Marissa Lucente embodies what it means to be a Falmouth Road Race spectator and supporter. For the last two years she has offered “high-fives” to passing runners as a means of encouragement and inspiration. This year, she stood at the top of heartbreak hill, just before the final descent to the finish line, holding a sign that said “Free High-Fives!” in one hand, and holding the other one high for passing runners. Hundreds of them, each nearing the end of their own personal story of triumph and perseverance, veered over to say thank you to Marissa, to share that brief human touch that means so much, and to share a smile. Other than her brother Mikey, who ran his first Falmouth and finished in a remarkable 50:53, scoring him a 522nd-place finish out of 11,528 finishers, Marissa knew only a few of the runners, but left having made hundreds of friends and many more memories.
That’s what this day is all about. Yes, it is one of the word’s premier road races, attracting top-tier talent from around the globe in the men’s, women’s, and wheelchair categories. Yes, the race is one of the premier summer events in Massachusetts, also bringing visitors from around the globe to support our local merchants. And yes, through the generosity of the board of directors, dozens of nonprofits are able to raise millions of dollars each year to help fulfill their missions and good works. These all make the Falmouth Road Race the truly spectacular and the signature event of the summer in Falmouth. But it’s the stories like Marissa’s and the lives she touched that are the race’s annual and enduring legacy.
As Donna and I made our way to the same perch as Marissa (she’s not only a tireless force for good on race day, she’s also our niece) atop heartbreak hill for our own annual cheering effort, we stopped by Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings’s mobile command center to offer a little encouragement to his team, part of the massive public safety contingent keeping everyone safe along the race route. We dropped off some cookies and some gratitude to Tom Ashe and Ralph Swenson, and while we were there also gave thanks to Falmouth Fire Rescue veteran Boyd DeMello and retired but still active medic Alden Cook. As we made our way up the hill, we also spotted mortgage guru Bill Green, who gave up his loan portfolio for a day to also volunteer his talents to the medical corps. We shared a quick hello with dynamic duo Todd Bidwell and Mark LiCalsi as they headed for their cheering spot, and enjoyed a pre-race conversation with patient and devoted dad Aaron Chabot, who was waiting with his five small and very active kids to cheer on his wife, Laurie. One of the tires on Aaron’s multi-seat stroller was flat, so he was getting a workout as well. Ever-smiling and effervescent, the talented Chris Kazarian stopped by with a sunny Sunday morning salutation.
The excitement came to a crescendo as the elite runners and wheelchair leaders made their way past our spot. Not long after, the ageless Ken Gartner sped effortlessly by. A perennial top finisher, Ken finished an impressive second in the men’s 60-64 age group. Speaking of impressive, Ken’s son Caleb scooted to a remarkable 49th overall, bested slightly by top Falmouth finisher Michael Stone, who finished 41st overall. As time passed, so did many Falmouthites on their own journey toward the Heights, writing their own stories of personal valor and victory.
Waves weren’t the only thing running as Seton Murphy sped past, and Bob Hamilton looked fit for his Falmouth finish. Sandee Parkinson was in top race shape, and Elizabeth Sherman strode effortlessly to finish a race that her parents helped put on the map. Her husband, Nick Kleimola, cruised to a great completion, and Brockton City Council President Bob Sullivan ran like a champion in his latest Falmouth finish.
My FHS classmate, Chris Simpson, who continues a three-decades-old tradition in running the race, was both a finisher and a cheerleader, as his daughter Nora ran alongside him, making this a special dad/daughter finish. Jeff Bowman finished in a time that belies his age, and G.W. Killory looked on. FHS 2013 was also well represented, with Trevor Theroux and Carly Finigan making their way to the victory line, as Joe Meloni and Andrew McGill smoked it to fast finishes. Kyleigh Good was smiling as she strode by, and sisters Haley and Emily Burniston both enjoyed a fine Falmouth finale.
The age-defying Tom Cahir once again made finishing look easy, and Tim Lineaweaver showed how his Facebook boxing posts have him in tip-top shape. Holly Harney was making great strides, and Westford’s Diane Tracana seemed to be enjoying her run. Chris Lebherz took a break from his popular “Lebby on the Links” golf videos to finish another race, and Glenn Pokraka came through again. Gosnold’s Rick Martin was managing his risk on the race course, and Heidi Ingram was styling her way to success. Kevin Fitzgerald’s race was no joke, and Stach Szuplat seemed to make things fit. Falmouth Public Library’s Linda Collins was writing the book on a good race day, and Hannah Lawrence left her dad, Steve, in the dust, cruising to a fantastic finish. Steve, by the way, gets dispensation for his race time, as his well-founded preoccupation with post-race pulled pork and sous-vide tenderloin made many smile.
Hanover’s Bill Rooney’s smiles weren’t diminished by the miles, and Falmouth chamber mainstay Maura Aldrich was beaming as well. Jennifer Hinckley was determined as she went by, and the mom and dad team of Brian and Melissa Keefe made the race a fantastic family affair.
The fog rolled in toward the end, but I could swear I saw Enterprise publisher Bill Hough and Dr. Brooks Watt both in full stride, and it was either Jessica Backholm or her lookalike who effortlessly headed to the finish.
As we walked back to our car, one of the final runners was determinedly making her way to heartbreak hill. More determined with each difficult step, this amazing woman captured the grit and perseverance of all 11,000 runners. Right alongside her was charity crooner and respected physician Peter Hopewood, offering encouragement, support, and praise. Like Marissa, Dr. Hopewood was simply doing his part to share good thoughts and good vibes with thousands of courageous runners, and there was plenty of that on this plentiful day.