In a world that sometimes feels as if it’s spinning at warp speed, barely catching a breath to trumpet the latest tragedy or the next must-have gadget, it’s reassuring to know there’s a place like Bear Mountain where time seemingly slows down, where the mere act of roaming the grounds alights the senses with an invigorating purity and comforting constancy.
Local runners have known this for a long time. It’s a major reason why they return year after year, on Thanksgiving Saturday, to reunite, refresh and remember. Some 170 nature-loving harriers re-enacted their annual sporting rite Nov. 26 at the 34th Bill Markiewicz Rockland Alumni Cross Country Run, co-sponsored by the Rockland Road Runners.
A charge across the grassy plain bracketed by the historic inn and carousel, a bracing jaunt around Hessian Lake, a challenging ascent of the ski-slope hill, and a culminating sweep of the greensward serve to transport the runners toward a literal finish line and a figurative anchor for their reservoir of memories along the footpaths of their youth.
Back in 1983, a Pearl River coach/athletic director named Tom Doherty conceived of a Thanksgiving weekend race where running alumni could flock to Bear Mountain, site of the three-mile course used by high school cross-country teams, and reconnect with their hills-and-trails brethren via a competitive tour of the same course, followed by a celebration at the inn’s upstairs lodge with the welcoming fireplace.
Thirty-three years later, the Alumni Run is going strong. The race is no-frills, echoing the spirit of the sport. “There’s no medals, no T-shirts, no entry fee, and some years you don’t even get your time or place,” said Doherty, the race co-director along with Ralph Coleman. “But it’s all good and we have a lot of fun. It’s pretty special, after having it for so many years. I look around and see all of these legends at the finish line.”
Perhaps inspired by some of those legendary former champions, up-and-coming stars vied for the mantle of supremacy on the plains of Bear Mountain. Evan Ward, from Suffern High School class of 2012, answered the call best, negotiating the three-mile route in 15 minutes, 51.5 seconds to score a convincing 175-yard victory over Nick Roosa, Tappan Zee class of 2003, who clocked 16:19. Ward competed for Lehigh University for the past four years, and is the son of former Pearl River harrier Mike Ward. Roosa is a two-time Alumni Run champion, having won the title in 2005 and 2011.
Ward’s heroics paced Suffern to its first team crown since 2011 and sixth overall. The Mounties alumni placed four runners in the top six to score an easy victory over second-place and defending champ Monroe-Woodbury, 34 to 57.
The women’s race was no contest as Megan Patrignelli, Monroe-Woodbury class of 2010, romped to victory in 17:53, the seventh-fastest time ever recorded by a female in the race. Patrignelli starred for the University of Oregon and was runner-up at the 2014 Pac-12 championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
The runner-up, nearly a half-mile behind, was teammate Suzanne La Burt, Monroe-Woodbury class of 1981, who ran 20:34, a fine time by any standard but especially so for a runner in the 50-plus category. Finishing third was the five-time defending champion, Cailé Kohlbrenner, Tappan Zee class of 2011.
Not surprisingly, the Monroe-Woodbury women scored an emphatic team triumph, tallying a minuscule total of 22 points to outdistance second-place Clarkstown South’s 48. The Crusaders of Orange County have captured the women’s title a record 13 times, including the last seven editions.
The race attracted participants from 33 schools spanning six states – New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan and California – as well as an international competitor from Great Britain. Entrants’ ages ranged from 18 to 74.
The Alumni Run was renamed in memory of Bill Markiewicz in 1991 and an annual award was established to honor those who have given distinguished service to the sport. This year’s recipient was Bill Szachewicz, Suffern class of 1982, who served as a coach for the Pearl River school district in cross country, indoor track and spring track from 1990 through the spring of 2016. He served variously as an assistant or head coach for the boys’ and girls’ programs on all levels from modified to varsity. The award was presented to Szachewicz by Janet Markiewicz, Bill Markiewicz’s widow, who also cheered for three of her family members participating in the run.
Among the many notable entrants in the race were past Alumni Run champions Kyle Collins, Suffern class of 2012, who finished fourth; Brian Crowley, Albertus Magnus class of 1982, who placed 13th; as well as Roosa and Kohlbrenner. Former Rockland County scholastic meet titleholders who took part included Jim Dinan, Nanuet class of 1987; Mike Colangelo, Albertus Magnus class of 1975, who also captured a state individual crown and is a member of the Rockland County All-Century Cross Country Team; and Brendan Fennell, Pearl River class of 2003, who won three County championships and two state titles and was voted the Male Runner of the Decade for Rockland from 2000-2009.
Larry Beckerle, Albertus Magnus class of 1973, kept his unique streak alive of never having missed an Alumni Run.