Profiles in Courage: Achilles CT at the 2014 NU Hartford Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K

October 18, 2014  |  Erin Spaulding

The phrase “it takes a village” certainly applies to Team Achilles CT at the 2014 NU Hartford Marathon, Half & 5K.  21 disabled athletes and 13 able-bodied guides were registered (compared to 9 athletes and 6 guides in 2013) and did not let the steady downpour in Bushnell Park rain on their parade or dampen their spirits!  17 volunteers staffed the Results Tent in the park as part of our obligation as an Official Charity Partner of the Hartford Marathon.  10 volunteers helped in our tent, took pictures, and served as finish line cheerleaders (and did countless tasks in between). 11 volunteers represented Achilles CT at the Hartford Marathon Expo at the XL Center Thursday and Friday before the race.  10 people served on the Hartford Marathon Planning Committee and started working behind the scenes back in the spring to get ready for October 9-11th.  Countless (and priceless) family members and friends supported our team as they spent months training and preparing for the race, and lent their cheers (and umbrellas) on race day! It takes a village!

It also takes a tremendous amount of courage to get to a starting line, whether in the 5K, half marathon, or full marathon.  Each athlete and guide made a commitment months ago and for some, it was a leap of faith, a far-reaching goal, a bucket-list item, or a chance to set a personal best.  Along the way there was uncertainty, pain, injury, disappointment, frustration.  But there was also hope, possibility, excitement, inspiration, and accomplishment.  And most importantly, there was courage.

Showing courage in the 5K were visually-impaired athletes Alicia Novi, Tracy Andrews, and Gary Allen, and physically challenged athletes Adam Fleisherand Rosita Cascudo.  Alicia and her guide Roberta Brown were reunited again in Hartford from the Cheshire Half Marathon!  Alicia, fresh out of a boot and recovering from a foot injury, crossed the finish line in :48:32 with Roberta’s support!  Tracy Andrews and her guide/cousin Nina Purslow, set a PR with :31:10 and also took 3rd place in the visually impaired division!   This was a “cool down” for Tracy, who ran a half marathon in New York the previous weekend!  Gary Allen, who ran his first Hartford 5K, finished in :30:53 with first-time guide Cathy Esposito by his side.  This time earned Gary a 2nd place finish in the visually impaired division!   Adam Fleisher, also a first-timer in Hartford, won 2nd place in the physically challenged athlete division AND set a new PR in a 5K race!  Adam, guided by Chris Love, crossed the finish line in :30:24.  Showing the true definition of courage however was Rosita Cascudo and her guide Cindy Drozd. Sidelined by an equipment malfunction at the starting line, a difficult and disappointing decision to put safety first prevailed. It takes courage to set aside goals and ambitions and we would rather have you healthy and safe!

It takes courage and determination to come back from injury or major surgery to train for (and run!) a half marathon, and athletes Jen Gonzalez, Margaret Rorrio, Brett Sloan and David Solano did just that!  David, out for 13.1 with first-time guide Jeff Amell, took 1st place in the visually impaired division with a time of 2:10:30 (and a PR!).  Jen, flanked by guides Mat Montgomery and Miss CT 2014 Ashley Boate, crossed the finish line in 3:22:09 (and placed 2nd in the physically challenged division!).  This was Jen and Ashley’s 2nd race together this year, earning Jen the unofficial title of Miss Achilles CT 2014!   Brett Sloan finished the half in 2:05:51 and set a new PR- by shaving 9 minutes off his time from last year!  Brett ran the half with guides Natalie Kronick and Marni Luby. Lastly,  Margaret Rorrio showed everyone that surgery does not slow anyone down by finishing the race in 3:24:21!  Grit, who finished her first race as an Achilles athlete, took 2nd place in the physically challenged division!  Trent Hampton joined Team Achilles CT from the NYC Chapter and ran the half with guide Dave Hayes in an impressive 1:31:17, which earned him a first-place physically challenged award!  Also joining the team from NYC was Erica Sanborn, an experienced Achilles guide!  Erica ran her own race (her athlete Cathy Beaudoin was injured) in 2:05:20!  Coming down from MA to run the Hartford Half were John Plata and guide Alex Silverman.  They used the race as a “warm up” to the NYC Marathon coming up in November, and finished the half in 4:01:08. Good luck in NYCM John and Alex!

Achilles CT also welcomed Karen Lancaster from Achilles Philadelphia Chapter and Tom Pitsenberger from Bethesda, Maryland.  Karen ran 26.2 miles in 3:16:39  and Tom, despite having frustrating issues with a flat tire on his hand cycle mid-race, brought the loudest and proudest cheer squad with him!  Tom’s daughter and her friends caught the eye of Fox 61 and were featured on the marathon coverage news segment (which we posted on our Facebook page and on our website…check it out!). 

Coming across the finish line of the marathon were hand cyclists Shane Mosko (1:52:24-1st place), Tom Stearley (2:04:28-2nd place), Krys Zybowski(2:08:08-3rd place), and Tony Allegretti (4:55:04).   Joe Dowling and Tom Branchaud made the courageous decision to also put safety first due to concerns with their equipment in the rain.   We’d rather have you both in one piece!  Thank you to Tom’s guide Sue Grigely, who looked fabulous in her official HMF bike guide uniform and walkie-talkie!   David Alejandro braved the slippery conditions and ran a 4:26:58 marathon, with Jon Romeo guiding him around puddles and dangerous manhole covers on the course.  David, who set a new PR in the marathon, earned 1st place in the visually impaired division!  Next up for Krys, Tom B., Tony, Joe, Tom S., and David…the TCS New York City Marathon on November 2nd (with guides Dave Hayes, Sue Grigely, Jon Romeo, and Michelle Currier)!!! 

Now for the accolades!  To start, thank you to Beth Shluger, Founder and CEO of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, and her staff for reviewing/revising the race accommodations necessary to help athletes with disabilities be safe and successful.  HMF collaborated with Chapter 126’s Stacia Cardillo and her staff to create the Challenged Athlete Zone at the start/finish lines.  Ellen Smith worked with Achilles CT after we were selected as an Official Charity Partner this past spring.  Danielle Alt coordinated our booth at the Expo and Jess Hallet helped us organize our Results Tent volunteers!  Lisa Butler and her volunteers handed out awards after the race, and last but certainly not least Genevieve Lattimer, the Registration Manager, went above and beyond to make sure everyone was at the starting line.  A big kudos to the entire HMF staff for all your hard work!!!

The event for Achilles CT would not have been made possible without the initiative of our partner, Stephanie Blozy of Fleet Feet Sports West Hartford.  Stephanie set out to help us fundraise this year for BOTH the Amica Iron Horse Half and the NU Hartford Marathon.  Not only did she host fundraisers and print sweatshirts and t-shirts for us to sell, she and her staff wrote a grant to New Balance, which covered the cost of registration for all Achilles AND Hospital for Special Care athletes!  In addition, the grant paid for the spiffy racing singlets that were specially printed for Hartford.   A HUGE shout-out to David Hoffman of HJ Hoffman Co. of Norwalk.  David is our shirt sponsor and makes us look good when we run!  Thank you Stephanie and David!

As an Official Charity Partner one of our requirements was to raise $3,500 for the Achilles CT Chapter.  In addition to the amount generated by the New Balance grant and the Fleet Feet fundraising events, we received grants from the Cigna Healthy Lifestyles employee program, and personal donations from athletes, volunteers, family/friends/co-workers of athletes and volunteers.  Even our 50/50 raffle and t-shirt/sweatshirt sales at our Team Pasta Dinner helped the cause!  

The event was also organized by the amazing Hartford Marathon Planning Committee, which was comprised of athletes and volunteers who worked behind the scenes for months with me to ensure the day ran smoothly.  Marni Luby served as co-chair with me, and bore the brunt of my emails and phone calls! Thank you Marni!  Thank you also to committee members Chris Love, Bridget Love, Tracy Andrews, Alicia Novi, Roberta Brown, Tom Branchaud, Sue Grigely, and Cindy Drozd.  Roberta was the coordinator of the Results Tent volunteers and Cindy organized all of the Expo volunteers.  

Speaking of volunteers…..THANK YOU to all of the following volunteers who helped make the event so successful for Team Achilles CT!  We could not have accomplished what we did without all of your support!

Social Media:  Thank you to Jon Romeo and Michelle Currier who help me with our website (Jon) and Facebook page (Michelle).  They helped communicate clearly with everyone and promote the event (before and after the race!).  Hope everyone saw the life-size poster of Aiello Inspiration Team member Michelle, who was nominated by the school where she teaches.  Michelle is also a guide with Achilles and there was a shout-out to her involvement in her bio!  Congrats Michelle!

Expo Volunteers:  Margaret Rorrio, Mike & Katie Spaulding (Erin’s husband and daughter), Tom Branchaud, Jen Byrne, Gladys Alcedo, Roberta Brown, Marni Luby, Tracy Andrews, Jamie Andrews, and Cindy Drozd.  Margaret and Mike helped set up the booth on Thursday, and Cindy, Katie and Chris Love helped break it down and set up the tent in Bushnell Park in the dark Friday night!

Results Volunteers:  Shelly Benson, Alyssa Bush, Chris Deneen, Olivia Devine, Lisa Gillette, Caitlin Hickey, Morgan Madore, Sophie Sloan (Brett’s daughter), Michele Stryeski, Marie Watson, Dan And Sandy Witkos (Sue Grigely’s parents!), Kathie Wynkoop, Dan Brown (Roberta’s husband!), Dawn Hyland, and Alicia Novi and Roberta Brown (after they ran the 5K)!

Race Day Volunteers:  Ellie Cox (Director of Chapter Development for Achilles International), Julia Wayner, Katie Spaulding, EJ Wynkoop, Marni Luby and her daughters (after running 13.1!), Chris Deneen, Tracy Andrews, Nina Purslow (after running the 5K), and photographer Katie Watson who captured the day for us!  Thank you to Chris Love and Adam Fleisher for helping to break down the tent, and to Cindy Drozd, Roberta and Dan Brown, and Katie Spaulding, the volunteers who hung in with me from beginning to end of a spectacular day!

As I finish reflecting on the events of the 2014 NU Hartford Marathon, Half & 5K, I am already starting to wonder how we will ever top this in 2015?  It sure will be exciting to see!

Check out a slideshow of Achilles CT pictures from the NU Hartford Marathon.