Jingle Bell 5K Run in Niantic benefits suicide prevention and awareness

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East Lyme — One of the first runners to finish the 2nd annual Niantic Jingle Bell 5K Run Saturday morning wore a Santa-themed Speedo along with his red velvet hat and white clip-on beard.

Other athletes slipped Christmas-themed tutus over their running clothes or sported reindeer antlers on their heads. Some pushed strollers or ran the course with their dogs. One man crossed the finish line in bare feet, a bell jingling around his ankle.

Every step the 750 runners took brought local residents Ann Irr Dagle and Paul T. Dagle closer to their goal of opening a healing center for those who suffer loss. The Jingle Bell Run was a fundraiser for the Brian T. Dagle Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit the Dagles formed after their 19-year-old son Brian T. Dagle committed suicide on Nov. 12, 2011.

The Dagles started the foundation to bring awareness to the issue of suicide and to help those who are grieving or have suffered losses. Ann Dagle thanked the crowd of merry runners and walkers who assembled Saturday morning at McCook Point Park, then ran and walked the course herself.

"Four years ago, I never thought I would be here," Mrs. Dagle said. "But I am because of all of you."

Paul Dagle said the family wants to help people get through losses the way the community helped them.

"If we can be there for people, it's a way of us paying back for all the people who were there for us," he said.

McCook Park is a special place for the family, whose donated bronze statue of Brian Dagle and golden retriever Max sits on a hill overlooking Niantic Bay.  

"Brian's looking out for us," Mr. Dagle said, noting the unseasonably warm weather. 

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-20th District, and East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson greeted and thanked the runners for supporting a foundation that, Formica noted, was born of a tragedy in which "God's will was not all that evident."

The participants brought their holiday spirit to the race. Laura Tiffany of Niantic and Priscilla Quilter of Gales Ferry wore Santa gear, named themselves the #dynamicduo and pushed a stroller containing a little reindeer — 4-year-old Allyson Quilter. They finished the race in 28:20, which they considered a pretty good time. 

Father and son John and Matt Teeter of Old Lyme ran the race with their golden retriever Apollo, who had his own registration number.

"This is his first official race," the dad said of the family dog.

Later Saturday, Ann Dagle said the organizers were still tallying the proceeds. Each of the 750 runners either paid $25 to pre-register or $30 the day of the race, and Dagle said the organizers received $6,000 in sponsorships. After expenses are paid, the proceeds will be used to fund the healing center, Dagle said. After losing her son, Dagle said she searched to find a "safe place" to work on her grief and ended up going all the way to Massachusetts.

The goal of the healing center would be to offer grief support and holistic therapy to those suffering any kind of loss, she said.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @KFLORIN

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