Sandy Hook 5K Attracts Thousands
By LORI RILEY/CTNow
HARTFORD, Conn. (CTNow) — Teri Alves is a third-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She was eight months pregnant on Dec. 14, the day she had to lock the door to her classroom, turn off the lights and listen to the horrific events unfolding down the hall over the intercom.
Laura Nowacki, a Newtown pediatrician whose daughter is a fourth-grader at Sandy Hook and who lost eight of her young patients in the massacre, was called to help with triage that day.
Both are Newtown residents and longtime runners. On Saturday morning, Alves and Nowacki — among 15,000 runners — converged on downtown Hartford for the Sandy Hook Run for the Families 5K. More than 30,000 spectators were expected.
Those numbers made Saturday’s run larger than the Hartford Marathon (while being much shorter) and about the same size as the Thanksgiving Day Manchester Road Race, which had its 76th running last year.
Many teams ran for individual victims of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 first-graders and six women were gunned down. The run began with brief remarks by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra and others.
Alves, the Sandy Hook teacher, gave birth eight weeks ago but didn’t hesitate when she heard about the run. “I think I signed up within two minutes of reading about this one,” Alves said.
In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, two people from Naugatuck — Kate Blake and Matt Marcella — called Hartford Marathon director Beth Shluger and asked her if she could help put on a run to benefit Sandy Hook. Shluger agreed and set up a 5K to be run at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. She thought that perhaps 3,000 runners would sign up.
Within 24 hours, 2,000 people had registered.
The numbers kept growing, and the location kept changing to accommodate the crush. The race moved from Western to downtown Danbury and then, when that venue couldn’t hold them all, to downtown Hartford.
The entry fees, which total $344,059, will be donated to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund administered by the United Way of Western Connecticut. Through online fundraising efforts by runners and teams, another $83,000 in donations was collected, according to Elizabeth Cowles Johnston of CJ Public Relations.
The Hartford Marathon Foundation is donating its organizing services, and the city of Hartford has donated part of the cost of the police and city services. Many parking lot owners have donated lots to provide free parking. Reebok has provided shirts, and Bay State Race Services has offered its timing services for free.
“We’ve been consumed by this for two months,” Shluger said. “But it’s very gratifying. I’m looking forward to the start of the race and looking forward to handing over the big check. We feel blessed that we have this opportunity to show our support. And allow 15,000 people to show their support.”
Alves ran with a group of about 50 teachers and staff and others from Sandy Hook Elementary School. About 300 people will run with the teacher groups from different schools in Newtown. They will wear shirts — donated by Under Armour — that read “Newtown Teachers Unite.”
“I think the timing is about right for it,” Alves said. “There have been so many grand-scale things like the Super Bowl … it was a little overwhelming. But with this, people can get together in a simple way — they can run or walk — do a physical activity.”
“Every different arena has thought of a way to contribute. This is from the running world.”
Alves ran the other day for the first time since her daughter was born. She has been on maternity leave, but she did go back to the Chalk Hill School in Monroe, now the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, for a month to help her 19 students get acclimated.
Nowacki, who is running the Boston Marathon as part of the Newtown Strong team and finished fourth in her 45-49 age group at the ING Hartford Marathon last October, ran Saturday’s race with three of her children. She wasn’t able to run for two weeks after the tragedy.
“Just the shock … I was feeling sick,” she said. “My first run was a 20-mile run. Running is my freedom.”
As she spoke on the phone Wednesday evening, Nowacki looked out the window of her office in the center of town, watching as people walked their dogs and runners went by.
“Life continues,” she said. “We got back on our feet. We got knocked down so hard. It was surreal. Somehow you get through it.”