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sat park rutkowskiPHOTO: Christiana Rutkowski, 23, of Middletown, crosses the finish at Saturday in the Park Women's 5K

HOLMDEL, NJ - A sorority of 275 would-be-road racers started their Labor Day weekend as cross-country competitors and challenged New Jersey’s Holmdel Park's 3.1 mile championship course by responding to the invitation of the 26th Annual Saturday in the Park Women's 5K, on the perfect-racing-weather morning of August 31. The event’s purpose is for “Women Taking Steps to Help Women” and is organized by the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC). A pleasant, sunny day with seasonable temperatures was a welcome start for this Labor Day Weekend run.

After a fine rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, by Maya Jacoby of Long Branch, race-starter Phil Hinck, husband of Penny, the race director, gave a loud, "Ready, set, go” and the racers were underway on "one of the toughest cross-country courses in Monmouth County, maybe in all of New Jersey," offered the race starter: The first 1/3 of a mile is an uphill climb that eventually leads to a large recession, commonly referred to as the "bowl,” then continues onto the last leg of the course that winds downhill through woods to the straightaway finish contiguous to the main road.

Christiana Rutkowski, 23, of Middletown, was first into the finish-line chute and broke the finish-line tape held by director Hinck of Monmouth Beach and Diane Cheer, of Wall, in a racing time of 19:29 (nineteen minutes and 29 seconds). Little Silver’s Paige Kelly, 14, was today’s runner-up at 21:36.3 and third place (by less than a second) went to Lucy Afanasewicz, 14, of Leonardo at 21:36.7. All racers received a special bracelet as they finished.

Rutkowski is no stranger to Holmdel Park, having run cross country for Middletown South, Seton Hall, and now for Monmouth University. With a best time at Holmdel of 19:04, and best 5K road time of 17:35, Rutkowski started strong and was leading by the time she reached the bottom of the big start hill. “I actually ran this race a few times when I was in high school. My team would do it prior to our official season starting in order to get more comfortable on the course!” she shared via email after the race. “I have always loved Holmdel because I grew up going to the park since I was little. This course has been my home course throughout high school and I've had some of my best races and some of my hardest races - always lessons in each one though, with so many special memories.”

As first Jersey Shore Running Club member to cross the line, in 23:31, Dawn Wilcox, of Little Silver, was awarded the Mary Conry Memorial Award, and is also a frequent runner at the event. “The Saturday in the Park 5K Race has become an event that I look forward to each year. Since my first time racing which I believe was in the late 90s, I enjoy competing with other strong women in an attempt to conquer the legendary Holmdel XC course.” she shared in post-race comments. “This race shares a powerful message of supporting those impacted by domestic violence and raising funds that benefit organizations with programs dedicated to providing shelter, counseling, advocacy and education. Each year as I stand on the start line chills run through me hearing this race’s mantra…’she believed she could so she did’. "

sat park startPHOTO: Start of Saturday in the Park Women's 5K

The "bowl" is the popular area of this annual event and that's where all 275 competitors heard running-champion, Ocean Township's, formerly South River, David DeMonico, alumnus of Rutgers, serenading his running/racewalking friends with inspirational music from his trumpet, accompanied by faithful beagle Ralph.
"The park rangers did a fabulous job of getting the park ready for us," said Marilyn Ryder, 78, of Eatontown, mother of the race's director who finished first in her age group running 35:41.

Nancy Thorne, of Long Branch who was the director for 15 years of the annual Michael Thorne 4-Mile Scholarship Run in West Long Branch to honor her fireman brother who was killed while on duty, finished at 37:13, a respectable racing time on this course. “I love this women’s race – I'm always thrilled to be here, it's for a great cause - we have a women’s team Wine, Women and Running,” Thorne said when asked to comment. Those words are printed on the bright singlet that she and twenty seven other team members were wearing today. The team repeated as the largest participating open team at the event.

Prior to the start of the race at 9 a.m., Phil Hinck, race committee member and past president of the JSRC, welcomed and thanked all for coming to this worthwhile event. A moment of silence was offered for Mary Conry, past JSRC member, and Chuck Whelan, a former race director of the event and past JSRC president, who lost his life twelve years ago after a long, heartbreaking illness, in recognition of their dedication to the JSRC and to Saturday in the Park.

Hinck then introduced Dawn Ciccone, JSRC member and Race Committee member, who offered appropriate remarks that fit in with the main reason for this event: Women Taking Steps to Help Women.

“This is a unique race in that it’s a women only event that allows us to compete against our own, but more importantly share our inspiration with other women. As you start your race, keep in mind that the courage, discipline and perseverance it took to get you to the starting line is exactly what each of you are giving back to one another."

Jacoby then gave an inspirational rendition of our National Anthem, and then the racers were off on their Saturday in the Park morning adventure.

Old Bridge’s Jim Buckler, past JSRC President, acted as emcee for the awards ceremony. Penny Hinck and JSRC member Lorraine Buckler awarded certificates, custom metal bottles to the aforementioned winners as well as age-group leaders and other special achievers near the tree-lined race finishing area. For the second year, Red Bank Regional Cross Country Team was recognized as the best represented High School Team.

Unique to this event is a team competition for Mother/Daughter and Sister/Sister pairings, with 24 such teams entered. Amber and Kim Hart of Wall and Belmar, won the Mother/Daughter division, followed by Little Silver’s Abby and Jill Mannix, in second place and Melissa and Maddie Kirchner, Ocean, in third. The top three Sister/Sister teams were Little Silver’s Paige and Claudia Kelly, Courtney and Danielle Stanton, of Montville, Jennifer and Jocelyn Mendez Romero, of Red Bank.

Gifts were offered at a random drawing, due to the generosity of the business community. The main gift was a cruiser bike, courtesy of JSRC Members Jack and Diane Cheer of Wall, which was won by Cathy Mahoney of Old Bridge. Cathy’s running club, the Old Bridge Road Runners, were recognized as the 2nd best represented team.

"It was another great day organized by the Saturday in the Park Race Committee and the Jersey Shore Running Club. I am extremely pleased with this year's turnout for our 26th running of the event, and look forward to next year's running. I want to thank our sponsors, the race committee and the tremendous efforts of our volunteers; all components of the event merge together to produce a truly enjoyable day for the women runners and walkers, as well as raise awareness for the organizations which need our support. Special thanks also to Holmdel park rangers for providing the beautiful setting year after year,” said director Hinck.

The Saturday in the Park event began in 1994 as part of the Women's Distance Festival of the Road Runners' Club of America which was an effort to encourage women's running at all levels. JSRC continued for many years with the tradition of offering Rundamentals, a program to train women to run the Saturday in the Park race as their first 5K.

Since its inception, the Saturday in the Park 5K has raised over $240,000 and has created public awareness of options and services available to women. Beneficiary organizations for the 2019 include Providence House of Catholic Charities in Ocean County, and women’s charitable organizations in Monmouth County. Sponsors of the 2019 running include Jersey Shore Grand Prix, JAG-One Physical Therapy, Assemblyman Sean Kean, Monmouth Medical Center Foundation, Monmouth County Police Chiefs Association, New Jersey Natural Gas Company, Windmill Restaurants, Kenney Gross Kovats & Parton, MacGowan Agency and Food Circus.

Over 110 dedicated volunteers were available for the myriad activities of putting on an event such as this and among them, were a group from Amazon’s Transportation Division, and serving at the water stop, was a large contingent from New Jersey Natural Gas Company, an annual supporter of the race. John Kuhi provided timing on the course. Elite Racing Systems organized the computer results. This event also includes kids’ races for 2 to 12-year-old girls and boys, and about 20 youngsters participated.

Complete list of event finishers can be found at www.saturdayinthepark5k.org. Photos for the event can also be found on the event’s website and Facebook page, courtesy of Michael Berry and Warren Monk.
Road-racing events continue and schedules can be found on these websites: www.jsrc.org and www.farcnj.com.

Friends and relatives of runners and racewalkers, as well as the general public, should be aware that at the Belmar boardwalk, across from Dunkin Donuts on Wednesday, September 11, at 6 p.m., is the annual Jersey Shore Memorial Run (not a race) which will memorialize all from the Jersey Shore who tragically died on that infamous day. There is no fee. Show up and jog quietly to Spring Lake with other fellow mourners and enjoy a special, solemn occasion. You won't regret having given of your time.