Runners can help Newtown by racing in Stonington

Stonington - When Stephen Bessette, the director of the annual Battle of Stonington Road Race, heard last week about the virtual division of the Sandy Hook Run for the Families on March 23 in Danbury, it got him thinking.

If there were local people who could not make it to Danbury for the race but had signed up to run the race on their own that day, why not give them a place to run a 5K race together in the borough.

"I thought it would be a great chance for the community to come together and show our support for the other side of the state," he said Monday.

So Bessette, who has previously helped organize the Hartford Marathon, contacted Hartford Marathon Foundation founder Beth Shluger, whose organization has agreed to direct the Danbury event at no cost when it got too big for its original founders. While Bessette is not sure how many people will join him for the race here, more than 2,000 people have already entered the Danbury event which is capped at 10,000.

Bessette said Shluger immediately pledged to support Bessette's plan to run a race over the Battle of Stonington course at the same time as the Danbury event. He is now in process of getting permission to run the race from town and borough officials as well as police.

Bessette said there has been a great response to the Danbury event and he has heard from local runners who were interested in running it virtually.

Those in the virtual division pay the $25 entry fee ($10 for children) and receive a T-shirt and number and then run with others in their own communities to show support. Runners from other states have already entered the virtual division. All of the entry fees will go to The Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

Bessette said he also envisions a short ceremony at the borough race to remember those killed in shootings such as Columbine, Aurora and Newtown as well as to honor local police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

Two people from the Naugatuck area came up with the idea for the Danbury race and, after seeing there would be a lot of interest, contacted the marathon foundation its assistance.

The race had originally been planned for Western Connecticut State University, which could accommodate up to 3,000 runners. But within a few days of the race being announced, 2,000 runners had signed up and organizers had to reassess the WCSU location because they did not want to turn anyone away.

So the move was made to downtown Danbury. The race is not being staged in Newtown because organizers don't want to further strain the resources of that small community. More information is available at www.hartfordmarathon.com.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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