohol abuse and drunk driving.

“I do it because of the tragedy,” she said, “but I also do it because a drunk driver can also be an alcoholic.” She added that RID is about stopping alcohol-related injuries and fatalities of any kind. One such initiative that may soon come to Columbia County is called the Safety Tree. A pine tree is planted and decorated with white lights and every time there is an alcohol-related death, one of the lights turns red, creating a visual of just how dangerous alcohol and drinking and driving can be.

Overall, Mark French and all the volunteers considered the event to be a huge success, citing not only the education and the memories of Sean, but the sense of coming together as a community every year for Sean’s Run.

“A lot of people consider Sean’s Run mandatory because it is such a positive community event,” said Julie Keating, director of the Kinderhook Runner’s club. “This run is really like a homecoming opportunity to come back and be with family and friends.”

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