Another Fun & Friendly Falmouth Day

The friendly admonition to runners and spectators alike, as nearly 13,000 stories of personal perseverance were set to unfold in Woods Hole last Sunday morning, August 16, told the simple but unforgettable tale of another phenomenal installation of a Falmouth tradition. “Be nice to each other and have fun,” said the starting line announcer, stating the obvious, but reminding all of us that those two themes are at the heart of every Falmouth Road Race–and were most certainly the core of this 43rd edition.

As my longtime pal, and one of Falmouth’s favorite volunteers, FCTV producer Kevin Lynch and I traversed the town and many of the Road Race-related events last weekend, those themes of fun and friendliness pervaded every moment. We spent hours interviewing and chatting with runners, supporters, organizers, and visitors, and each, although their stories differed, struck those familiar refrains in sharing their road race memories. 

On Saturday afternoon, August 15, we visited with local legend Eddie Doyle, as he supervised and cheered on another successful Falmouth Walk, a family-oriented fundraising prelude to the big race which raises thousands for local charities, including the Falmouth Housing Trust and the Falmouth Military Support Group. Annie Connolly and Carole Kenney, the tireless leaders of each of those organizations, were on hand to walk and cheer themselves, supported at the finish line gathering by the ice cream creations of Richard (Smitty) Smith, whose delicious donations make so many local events so much sweeter.

From there, we headed over to the pre-race expo in the Robert Antonucci gymnasium at FHS, where thousands picked up their numbers, their goodie bags of Falmouth Road Race swag, and some tips and information on healthy running and healthy living from the dozens of vendors providing plenty. We learned of the contents of the swag bags from some energetic volunteers from the Mashpee High School chapter of the National Honor Society and chatted with swag bag chief Lori Andrade on what it takes to put together 13,000 of them. Kevin and I had the good fortune to spend some time with the inspiring father-and-son team of Dick and Rick Hoyt, who show and teach us far more from their close and abiding relationship than they do with their annual moving trek from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights. I enjoyed a quick catch-up with the recently retired but still dynamic and vigorous Falmouthite Jay Zavala, who was manning a booth for the Falmouth chamber’s upcoming “Jingle Jog.” As always, his lovely wife, Susan, was by his side, equaling his effervescence and good will. We chatted briefly with race guru and race president Scott Ghelfi, who humbly and kindly credited the hundreds of local volunteers for making the weekend events

As the sun came up on race day, Kevin and I stopped in and checked in with Police Chief Ed Dunne, whose well-oiled machine of multi-agency security worked seamlessly on the ground and in the air to keep us safe. We then headed over to the Lawrence School, where the bleary-eyed but eager runners were boarding school buses for an early morning ride to the starting line. The buses run with precision, looping from Lakeview Avenue to Water Street in Woods Hole and back again–a boomerang of effective transportation run by just one of the race’s teams of volunteers.

At Lawrence, as the sun was peeking over the weathervane atop the historic cupola, stretching like the would-be racers themselves onto the ballfield where the runners engaged in pre-race nutrition of protein drinks and bananas, pre-race excitement and encouragement, and even pre-race prayer, the air was filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. After a good morning chat with FPD Sergeant Mike Simoneau and hopeful runner Amanda Ravens, we boarded a bus ourselves, trying to find some pre-race optimism. We found it for sure. Our bus was loaded with an entire team of ebullient, lobster antennae-wearing runners, whose lighthearted laughter and banter did not match the specter of the humidly oppressive seven-mile trek ahead of them. When I noted to the group leader that his organizational skills would come in handy in a political campaign, my new friend Don Patterson told me that his uncle is treasured veteran town clerk Michael Palmer. ’Nuff said.

We arrived in Woods Hole, and both the heat and exhilaration were palpable. I gathered a quick update on security from FPD Captain Jeff Smith, then enjoyed a visit with veteran runner Ken Gartner and his son Henry, who was set to run in his first Falmouth. I heard several stories of pre-race inspiration, including tales of athletic altruism from Hanoverians Susan Glover and Anne McNamara, who made the trip from the South Shore to support Team MR8, founded in honor of Boston Marathon victim Martin Richard. I managed to have an interesting and delightful chat about the Falmouth of yesteryear with one of the “Falmouth Five” Brian Salzburg, who, along with four other members of that truly elite group, has run each race from its inception in 1973. It was fitting that I shared a Sunday morning smile and salutation with Scott Ghelfi at that moment, as his kind and respectful stewardship of this iconic experience has kept the community feel at the forefront of this event.

As the throngs began to sense the pending start, the singing, sprinting, eating, and drinking (water and Gatorade, of course) graduated to a more contemplative concentration. I still managed to squeeze in a quick visit with Greg and Sandee Parkinson, respectively the family’s lead doctor and the lead runner, although word on the street was (and is) that youngest son Christopher, who practiced his sprints as a caddy at the Golf Club of Cape Cod, might have supplanted his mom to grab the latter moniker. I also savored the chance to quickly connect with a couple of FRR veterans, Don Delinks and former state representative Tom Cahir, who was running in his 34th Falmouth.

Just before the starting gun went off and Kevin and I joined sportswriters and photographers, including the Enterprise’s own Rich Maclone aboard the press truck, I enjoyed a quick chat with three of my favorite Falmouthites, Alan, Phyllis and Julie Silver, who may be in Falmouth only part time, but add a year’s worth of good-will and memories with every passage of the calendar.

As our journey to Falmouth Heights began, an enthusiastic fan rang a cowbell for the passing elite runners on Church Street. As we neared the soon-to-be-preserved Nobska Light and noticed more than a dozen boats enjoying a seafaring vantage point anchored in the ocean, I glanced at the timer–and it was at slightly more than four minutes. While I collected my consciousness at the thought of any human being able to run a mile in four minutes, the cheers continued as we raced ahead of the pack. Amid the yelling and yodeling, I managed to share a wave along the way with Kim deLalla Greenlaw at her family perch on Oyster Pond, with the fantastic floor man Tim Kerr along Surf Drive, and with Uncle Craig Clarkson and his clan cheering on Cousin Katie on Shore Street.

As we made our way toward the finish, where the lead pack dwindled to seven and the nearly 13,000 behind trudged through the sweltering summer sun, I spotted cherished local artist Karen Rinaldo shooting photos near her studio at the Clam Shack, then noticed old pal Jeff Stouffer at the turn near Charlie Bardelis’s Island Queen.

We jumped off the press truck and into the press tent as winner Stephen Sambu breezed across the finish line, followed closely in the newly established “countdown” competition by women’s winner Diane Nukuri. I had the chance to interview both–they are not only great runners–they are also winners in life and great people, part of what makes Falmouth such a great race.

The throngs then followed, some minutes later, some hours, but all had stories of triumph and determination. I saw Walpole’s Jacqui Dolan sprint across, just as the gazelle-like Rita Pacheco finished her trek while Hanover’s Claire Reilly logged another completion alongside Robbie Berquist and Tim Mullen, while family athletic supporter Ann Foster cheered them on. I then waved in acknowledgement as the personal stories of locals Mike Burton, Jen Murphy and the father-and-son team of Reggie and Matt Soares were all enhanced with a Falmouth finish. The City of Champions was well represented, as Brocktonians Mary Waldron and city councilor Bob Sullivan made the undulating and challenging course look easy.

I met up with Donna on the ballfield, and we were showered with more stories of success and charity, including a moving visit with Moe Guernon, who introduced us to daughters Shayla and Alexandra Guernon, who were running on the Dana-Farber team to raise funds and awareness in memory of their uncle Paul J. Kelley Jr., who recently lost his own race against cancer. That was just one of the unforgettable tales of the day. As Donna and I were walking back up the hill to head home, a couple of ladies labored toward the finish, and finish they did. The amazing personal accounts of Lisa Kelliher and Erin Burke added another spectacular chapter as they crossed the finish line, tackling their fears and showering us all with inspiration.

At its core, that’s what this race is about. As exciting as it is to watch world-class athletes sprint to the finish, it’s even more fulfilling to watch everyday people find the grit, faith, and determination to fulfill a dream, complete a goal, and inspire an entire community. Thanks to all who shared their stories to enhance the lore of another fun and friendly Falmouth day.

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