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New London - Jeff Billing was wearing the bib No. 35 for Saturday's 52nd Annual Ocean Beach/John & Jessie Kelley 11.6-Mile Road Race.
Race director Way Hedding always gives Billing, a former Mystic resident and Fitch High graduate, the number corresponding with his age, which means he has 19 more numbers like it dating back to when he was 16 years old.
Billing knows the history of the race well, as well as racing in general. His uncle, Amby Burfoot, was the 1968 Boston Marathon champion and is a five-time winner of the Kelley Race, claiming that distinction more times than anyone. In addition, Billing said, the late John and Jessie Kelley were like grandparents to him.
Now, Billing, a math teacher at Hall High School in West Hartford, is going about educating his students about the race's tradition.
The last two winners of the Kelley Race, including 2014 champ Michael Conway, and three of the last four were former students of Billing's, who have made a habit of going to the Billing family home in Mystic afterward for a barbeque and a game of wiffle ball.
"They're 17, 18, 19, 20 years old," said Billing, an assistant cross country coach and head baseball coach at Hall. "When you teach high school kids that stuff, at some point in their lives they appreciate it. … I think this is a really special race. This was my childhood."
Conway, 21, a Hall alum from West Hartford and a graduate student with a year of eligibility remaining in cross country and indoor and outdoor track at George Mason, won Saturday's rainy edition of the Kelley Race in 1 hour, 34 seconds, pulling away from the rest of the contenders for good at about the 3-mile mark.
Nicholas Lemon of Sag Harbor, N.Y., was second in 1:02:04, followed by Nick Aguila of West Hartford (1:02:12), Jeff Wadecki of Ledyard (1:03:30), Jacob Johns of North Andover, Mass., (1:04:13) and Wheeler High graduate Jacob Edwards, the grandson of John and Jessie Kelley, sixth in 1:05:30.
Aguila and 11th-place finisher Zachary Magin (1:06.:27) are both Hall graduates, while 10th-place finisher Ari Klau and Grant O'Connor, 12th, are seniors to be at the school, which won the Central Connecticut Conference and finished second in the Class L state cross country championship last fall.
Last year's Kelley Race champion, Everett Hackett, is a Hall graduate who also attended George Mason. Conway previously won the race in 2011.
"I was feeling good running, it was good weather. I've been running really well this summer," said Conway, who also won the Celebrate West Hartford 5K in June. "The course isn't really hilly so that's one aspect (I like); it's pretty flat. … There's a big group of us (from Hall), so it's a fun day."
Meanwhile, women's winner Laura Brustolon, 26, a Stonington High School graduate who now lives in Lawrence, Mass., also wore a significant bib number.
A victory Saturday in 1:10:00 was the fifth of her career at the Kelley Race.
Brustolon, who last won in 2012, finishing third in the women's division last year, said she's trying to stretch her mileage to improve her time for the Hartford Marathon this fall.
A Southern Connecticut alum who got her graduate degree from Quinnipiac in 2013, Brustolon is now a pathologist's assistant and was engaged earlier this year to fellow runner Ryan Murdoch, originally from East Lyme. Murdoch proposed to Brustolon after a race she won.
Also, Brustolon has become a member of the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), which has organized the Boston Marathon since inception in the late 1800s. Brustolon has run five marathons total, including Boston in 2013 and 2014.
"It's an honor," she said of running for the BAA, which requires runners to submit a resume and places them into tiers of membership. "They suggest certain races that we do."
Brustolon, part of this year's marathon, in which the city went through the healing process following the deadly bombing at the 2013 event, said she felt safe in Boston.
"I think everyone came out a bit stronger," she said. "I felt really safe. It tells a lot."
She said Saturday's cool weather in New London came as a pleasant surprise.
"I think the weather helped a lot of people," Brustolon said. "… The support was great out on the course, just people were more on their porch (instead of the side of the road)."
Ariel Beccia of Rutland, Mass., was second among women in 1:16:38 and Donna Kay Ness of Somers was third in 1:16:58.