The Falmouth Road Race is so much more than an athletic event. Yes, it is a world class running affair, attracting world-class athletes, past and present Olympic champions, and household names, all who come to Falmouth to experience the agony and delight of the undulating and at times unforgiving 7.1 mile course. Yes, this year saw nearly 13,000 individual stories of personal triumph, and dozens of celebrations of the amazing work of non-profits, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for nearly 100 non-profit organizations. And yes, this premier event, dubbed “America’s Road Race,” brings tens of thousands of visitors to our seaside hamlet each year.
But more than any of those highlights, more than any official mission and raison d’etre, the Falmouth Road Race is a community event. It’s a celebration of more than four decades of history, of family traditions, of local volunteers, and of Falmouthites running against no one but themselves – just for the pure thrill and tradition of taking part in an iconic Falmouth institution.
Even before the emotional start in Woods Hole, where a poignant and touching start by Boston Marathon inspiration Jeff Bauman put runners and fans alike in a grateful and hopeful mood, the community spirit was running high. As Donna and I walked to our perch atop heartbreak hill, where the sun was glistening off the lightly rolling waves in Vineyard Sound, we saw uber-volunteer Johnny Netto bringing supplies to the finish line – of course with his wide, ubiquitous smile. As we nestled in between a few excited spectators, medical volunteer Dan DiNardo stopped over and shared a smile and hello and his gratitude for being part of this great communal event before returning to his post.
As I passed a sign held by an eager young man that simply implored, “Don’t Throw Up!”, I realized what a small world this race makes our Commonwealth, as I enjoyed an overdue visit and chat with visiting Bridgewater standouts Dan Buron and Mike Flaherty, who were enjoying sharing tales of their own athletic success at a place called Gasparilla with renowned South Coast barrister Ted Pietnik.
As I heard the dull roar of motorcycles and caught a warm and friendly glance from our man in blue Bob Murray, proudly perched on a Falmouth Police Harley, I knew the runners were not far behind. I had a nice chat with long-time Falmouthite and friend Steve Smith, who was eagerly awaiting his sister’s arrival along the race route. As I looked across the sea of runners at that point, I spied Falmouth Heights supporter and Innkeeper Howard Grosser, who was holding court at his Inn on the Sound, entertaining and informing guests. Lt. Barney Murphy, who proudly manages canines and deputies for our stalwart Sheriff Jim Cummings, stopped by my vantage point for a quick hello, just as perennial quick finisher Ken Gartner sped by. He was followed by the always gazelle-like Sandee Parkinson, and soon thereafter by an effortless Tom Cahir, demonstrating his proficiency in transportation of the human sort.
The crowd roared as FRR veteran and legend Bill Rodgers jogged by, and I let out a spark of enthusiastic applause of my own as my New Hampshire nephew Jack Perkins, barely breaking a sweat and appearing fit and determined well beyond his thirteen years, dashed ahead. UMASS-bound Andrew Magill offered a wave as he prepares for his collegiate adventure, followed soon thereafter by a calm and serene Tim Lineweaver.
The crowd again erupted as the inseparable and ever-determined Dad and son duo of Dick and Rick Hoyt passed by the adoring multitudes, and let out some acapella tunes as Elvis himself trotted by in his blue suede running shoes. Falmouth Recreation veteran Joe Olenick appeared to be enjoying his day off, while Enterprise guru Bill Hough was soaking in the sun and the news of a fantastic Falmouth day. Former Town Manager Bob Whritenour had things in order during his run, and Coonamessett Inn guru David Schneider looked ready to finish and head back to his Gifford Street environs for a cold one. I noted that the MA Teacher’s Association was well represented by a sprinting Ann Sullivan, right around that same time that I caught former Mashpee educator Ed Furtek again demonstrating his fortitude.
I let out a loud guffaw as a young man strode by wearing a “Running Sucks” t-shirt (I don’t think he or his 13,000 street mates really meant it), and the happy look on the face of perennial runner Don Delinks supported that theory.
The on-street crowds began to wane, but the determination continued to grow. Falmouth foodie Steve Lawrence, enjoying some time and making memories with daughter Hannah jogged by, and deft and dexterous doc Don O’Malley wore a smile as he neared the finish.
As a fitting conclusion to yet another spectacular iteration of this community event, one of the non-running highlights of the race was making some new friends. Donna and I struck up a conversation with a husband and wife team, both proudly donning “Yasso” frozen yogurt gear and cheering loudly for the five dozen or so runners similarly clad among the masses of competitors. As it turned out, George and Ronnie Harrington are the proud parents of one of the owners and founders of this successful local venture, Drew Harrington. Their donation of thousands of yummy yogurt bars made this dazzling day even more delicious.
We began the walk back to our Falmouth HQ on Nye Road, and I enjoyed a chat with old friend George Killory, just before touching base and sharing a laugh with medical team troupers Boyd DeMello and Alden Cook.
Thousands of stories of personal triumph. Thousands of smiles. Thousands of supportive fans. Yes, indeed, this is so much more than a race. It’s a true Falmouth institution.