Norwich summer series running strong at 50

A pair of runners turn into the woods during the 5K portion of the weekly Norwich Rec/Mohegan Striders Summer Fun Run on Thursday night at Mohegan Park. The weekly summer road racing series is celebrating its 50th season this year.
A pair of runners turn into the woods during the 5K portion of the weekly Norwich Rec/Mohegan Striders Summer Fun Run on Thursday night at Mohegan Park. The weekly summer road racing series is celebrating its 50th season this year. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Norwich Tim Smith stood on a hill, watching runners tackle the 3.1-mile summer fun run course at scenic Mohegan Park on Thursday night. His grandchildren played nearby.

Acting like a race commentator, Smith gave a rundown of each man, woman, boy and girl passing by.

"As you can see, I could go on," Smith said.

Smith, a local legend and running historian, was on hand 50 years ago when the weekly summer series started. At age 66, Smith is still an active participant, completing the mile and half-mile races on Thursday. He also led the pre-race stretching.

"He looks the same as he did 50 years ago," said Don Sikorski, a volunteer from the Mohegan Striders.

The course location has changed over the years but community spirit remains the same. Every Thursday this summer, from July 5 through Aug. 23, runners gather for a summer workout and hangout. Ages and experience can vary from a 5-year-old discovering her racing legs to grizzly seniors of the road racing circuit.

No medals or ribbons are handed out. Rewards come in the form of personal bests.

And the family-friendly event is free.

"It's been a great joy," said Smith, a Norwich resident. "And it's so simple. We try to impress on them that this is grins and giggles stuff, and you do what you want. You get together for the joy of it. ... No pressure at all."

Smith, who was just 16 years old at the first Norwich fun run, has witnessed many milestones and raced against a number of future marquee runners - Amby Burfoot, Norm Higgins, Wayne Jacob, Bill Krohn - throughout the years.

Volunteers have helped keep the long-running summer event alive. The series is sponsored by the Norwich Recreation Department and Mohegan Striders.

Sikorski called out times as runners crossed the finish line Thursday. He also handed out encouraging words.

"We've got a great group of volunteers," Sikorski said. "We all share the responsibilities. It's really a team effort."

About 60 to 80 people show up on a weekly basis, competing on the same course used by Norwich Free Academy cross country teams. On the final race day each summer, there is an end-of-the-season party.

"Everyone here has a couple of common goals - have fun and good health," said Tracy Corl of Norwich.

Corl and her daughter, Sydney, became part of the fun run family in recent years. They completed the 3.1-mile race together on Thursday. She enjoys the event's friendly competitive spirit and watching her daughter grow into the sport.

"(I like the) sense of community," Corl said. "My daughter is going to be running cross country for NFA next year. I'm helping her get into practicing. She started cross country last year, so it's been really nice to see her progress. She used to hate running and now she's really come to like it. It's good for her health and keeps her in shape."

Health. Happiness. Community.

That's what the Norwich summer funs runs are all about.

Even after all these years, Smith is still drawn to Mohegan Park on summer nights. He still competes in road races, but really likes the laid-back, family atmosphere at the weekly fun runs. And the price is right.

"The rec runs are serving up the same satisfication," Smith said. "It's just a lot of fun."

g.keefe@theday.com

Tim Smith, center, who has been part of the Norwich Rec/Mohegan Striders Summer Fun Run series for all 50 years, leads a group of runners through a warm-up session prior to Thursday night's races.
Tim Smith, center, who has been part of the Norwich Rec/Mohegan Striders Summer Fun Run series for all 50 years, leads a group of runners through a warm-up session prior to Thursday night's races. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo
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