Darien residents shine in road race
Shortly after being the first person to cross the finish line of the 40th annual Darien Road Race on Sunday, 27-year-old Tommy Ross said he was happy to keep the title home.
The two races held that day — a 1.5-mile Fun Run and five-mile race — were at Pear Tree Point Beach, and benefited The Community Fund of Darien.
The race drew people from more than 20 towns, in both Connecticut and New York. Yet, not only is Ross a Darien resident, but the three other race winners also live in town.
Nancy Baker, who was the first woman to finish the five-mile race with a time of 33.12, gave birth to her first child 10 weeks ago.
The winners of the 1.5-mile Fun Run were Reid Hanson, 13, with a time of 10:16 and Erin Luecke, also 13, with a time of 10:48.
In total, more than 380 people of all ages either ran or walked in the Darien Road Race. For results, click here.
The race course changed last year. It used to be a 10K, which is 6.2 miles.
However, about 500 people came out to the race — many to participate in the family activities that were held under a tent, including craft making, face painting, physical therapy demonstrations, a raffle, and givaways.
Live music was played throughout the entire event by disc jockey Sydney Devon.
Ross, whose time was 28:29, has run the race 10 out of the last 14 years, but this is the first year he’s ever won it.
This year, he said that he ran in a pack of about five for the early part of the race.
“We were pretty close for a couple of miles,” he said. “It was a tough course. It’s really hilly.”
Yet, Ross said he’s very familiar with the hills. “Fortunately, I’ve been running these roads for 15 years, so I know the route pretty well,” said Ross, a Darien native who ran in college and now runs as a hobby.
After about two and a half miles, he decided to make his move.
“I thought if I pulled away from the group, it would be hard for them to catch up,” Ross said.
His strategy worked.
Ross said he has dedicated the race to his grandfather, George Walsh, who is not doing well.
Baker said this was her first year competing in the race.
One race strategy she had was “trying not to lose speed on the uphills or the downhills,” said Baker, whose 10-week-old daughter Ellie was at the race.
Baker played lacrosse in college but got into running after she graduated. Her husband Kevin Baker came in second place overall in the race.
“We used to run together but we have to take turns now, because of the baby,” Nancy Baker said.
Town resident Reid Hanson, 13, said it was his third year in the race, and he won it last year.
“I thought I had a pretty good shot of winning,” he said, referring to this year’s race. “Once I got to the top of the hill, I felt like I had enough to get through it.”
Teams and groups
There were many running teams and groups at the race, including members from the Run 169 Towns Society. The goal of this group is to run one race in all 169 towns in Connecticut.
For Ben Mattheis of Cheshire, the Darien Road Race was the last race in his second time doing the 169th challenge.
“This is 169, this is it for me. I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) about two months before I finished the first loop, in 2015,” said Mattheis, who is turning 66 next week.
Since being diagnosed, he has run about 250 races. “I was supposed to be dead two years ago, but I’m still here,” he said.
Mattheis, who used to compete in triathlons, said “it seems that those of us who were longtime athletes, our bodies persist longer against the disease. There’s a certain amount of muscle memory. It gets into your DNA.”
Marlboro resident Sharon Reiner, 63, has been a member of the 169 group since 2014.
At the end of a race many years ago, she suffered from an aneurysm, which “took me down,” but she has since recovered.
Nearly 20 residents from the Atria Darien senior living facility participated in the 1.5-mile race.
One of them, Sally Donahue, 81, said it was her first time participating. “I’ve lived in Darien all my life and I’ve never done this,” she said.
At 92, Peg Avison was the oldest runner participating in the race. She’s a seven day a week exerciser and a rower in the Atria rowing program. She also does stretching and toning in fitness classes.
“Exercise is important so we can keep on being active day after day after day,” Avison said.
About The Community Fund of Darien
The Community Fund of Darien is a 68-year old nonprofit organization that help those who suffer from the effects of homelessness, hunger, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and more.
The Community Fund brings funds together to “help our local communities in Darien, Norwalk and Stamford,” said Janet King, executive director.
“The race is the Community Fund’s largest fundraiser and a community tradition,” King added. “This race has raised more than one million dollars.”
For more information, call 203-655-8775 or visit communityfunddarien.org.