HOLMDEL, NJ - A sorority of 264 would-be-road racers started their Labor Day weekend as cross-country competitors and challenged New Jersey’s Holmdel Park's 3.1 mile championship course by responding to the invitation of the 19th annual Saturday in the Park Women's 5K, on the sunny, warm, humid but good-racing-weather morning of September 1. The event’s purpose is for “Women Taking Steps to Help Women” and is organized by the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC).

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Briana Gess crosses the finish in 19:08   photos by jerseyshorepics.com

After a fine rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, by Dawn Ciccone of Highlands, race-starter Phil Hinck, husband of Penny, the race director, gave a loud, "Ready, set, go” and the racers were underway on "one of the toughest cross-country courses in Monmouth County, maybe in all of New Jersey," offered the race starter: The first 1/3 of a mile is an uphill climb that eventually leads to a large recession, commonly referred to as the "bowl,” then continues onto the last leg of the course that winds downhill through woods to the straightaway finish contiguous to the main road.

Briana Gess, 14, of Haddonfield was first into the finish-line chute set up by Elite Racing Systems.com and broke the finish-line tape held by director Hinck of Monmouth Beach and Bonnie Santomenna of Shrewsbury, in a racing time of 19:08 (nineteen minutes and 8 seconds). This time is 14 seconds faster than last year when she was the 2011 runner-up. Rumson’s Courtney Howley, 16, was today’s runner-up at 21:17 and third place went to Kyrsten Gilmartin, also 16, of Little Silver at 21:25. All racers received a United States hand-held flag.

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Start of the 2012 Saturday in the Park

“The first mile or so is difficult - but the ‘bowl’ is the hardest part,” said the champion when asked her thoughts on the course. Cherokee High School of Burlington County and Gloucester County College were the schools she has been connected with.

Racewalking is also a foot race but is different from running in that one foot must appear to be in contact with the ground at all times. Panseluta (Panse) Geer of Hazlet was the leading racewalker of this event at 32:16 and she like all racewalkers are on their honor to abide by this rule. She offered the following comments: “I like the course a lot, it has a variety, there are uphills and downhills and some parts are flat – the bowl is very steep.” She added that, “I also like being part of this event and supporting the women in need.”

Forty-eight-year-old (48) Lauren Rhatigan of Shipbottom finished in 4th place at 21:39 a 6:58 per mile pace and she won her age group, no doubt about it. Her nearest competitor was slower by 2 minutes and 45 seconds. "The most difficult part of this race is trying to keep up with the youngsters," said Rhatigan. Take another look at the ages of the top three!

"I love this course - I like the woods, the hills, the turns, the running in the grass and dirt," said Ocean Township's Susan Ardito, active member of the JSRC, whose racing time of 30:24 resulted in a very respectable 9:47 per mile pace. "It's a great event for women and I'm glad and proud to be a part of it," she further offered.

Megan Avitto, 34, of Keyport finished at 33:06, a 10:40 per-mile pace, and was greeted by her husband John and 2 1/2 year-old John Jr. She summed up the course perfectly: "It was beautiful; it was scenic; but it was tough!"

"The park rangers did a fabulous job of getting the park ready for us," said Marilyn Ryder, 71, of Long Branch, mother of the race's director who at 30:55 won the 70-99 age group.

Nancy Thorne, 53, of Long Branch who is the director of the annual Michael Thorne 4-Mile Scholarship Run presented the third Sunday in May in West Long Branch to honor her fireman brother who was killed while on duty, finished at 29:55, a respectable racing time on this course. “I love this women’s race – I'm always thrilled to be here, it's for a great cause - we have a women’s team Wine, Women and Running,” Thorne said when asked to comment. Those words are printed on the gold singlet that she and sixteen other team members were wearing today.

The "bowl" is the popular area of this annual event and that's where all 264 competitors heard running-champion, Ocean Township's, formerly South River, David Demonico, alumnus of Rutgers, serenading his running/racewalking friends with inspirational music from his trumpet.

Prior to the start of the race at 9 a.m., Carly DePolo, president of the JSRC, welcomed and thanked all for coming to this worthwhile event. She introduced Dawn Ciccone, singer of the National Anthem who also offered appropriate remarks that fit in with the main reason for this event: Women Taking Steps to Help Women. (By the way, Dawn, won her 55-59 age group and her nearest competitor was 1 minute and 56 seconds slower).

"Good morning. I’m Dawn Ciccone and I stand before you as a fellow athlete and woman. Today, we all share that in common as we come together to support each other along with those organizations that support us in return.

Saturday in the Park is a race for women; inspired by women to support women’s charities in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Penny Hinck is one of the founders and race director of this event. It is her vision and hard work that makes this a successful race year after year. We thank Penny for her inspiration and tireless dedication to making this a positive experience for all and we thank all of you women for your participation in this important cause, and of course the volunteers who have taken the time to support us throughout the course.

When we leave this event we return to our individual lives. Some being carefree, others stressful, some loving and supportive while others deal with abuse and neglect.

While we may not share the same experiences and lifestyle, we ALL share being human. And if there is one thing I would like for you to take with you today it would be this: Anyone who can touch you can hurt you or heal you...anyone you trust can honor you or chip away your faith.

A word, a smile, a gesture of kindness can make all the difference.

So during the race, be competitive, but be supportive of those ahead of you and behind you. After the race, be proud of your achievement no matter where you finish, because we are all courageous to be here racing together. Take a moment to thank the many volunteers who cheer you on, offer water and assist along the way.

And when you go on with your day be gracious for the opportunity to have met and supported some fantastic women!!"

Old Bridge’s Jim Buckler, past JSRC President, acted as emcee for the awards ceremony. Penny Hinck and JSRC member Lorraine Buckler awarded silver charm necklaces to the aforementioned winners as well as age-group leaders and other special achievers near the tree-lined race finishing area. Gifts were offered at a random drawing, due to the generosity of the business community. The main gift was a cruiser bike, courtesy of Brielle Cyclery and JSRC Members Jack and Diane Cheer of Wall. During opening remarks, a moment of silence was offered for Mary Conry, past JSRC member and for Chuck Whelan, a former race director of the event and past JSRC president, who lost his life four years ago after a long, heartbreaking illness, in recognition of their dedication to the JSRC and to Saturday in the Park.

"It was another great day organized by the Saturday in the Park Race Committee and the Jersey Shore Running Club. I am extremely pleased with this year's turnout, and look forward to next year's 20th Anniversary. I want to thank our sponsors, the race committee and the tremendous efforts of our volunteers; all components of the event merge together to produce a truly enjoyable day for the women runners and walkers, as well as raise awareness for the women's charities which need our support. Special thanks also to Holmdel park rangers for providing the beautiful setting year after year,” said director Hinck.

The Saturday in the Park event began as part of the Women's Distance Festival of the Road Runners' Club of America which was an effort to encourage women's running at all levels. JSRC continues with the tradition of offering a program to train women to run the Saturday in the Park race as their first 5K. Twelve women and volunteer coaches participated in the JSRC Rundamentals Training Program, and several completed the race as their graduation event.

Since its inception, the Saturday in the Park 5K has raised over $201,000 and has created public awareness of options and services available to women. Beneficiary organizations for the 2012 event are Manna House, of Cliffwood Beach, and Providence House of Ocean County.

Nearly 120 dedicated volunteers were available for the myriad activities of putting on an event such as this and among them, serving at the water stop, was a large contingent from New Jersey Natural Gas Company, an annual supporter of the race. John Kuhi provided timing on the course and finish line. Elite Racing Systems organized the computer results. This event also includes kids’ races for 2 to 12-year-olds and nearly 20 participated.

Other leading finishers of the Holmdel Park challenge:

Holmdel: Jessica Mosker 27:26, Hannah Lee 27:27, Helen Burleigh 27:38, Jamie Roth 27:39, Emerson Cooper 27:56, Picascia Antonietta 28:16, Candace Wolkovitz 29:27, Jayne Depontes 29:29, Theresa Veilleux 29:33, Gabriella Bair 30:58, Alyssa Curcurullo 31:35, Lauren Haverlin 31:57, Ally Marchiano 32:08, Katerina Distler 33:41, Kellie Mendes 34:09, Kelly Dronne 34 :10, Victoria Wuestneck 35:45.

Herald area: Cassidy Weimar 22:08, Leonardo; Christiana Ruthowski 22:08, Middletown; Jacqueline Gottuso 22:21 and Megan Hellman 22:56, Fair Haven; Emily Helman 23:29; Rumson; Sylvia Evarts 23:37, Middletown; Bridgette Laurence 23:46, Red Bank; Marykate Himmelberg 23:58, Middletown; Dawn Ciccone 24:12, Highlands (Singer and Speaker); Christina Caccamo 24:31, Leonardo; Eli Rallo 24:54 and Kathleen Burpee 25:02, Fair Haven; Erin Blum 25:22, Cindy Carroll 25:27, Lianne Donahue 25:29 and Olivia Liskowitz 25:42, Middletown; Marybeth McDonnell 25:44, Red Bank; Kirsten McLaughlin 25:45, Leonardo; Erin Bayer 26:32 and Madeline Burpee 27:15, Fair Haven; Caroline Cerwinski 28:38, Red Bank; Susan Belfer 28:43 and Jenna Sandoli 28:44, Fair Haven; Tracey Murphy 28:45, Middletown; Sherry Walsh 28:51, Red Bank; Jennifer Fontanella 28:58, Atl. Highlands; Emily Burns 29:12, Middletown; Carol Irwin 29:38, Rumson; Alana Hartman 30:14, Red Bank; Jenny Wood 30:27, Fair Haven; Kathleen Boylan 30:43, Atl.Highlands; Lisa Drehmann 31:28, Middletown.

Other Monmouth County: Brianna Haspel 22:49, Lincroft; Lauren Sapone 23:04, Shrewsbury; Megan Coakley 23:50, Tinton Falls; Ashley Parisi 24:26, Manalapan; Amapola Espinoza 24:55, Colts Neck; Kristyn Suckow 25:00, Wall; Donna Riopel 25:17, Morganville; Alison Smith 25:25, West Long Branch; Nicole Valente 26:06, Lincroft; Lauren Joseph 26:50, Tinton Falls; Jessica Pillari 26:55, Interlaken; Elisabeth Kratka 27:28, Lincroft; Mary Sullivan 27:29, Freehold; Vicky Vydra 27:31, Tinton Falls; Kimberly Walsh 27:38, Hazlet; Claire Valanova 27:44, Ocean; Erin Seber 28:34, Neptune City; Karen Kelly 28:46, Oceanport.

Road-racing continues with the Brielle Hill and Dale on Saturday, September 8 at 9 a.m. at the Brielle Elementary School on Union Lane, more info at 732-528-6600 or www.jsrc.org.

Friends and relatives of runners and racewalkers, as well as the general public, should be aware that at the Belmar boardwalk, across from Dunkin Donuts on Tuesday, September 11, at 6 p.m., is the annual Jersey Shore Memorial Run (not a race) which will memorialize all from the Jersey Shore who tragically died on that infamous day. There is no fee. Show up and jog quietly to Spring Lake with other fellow mourners and enjoy a special, solemn occasion. You won't regret having given of your time.