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Sean’s Run: Setting the course for year 15
And reflecting on the past 14 years

Article originally featured on columbiagreenemedia.com
By Karrie Allen

CHATHAM — “This turned out to be our second largest number of registrations in the event’s 14-year history,” said Mark French, secretary of the Organizing Committee for Sean’s Run.

Among the four events — Sean’s Ride (196 registrants), Zumbathon (63), the Super Saturday Sean’s Run for Special Needs Kids (14) and 5K/Meghan’s Mile (1,220) — the registration total was 1,493 (see results on page B2). There was a large faction who registered online this year, 562 — the most in at least the last six years. He also noted the high number of walk-ins this year, 581 — second only to 2011, which had 602.

The largest turnout — 1,618 — was in 2013, “when we had two back-to-back days of temps in the 70s and perfect blue skies,” said French.

You just can’t predict what Mother Nature will do on Sean’s Run Weekend. Last year, it was cold and rainy — and numbers were down slightly.

Jeff French, who has led the committee for the past 12 years, is always amazed at how committed the participants and the volunteers are despite any kind of weather. Saturday morning’s temps were in the 30s, yet cyclists came out early to ride.

Committee members give up a full weekend to volunteer and work through the elements. This year it was windy, so the scaffolding kept moving, he said. But that’s the “spirit” of Sean’s Run.

“I am always impressed with the outpouring of ever-increasing support from the local community and beyond,” commented Mark French, when asked to reflect on the past 14 years.

The event is named after his son, Sean, who died as a passenger in a car accident on Jan. 1, 2002; the driver was drunk and Sean was not wearing a seat belt. He was only 17.

The idea for this event came from family friend Jack McGrath after witnessing more than 100 Chatham High School students run together after a memorial service that was held at the school in the wake of Sean’s death. Students wanted to convey an important lesson, especially around prom season: Don’t drink and drive. This lesson has now been coupled with the importance of wearing a seat belt.

“In four months, Jack had planned and produced the first Sean’s Run, a 5K fun run,” said French.

In the last 14 years, this event has grown, thanks in large part to the Organizing Committee. “We have a super Organizing Committee and most of them have been with the event since it started,” he said.

Shari Franks, town of Chatham recreation director and honorary board of director, is one of the original committee members and she agreed that it is “one of the best committees to work with. Everyone does their piece and some of us go above our little piece to help out wherever needed.”

Another original committee member was Meghan Kraham, who was just 16 when she joined. “I greatly miss Meghan,” said French, adding that she was a close friend of Sean’s.

“A rare cancer took her from us in 2007,” he said, so the Organizing Committee “named the youth mile race Meghan’s Mile as our way to memorialize her.”

The committee also pays homage to the committee’s original treasurer, Nancy Zygmon, who fought cancer for two years before her death in 2009.

Her greatest joy of Sean’s Run was the presentation of the grant checks to the schools, said French, so the committee has dedicated its grant-making efforts to her memory.

A highlight of the weekend for French is the Super Saturday Sean’s Run for Special Needs Kids. “I will never forget the phone call I received a few years ago from Burke Adams, the founder of the Albany Miracle League,” which provides sporting activities for kids with special needs, he said. Adams said “he wanted ‘his kids’ to run under the Sean’s Run finish line banner” — and they have been since 2010, when Sean’s Run officially became a two-day event.

Franks said one of her favorite things about the event is to “watch the kids, especially the real little ones cross the finish line and then get their ice cream afterward.

“The other thing for me is seeing the same people return year after year that I first met over 15 years ago at the Old Chatham 5K race,” which was held as a fundraiser for Crellin Morris Association, she said.

Once that run stopped and Sean’s Run was created, “we had the same people coming to that,” said Franks. “It’s also great to see former employees of mine coming now with their own kids.”

A Zumbathon was introduced in 2012. French admitted he never knew much about Zumba. “Now I am so impressed with the athleticism and fitness of the participants who go nonstop for two hours, working out and having a ball,” he said.

This year’s instructors were Jocelyn Morse, Dona Bervy, Theresa Rossi (third-grade teacher at Chatham) and Mary Carey, along with a few moves by DJ Roddy Bunch. Beth Hover, a Sean’s Run Committee member, organizes this event each year.

In 2013, Sean’sRide was added to Saturday’s roster of events. The committee has dubbed the rides: casual (10 miles), fun (20 miles) and the county tour (50 miles). Cyclists even get their own jersey.

Jeff French said the cyclists don’t ride to win, so the organization doesn’t record the finish times (however some cyclists do record their own times). Some are so serious, the don’t even stop at any rest stop, he noted, while others will actually stop in the shops or eateries in Hudson as they ride up Warren Street, something the committee is pleased to see.

All of the events would not be possible without sponsorship, some of which have been with the organization since the inaugural event, noted French. Hudson River Bank and Trust Company was the presenting sponsor the first five years until they merged with First Niagara, which has been the presenting sponsor for the last nine years; HRBT Foundation is still a major contributor.

French also mentioned the media sponsors, which happen to be this paper and the Register-Star. “The papers have been more than generous on providing advertising and coverage,” he said, also lauding this year’s event guide published by Columbia-Greene Media and Mercantile magazine.

It was “outstanding and a huge hit at the event,” said French.

The event has grown beyond just a run, “with the funds raised going to grants to schools and youth groups to fund programs that combat underage drinking and encourage consistent use of seat belts. Also to scholarships,” stated French.

The Prevention Education Expo and the popular World Championship Battle of the Belts were added to further support Sean’s Run’s mission. “With the addition of the Safety Tree at Columbia Memorial Hospital … the mission has a year-round presence,” he said.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police and Chatham Police Department competed in the Battle of the Belts on Sunday, with the Sheriff’s Office triumphing over both agencies. This year’s Sean’s Run Weekend was dedicated to Max Kelly, who died in a drunken driving accident on Dec. 31, 2012; he was 21. French noted that the committee dedicates the weekend each year to a different young person who was killed in these circumstances.

“As parents, we are deeply pained when we learn of another family’s grief at the loss of a child in a car crash because of underage drinking, impaired driving or failure to use seat belts,” stated French. “Their stories remind us all that our work is not over; we need to continue to bring attention to the issues we are addressing.”

Looking ahead to 2016, the 15th annual Sean’s Run, French noted there is more to look forward to beyond what the community and participants have come to expect, like live music, expanded refreshment offerings and expanded special premiums, to start.

In year 15, the organization will see other important numbers. “We will break the $200,000 mark in monies given away as grants and scholarships and we’ll see our 17,000 registration” noted French. “We hope to have our most ever participants.”

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