(photo: Bob Both, JSRC)

WALL, NJ - A patriotic field of 353 road racers (43 more than last year), many garbed in red, white and blue as well as stars and stripes, began celebrating our nation’s 237th Independence Day on a cloudy, warm and humid Fourth of July morning, by competing in Wall Township Recreation’s twenty-fourth annual Firecracker Five (mile) race.

After a recorded rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Cher, organized by Spin Doctor (Herbert [Butch] Watt, Neptune), who also provided motivational music, Fred Rummel, race director for all twenty-four years, asked the assembled and ready-to-go racers, “to please remain silent for a moment in honor of our military who have been and are now fighting for us to have the freedom to participate in a race such as this.” He then gave a three-command start and the racers were off at 8:35, following the lead police vehicle driven by Sergeant Kenneth Brown of the Wall Township Police Department, and jockeying for positions on the 5-mile course that starts in front of the Wall Township Municipal Center on Allaire Avenue, follows adjacent Roads of Campbell, Bailey’s Corner and 18th Avenue for about four miles finishing its remaining distance within the fifty acres of the well-manicured Center with its finish line on an access road.

Mark Rochon, 37, of Downington, PA was the first to enter the finish-line chute, set up and organized, along with the other necessary equipment, by Eliteracingsystems.com and break the tape held by Patty Hancock, former president of the Ocean Running Club and Penny Hinck of the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC) and cause the digital clock to display a racing time of 27:21 (27 minutes and 21 seconds (one minute and 16 seconds faster than last year’s winning time). Coming in second place was Brian Kayser, 29, of Charlottesville, VA at 29:58 followed by Pat Ford, 53, of Neptune City, at 30:20.

“After about the first hundred yards, I took the lead, and kept it the whole way,” said Rochon in describing his championship performance. “It’s a great course – it’s very well marked – there are slight hills that allow you to utilize the different muscles in your legs” he said when asked and of the weather, he offered that, “At the start it was sunny and hot but about mile one it started to get overcast and for that I was very pleased.” He further offered that, “Just under 26 (minutes)” was his fastest for this distance, but couldn’t recall where or when. 

“No – he (Rochon) had a good lead on me and I was happy to be second,” said Kayser, the runner-up, when asked if he tried to catch the leader and he too liked the course because, “it’s all on roads and I like to run on roads especially paved roads.”

Bronwayn Oleary, 38, of Cliffwood Beach was the first female finisher at 33:18 (11th place overall). Coming in second and third place respectively were hometowners Denise Clark, 39, at 33:52 (13th overall, last year’s winner) and Amanda Scheer, 25, at 34:02 (15th overall).

“I’m really proud of my winning performance today because it was hot and humid out there” said Oleary when asked to comment. She was also thinking of a former student who is now overseas and that student gave her the inspiration she needed to become champion. “Yes,” She said when asked if she would be signing up for this event next year.

Racewalking is also a foot race but it is different from “running” in that one foot must appear to be in contact with the ground at all times. Racewalkers are on their honor to follow that rule. This event’s racewalkers are John Fredericks, 65, of Brick at 53:56;  Fred Linkhart, 60, of Oakhurst at 54:45;  Panseluta Geer, 66, of Hazlet at 55:07;  Ray Robertson, 69, of Asbury Park at 57:45;  Phyllis Wenslauskas, 65, of Silverton at 1:13:23.  

Martin Fitzpatrick, 48, of Allenhurst, active member of the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC), commented that, “I love five-mile races,” (as compared to 5K [3.1 miles] races,”) and explained: “you don’t have to go out so fast, you can ease into the race.” Fitzpatrick finished at 38:45, a highly respectable 7:45 per-mile pace. “Fred Rummel is a good friend of mine and he does an excellent job,” he added.

Joe Renzella, 71, Neptune City, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran with four Bronze Stars (two with Valor) and a Purple Heart who also has a CIB (Combat Infantry Badge) usually wins an award in his age group. But today, as he did in past years, he chose to run with his friend from Toms River Joe Placente, 80, a Korean veteran, dressed in stars and stripes, who with Renzella’s help ran the whole five miles carrying a 3’x 5’ Stars and Stripes flag atop a 6-foot pole.“Absolutely,” both veterans said when they were asked if they were glad they made this exhausting effort and both added a final comment: “God Bless America.” They finished at 1:08:07.

Renzella would continue his Independence Day celebration by going to the picnic area at Monmouth Park racetrack where he will meet other members of Chapter Twelve of the Vietnam Veterans Association and hopefully all wagers will be winners.

“ It’s typical of Firecracker Five weather,” said Steve Foley, 57, of Oceanport who finished at 43:48, a respectable 8:46 per-mile pace. He further informed that typical means, “hot and humid.”  Foley took a short hiatus from directing the annual Run Thru Deal in October but last year the Deal fireman was back at it and will also be directing this year. It is now a 5K distance and is scheduled as always, the Sunday before Columbus Day.   

“This is the first time I’ve ever done this race, but as I’ve often heard, it sure is hot and humid,” said Nancy Thorne of Long Branch who finished at 55:35. Nancy will continue directing the Michael Thorne Memorial Scholarship 4-Mile Run in West Long Branch to remember her fireman brother killed while on duty. It is always presented on the third Sunday in May.

Dave Demonico, champion runner, didn’t compete today but decided to offer patriotic music by way of his trumpet, at about the three-mile mark, to his many running friends.

“A beautiful day and no major problems – every thing went smoothly,” said  Hilary Addonizio of the Wall Township First Aid and Rescue Squad when asked to comment on the day’s emergencies.

At the finish line lending their expertise to the necessary activities were Phil Hinck, past-president (twice) of the JSRC and his wife Penny, along with John Cheer, Patricia Hancock, Gene Geer and other club volunteers. All female finishers were given a rose by Debbie Adamchak, of Wall, recently retired English teacher of Raritan High School in Hazlet, while the male finishers got hand-held U.S. flags.  

The event includes a 2-mile leisure walk and Kids’ Races. 

Many government dignitaries were on hand to help Rummell in the many activities of the Firecraker Five including deputy mayor Clint Hoffman, committeeman Jeff Foster and committeewoman Ann Marie Conte.           

Rummel awarded sweatshirts and trophies to the aforementioned winners and age-group leaders at the Leo Kubaitis Amphitheatre on the grounds of the Complex. After the award ceremony the racers were invited to Bar Anticipation in Belmar for a buffet luncheon.

“The race was very successful with the help of fire, police and first-aid squads and with all the sponsors (names were printed on the event’s T-shirt), that help with the financial support. I want to acknowledge the patience of local motorists who had to be detoured for the safety of the racers. Thanks to Fred and Anna Torres of the Elite Racing Systems for the computer results and the many volunteers in moment to moment work and to the runners/walkers without whom there is no Firecracker Five,” said the obviously pleased, popular director, when asked to summarize the day’s activities. 

Other leading finishers of the Firecracker Five:

Wall Township:  Chris Whitehead 32:37,  Jeff Propert 32:47,  Jayne Condon 34:35,  Charlie Muller 35:48,  Alex Karu 35:54,  Katie Buchbinder 36:00,  Geoffrey Schroeder 37:15,  Michael McLaughlin 38:15,  Douglas Ford 38:22,  Carla Bautista 38:31,  Geoff Schroeder 38:36,  Garth Greer 40:54,  Krissy Suckow 41:54,  Jamie Gallagher 42:57,  Bill Condon 43:07,  Mike Jovania 43:12,  Kyman Spillane 43:50,  Howard Buchbinder 44:49,  Anthony Iachello 45:34,  Matthew Johnson 45:50,  Mary Buchbinder 46:08,  Holly Basile 46:22,  Carly Depolo 46:29,  Scott Holmes 48:06,  Roger Nugent 48:56,  Jeff Cryan 48:57,  Nina Wood 49:07,  Ryan Holmes 49:29

Atlantic Highlands Herald area:  Dana Jacoby 37:34, Monmouth Beach;  Marykate Dooley 39:11 and Robrt Hahn 39:36, Red Bank;  Priscila Cunza Marin 45:45, Red Bank;  Rebecca Connolly 49:58, Joanna Caposello 52:17 and Anthony Gentile 56:07, Middletown;  Cynthia Therrian 58:17, Little Silver;  Chuck Fallon 58:18 and Robert Van Clef 58:40, Middletown.

Other Monmouth County:  Mike Rose 31:58, Ocean Grove;  Seng Goh 33:07, Ocean;  Kathy Kropke 34:29, Avon;  Richard Sauner 34:46, Howell;  Scott Linnell 34:59, Colts Neck;  Matthew Jacobson 35:59, Marlboro;  Cott Jennings 36:29, Manasquan;  Martin Veilleux 36:31, Holmdel;  Carl Lawson 36:32, Eatontown;  Mike Mangan 36:43, Howell;  Brian Rath 36:48, Neptune City;  Michael Walter 37:12, Eatontown;  Steve Ludeking 37:14, Spring Lake;  Michael Moore 37:27, Colts Neck;  Matthew Lawson 38:06, Eatontown;  Patricia Misciagan 38:55, Asbury Park;  Jack Bleach 38:58, Belmar;  Andrew Mazza 39:01, Manasquan;  Alison Smith 39:06, West Long Branch;  Will Alim 39:18, Howell;  Megan Becht 39:20, Manasquan;  Ron Cohen 39:32, Englishtown;  Kevin Den Bleyker 39:50, Sea Girt;  Robert Galizio 40:00, Spring Lake;  Bredan Kelley 40:07, Ocean Grove;  Christopher Donofrio 40:16, Sea Girt;  Patrick McIntyre 40:19, Bradley Beach;  Michael Procopio 40:40, Ocean;  Brian Holderness 40:55, West long Branch.

Road racing continues on Saturday, July 13, with the 37th anniversary of the Belmar Five Mile Run presented by the Boro of Belmar and the Goodwill Hose Fire Co. in collaboration with the Jersey Shore Running Club. More information about this event and other upcoming races at www.jsrc.org. or www.farcnj.com