For more than four decades, late summer in Falmouth has been defined by the Falmouth Road Race. The 7.1-mile journey, which originated as the fanciful brain child of local legend Tommy Leonard as a bar sprint from the Captain Kidd in Woods Hole to the Casino in Falmouth Heights, has become an amalgam of superlatives—it is one of the world’s best athletic events, one of road racing's top fundraising occasions, and one of the most inspirational undertakings around. So many stories of hope and triumph, so many encouraging traditions and sustaining relationships, and so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things have come to define this weekend-long event.
I had the good fortune to spend Saturday, August 16, and Sunday, August 17, with old chum and FCTV guru Kevin Lynch as we attended many of the race events and recorded the sights, thoughts, and tales of the weekend for a show for Falmouth’s hometown TV station. We started off our coverage by spending some time at Dave and Bob Jarvis’s Quarterdeck Restaurant, where the organizers of the Falmouth Walk were busy preparing for this now-legendary event, which raised more than $30,000 for local charities like Gosnold on Cape Cod and the Falmouth Military Support Group. Founders Tommy Leonard (of course) and retired Boston man-in-blue Ed Burke regaled us with stories of their time together when Ed was walking the beat in Boston and Tommy was slinging beers at the Eliot Lounge. If you see Ed around town, ask him how easy it is to get a horse into a bar.
(I’ll give you a clue: it’s easier than getting him out after he’s had a few drinks.)
From the Falmouth Walk, we traveled to Falmouth High School, where the Health & Wellness Expo was bustling with runners, families, and my top-notch producer, and I had an enjoyable visit with Falmouth’s hometown astronaut, Sunita Williams. Sunni’s family, including her sister Deena, live here in Falmouth. We had a chance to visit—and it added immeasurably to the day to have someone who has been around and above the globe spend some time reflecting on the exceptionality of our community.
During the expo I was able to catch up with race president Scott Ghelfi, who was brimming with excitement—and gratitude—for the more than 2,000 who make the race the success that it is. Scott is a positive and effusive face of the race, and brings a commitment to the Falmouth community that helps this race stay true to its roots as an event based in pride and dedication to the Falmouth community. As evidence of that, over the two days, I shared a quick glance or a smile with volunteers like Ed Giordano and Johnnie Netto, who continue their volunteer service from the early days, when Rich and Kathy Sherman were joined by John and Lucia Carroll as the organizers of this renowned event.
On race morning, Kevin and I headed over to Lawrence School as thousands of bleary-eyed runners boarded school buses just as the sun was peeking over the eastern horizon. The aforementioned horse whisperer Ed Burke has made a science of herding more than 10,000 runners into orderly queues to get them swiftly and safely to the starting line in Woods Hole. Kevin and I boarded one of the buses and had a great chat with the hopeful and perhaps jittery would-be finishers, including Main Street mainstay Akku Patel, who left his perch behind the register at 7-Eleven for the day to fulfill a challenge from a friend and run the race. A check of the results shows that Akku placed 10,837th out of 11,184 finishers—but he finished and fulfilled a personal dream and goal. Akku is symbolic of the thousands of stories of personal achievement that make this race a tome of triumph and so much more than seven miles of running. The brother and sister team of Finton and Aoife Callinan looked ready to run from Falmouth to Fenway, never mind from Woods Hole to the Heights. They were both racing to support the Cape Cod Center for Women, Aoife having raised more than $6,000 to support this vital Falmouth-based nonprofit.
As we waded through the throngs of personified anticipation, soaking in the varied visages ranging from steely determination to abject fear, I had the good fortune of a visit with past neighbors and permanent friends Greg and Sandee Parkinson, also running to support the Cape Cod Center for Women. They were joined by sons Christopher and Andrew. Sandee is a perennial fixture near the front of the pack, but eschewed a prediction on her place in the family competition. Good thinking. I think I promised one of my books for the top Parkinson finisher—so stop by the house, Christopher, and pick up your prize.
In a post-Boston Marathon bombing running world, security is a somewhat unheralded but nonetheless omnipresent reality. Falmouth Police Captain Jeff Smith took a few moments to share his thoughts with us and was representative of a well-orchestrated security effort that deserves our gratitude and praise. Along the route, from the smiling duo of Sean Doyle and Doug DeCosta at the start of the race, to stalwart veterans Kevin Kinsella and Tom McGuire, to visiting officers from surrounding communities, our hometown was well-protected and represented.
Kevin and I hitched a ride aboard the lead female runners press truck, and caught a glimpse of the thousands of fans and supporters who line the route to cheer and bring inspiration and enthusiasm no matter if the throngs run, walk, limp, or shuffle by. I spotted old friends John Kelleher, Steve Hough, and Kevin Smoller enjoying the day. Falmouth’s famous scribe, Ted Murphy, and excellent educator Diane Funfar were also seen along the route. The South Shore was represented by Hanoverite John Barry, and former Stop & Shop mainstay John Brand’s smile was wide, no doubt in supporting his daughter Lori and son-in-law Don Thomson, as they ran together and completed their trek. I took a moment to cheer another Hanoverite, Claire Reilly, as she darted past Norwell standout Rob Bergquist.
I was able to chat with one of the five legends who have run every race, and my brief visit with Brian Salzburg was indeed a treat. I didn’t get to chat with pal Dan DiNardo, as he was hard at work volunteering with the medical corps, tending to those who wilted a bit. I did grab a hug and a handshake with native Falmouthite Steve Lawrence, who not only ran a great race, but cooked a mean post-race meal. I have wonderful childhood memories of singing at a player piano with longtime friend Joe Dowick; now I have new memory of seeing him check an item off the bucket list by crossing the finish line.
As we made our way onto the post-race gathering on the ball field, the hugs, smiles, and tears were as plentiful as the hot dogs and Yasso frozen yogurt. I shed a tear watching Kevin clutch his son Kevin, after the younger version of Kevin Lynch crossed the finish line in a truly inspirational feat of completing the race months after having life-saving lung removal surgery. My Quarterdeck circle then became complete after sharing a brief but enjoyable visit with former Main Street maven Rita Pacheco and hearing stories of success from her children, Reece and Rebecca.
Our whirlwind weekend ended (of course) with a snack at the hot dog tent, run efficiently and expertly by the Falmouth Band Parents and led by proud mom Cathy Lemay. As John Marderosian heated up the hot dogs in the steamy abyss below, he nonetheless took a moment to catch up and share a smile.
That’s what this entire weekend is all about. Thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of people, descending on this very special community, for one very special event, on one very special weekend, to share one simple, but very special thing—a smile. That smile can be a smile of victory, a smile of support, a smile of recognition, or a smile of gritty endurance, but at the end of it all, that’s what everyone who comes to Falmouth gets to take home.