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By Andy Hutchison
Kevin Boughan is a fast runner, but maybe part of his motivation to get across the finish line first at the April 1 Sandy Hook 5K was that he had some post race responsibilities. Moments after leading a field of 1,280 finishers, Mr Boughan, 41, of Sandy Hook, continued his efforts at the annual race. A member of the race committee, Boughan duct taped printed results to a tent-covered table for swarms of runners to see how they did.
Those who crossed the finish line, at Fairfield Hills, were handed Bens’ Bells Kindness Coins by volunteers, including Laurie Borelli, who has helped out each year since the first race, in 2013.
One of those participants, who has completed the race each year, Roseanne Gentilin, travels from Milford, Penn., to not only run, but do so with 26-plus pounds of weight in her backpack as a way to honor those lost on 12/14.
The race theme “Love Runs Through” is clearly evident with all of this support and kindness. There are more than 100 volunteers, about half of whom have come back every year to lend a hand, who make this annual endeavor such a success.
Proceeds from the Sandy Hook 5K will be donated to the Collaborative Recovery Fund administered by the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, which pays the out-of-pocket mental health expenses for those who have been most impacted by 12/14. Additionally, a percentage of the proceeds will go directly to the chosen nonprofit organizations of those that lost loved ones. The Newtown Memorial Fund serves as the fiduciary to collect and process all donations.
Race directors Katie Blake and Julie Brunelle are the driving force behind making the Sandy Hook 5K happen, but they note that it would not be possible without the efforts of volunteers like Ms Borelli and Mr Boughan.
“Knowing they’re here because they want to be here and they don’t have to be,” is what Ms Brunelle appreciates most about the help that goes into making the race happen.
“They’re here before the sun comes up, they’re here before the runners get here,” said Ms Blake, adding that volunteers are on hand hours after the race ends, shutting everything down and cleaning up.
Mr Boughan, who also won the Sandy Hook 5K in 2015, said he was asked by race committee member Laura Nowacki to join, and he has been a part of the pre- and post-race organizational efforts for two years.
“We do everything. We were here all day yesterday setting up, we help get sponsors, we work with the town to get banners put up,” Mr Boughan said. “I’m just a small part.”
All of these “small parts” (with big hearts) add up to a huge event that was so massive its first year the race was held in Hartford to accommodate close to 10,000 finishers. There were 15,000 registered runners that first year, and since the inception of the Sandy Hook 5K virtual runners support the cause from around the world. With the race moved to Newtown since 2014, race signups are capped each spring, this year at 2,200 5K competitors and 200 Kids Run participants.
“When the tragedy happened, like everybody else, I wanted to give back to the community,” Ms Borelli said of why she became involved.
Ms Borelli, 39, who works at Yale University and lives in Wallingford, comes back for each race, in part, because of the teamwork of those behind the scenes.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Ms Borelli said. “Everyone’s so nice. It’s just so great to see them each year.”
“It’s the best. It’s really rewarding,” added Mr Boughan, whose son Kyle has participated in the 5K race.
Ms Gentilin, a mother of three boys, said hearing of the tragedy impacted her greatly.
“It really affected me deeply. I definitely think twice when I drop my kids off at school,” she said.
A physical therapist, Ms Gentilin, 51, grabs some of her weights and sand bags totaling 26 pounds, in honor of the lives lost, puts them into a special backpack with the Sandy Hook Elementary School colors, green and white, and runs the 5K each year. Ms Gentilin, an avid runner, manages to average about nine-minute miles despite the weight, but slowing herself down is the whole point.
Ms Gentilin also carries in her backpack 26 clear stones, each with an angel inside, with a picture of all of the Sandy Hook students and teachers who were killed attached to those stones.
“I just wanted to find a way to kind of reach out to the families and people of Newtown,” she said. “I wanted to make the race not about my time. I wanted to make sure every step of the race I was thinking about them. It was just more important for me to stay in the moment of what it was really about.”
Sandy Hook 5K Race Director Katie Blake congratulates Kevin Boughan for winning the race on April 1. Mr Boughan is also a volunteer on the race committee. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
Kevin Boughan, a Sandy Hook 5K volunteer, posts race results for runners after the Sandy Hook 5K. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)
Roseanne Gentilin travels from Pennsylvania to run the Sandy Hook 5K with 26 pounds of weight in her backpack, as a way to honor those who died on 12/14.
Volunteers, including Laurie Borelli, hand finishers Bens’ Bells Kindness Coins at the Sandy Hook 5K. (Bee Photo, Hutchison)