Nearly 150 participate in XC Relay

By on July 10, 2013

By:

BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor

, Staff Writer



Photo by Bruce Morganâ?©The Vella Shpringa team, a group of Amish runners, took first-place honors in the Open Category at the Warwick Cross Country Relay on Saturday, June 22 by completing 40 miles and 800 meters during the four-hour event. Close to 150 people participated in this yearâ??s event, which benefitted the Wounded Warrior Project, One Fund Boston and the Warwick cross country program.

Mark Mueller was among those who dubbed themselves the ‘Over the Hill Gang’ at the second annual Warwick Cross Country Relay.

But with age clearly comes wisdom.

"I was smart this year and I loaded my team," he smiled. "I’ve got 10 on the team, so the most I’m probably going to have to run probably is a mile an hour. I’ll probably have to do four, so that’s good. I can handle that."

Over the course of four hours on Saturday, June 22, there was a steady stream of runners doing their part in the event, which benefitted The Wounded Warrior Project and One Fund Boston, in addition to Warwick’s program.

Young and old alike came out not only to support a good cause, but to engage in some friendly competition. The event doubled in size from its debut in 2012, with close to 150 people participating, including an Amish team, recently featured in Runner’s World who went by the name of ‘Vella Shpringa.’

"It was neat. It was just bridging cultures," Warwick varsity cross country coach Jenny Sassaman said. "When everyone heard that Vella Shpringa was coming, they were like, ‘They’re Amish?’ And they left as friends."

A lot of people also left in awe of the Amish group, who took top honors in the open category by finishing 40 miles and 800 meters. They were also heard from in the opening ‘blowout mile,’ in which Warwick assistant cross country coach Matt Bomberger barely outleaned Vella Shpringa’s number one runner, both in sub-five minute miles.

"They’re the real deal," said Mueller, the Warriors’ junior high coach. "They can run. They’ve got seven or eight, maybe nine and they can go."

"There’s no way they can run a five-minute mile time without training, no way," Sassaman said. "They had smiles on their faces and they said, ‘You know what we love about this the most? It’s that it’s a race, yeah, but everyone’s here cheering everyone else on. People are cheering us, we’re cheering other people. There’s a friendly competition between members of our high school team and members from the Amish team."

It went beyond that, however.

People of all ages and abilities mingled together, then ducked under tents to escape the summer heat and returned to the track to take a turn running for their team.

Eileen Crone, 63, and her husband, Neil, 59, both competed for the Over the Hill Gang.

"Little kids are running with big people and fast people and old people and slow people, Amish people," Eileen said. "People are running barefoot, even. Then we’ve got the cross country young kids. It’s cool."

"That’s the beauty of it," Mueller said. "Just the diversity of all the people running. It’s a nice event. There’s a little bit of competition to it, but it’s more, everyone is pulling for everybody else. It’s kind of a celebration."

Added Sassaman: "There was one team, they were mostly moms, they listed their average age as ‘definitely over 40′ and they call themselves the Hot Flashes and they were all dressed in pink. They were one of the most vocal bunches out there and they mostly walked, some jogged, but they did it and they were very, very proud of themselves because they didn’t think they’d be able to survive through that heat on Saturday morning."

Through it all, the runners were conscious of the causes for which they were competing. In fact, State Police Trooper spoke to Warwick’s cross country runners about the Wounded Warrior Project on the Thursday evening before the event was held.

"We’re definitely keeping in mind what we’re running for today," Mueller remarked. "It’s a fundraiser for us, but it’s also a fundraiser for Wounded Warrior and the One Fund Boston too for marathon victims."

The response from the community certainly helped toward that end. In addition to the number of participants doubling from 2012, local businesses stepped up as well. When all was said and done, the event raised approximately $4,500 after expenses, and the cross country program donated $500 apiece to Wounded Warrior and One Fund Boston.

"I thought we had a great turnout," said Joe Gabryluk, who co-directed the event with Everett Miles. "We had approximately 140 to 150 people show up to participate. That included the Warwick cross country runners and we had the Amish team there. We had a real good turnout. We more than doubled what we had last year."

"When you see it kinda take off, it’s gratifying," Mueller said. "There’s a lot of work behind the scenes. Our committee met, I bet, eight or nine times prior to today, so it’s a lot of man hours in planning. We had good publicity this year, we had good response from local businesses sponsoring us. And then Thursday night, we actually had a door-to-door campaign so we had kids in a lot of the neighborhoods in Lititz and people really responded positively. It’s really cool."

The Track Bandits, consisting of Emily Heckman, Kristi Reidenbaugh, Bethany Han, Rachel Mueller, Amanda Graber, Michael Urban, Bryson Long, Jordan Garner, Ben Mueller, Matt Mousetis and Chris Sandkuhler, won the Best Mixed Group with 40 miles, 650 meters, while Mile Markers 9 took first place in the Best Female Group.

Bomberger’s time of 4:50 won the fastest first mile for the men, and Samantha McNally took the women’s honors in 5:21.

More XC RELAY, page B-3