Litchfield HIlls Road Race: A race with a face
LITCHFIELD – So here we are again, the second Sunday in June. Which really only means one thing – the Litchfield Hills Road Race. For the 38th time they will run the Northwest Corner’s iconic sporting event this weekend.
As been so often opined it all started back in the day as a way for Litchfield native and Boston Globe sportswriter Jon Concannon to get his Boston friends to become one with his Litchfield friends. The rest as they say is history.
It’s beginnings were that of a road race surrounded by a few, okay maybe a lot, of parties. It morphed in one big party stretching across three, four or five days (pick one) with a two-hour or so race depending on your speed, sandwiched in the middle. A race where fun has equals the run.
More than anything it became the race with a face. The race with more loveable workers and characters than a Disney set. Part of the event is certainly the race itself and the beaucolic setting, but this race has always been about people.
There has been the running set. The affable multi-time champion Gideon Mutisya with the big smile, fast as lightning and light enough to make you feel like you could pick him up and put him in you backpack.
Eddy Hellbuyck (1994-95 champion) who could run like the wind but found golf a far different challenge. He might fit in your pencil case. The friendly Irishman with the fast feet (always one of my favorites) Andy Ronan (1985, 1991).
Of course the legendary Bill Rogers (1977-78) who gave the race instant credibility and jumps from subject to subject in conversation quicker than he runs.
And how about another legend, Joan Benoit, and three-time winner Sue Faber of Oxford.
But the face of this race hasn’t been the champions. Its heart lies in with those who have run and never won but always been winners. Most have run – forwards, backwards, in good time, in bad time. Some remember, some don’t. Winners of a different kind.
When I think of the LHRR I don’t think about the race winners, can’t name half of them although they are a special lot. I think about people like the Neller boys.
Billy – the co-founder, an organizer, a do-it-all, head of hydration application. I find a LHRR unfathomable without Bill Neller. There’s brothers Jack who has done such a great job with the kids races and Rick, the Mario Andretti of the LHRR driving the pace car. All have contributed in immeasurable ways.
Joe Concannon, the nationally known wordsmith with the short shorts and high socks. He came, he saw he conquered. And he left us much too soon. Tommy Leonard, the Falmouth guy who started his own wildly famous road race and who has always been treated like royalty in Litchfield because he is royalty. The man at the stick and the Elliot Lounge.
Rick Evangelisti, former Director, always a runner, libation specialist, another indispensable part of this extravaganza. The Clocks – Dan and John, lifetime Director – two more essential faces.
Biff Pond, head of entertainment who has brought us groups like the legendary Hot Ethel, the Bantam Phantoms, the Return of Vedo and The Rockin’ Heartbeats. Big cigar, big passion, big effort. Now Biff, I want to see Linda and the Love Letters one more time. Make it happen, please.
The fashionable, always resplendently dressed guy with the great pipes and better headdress, Brent `The Hawk’ Hawkins. He is a sight to behold on any day, but this day is his day. And what runner does not love to hear Hawk bellow his/her name as they come puffing into the finish line and the throng on the green cheers.
Dave Driscoll who never seems to age and is always there. Look at the picture of Driscoll in the Village Restaurant for the first Road Race in 1977. He hasn’t changed much although his socks may be a bit lower and his shorts a bit longer. Maybe he was old then, maybe he is young now. He is always doing something and always has. He is a face of the LHRR.
John McKenna writes about the race, runs the race and is a permanent fixture. A permanent and important face of the LHRR. Kevin T. Spencer a face who takes pictures of the faces.
Current owners of the Village, Dave Vigeant and Greg Raap. Nobody could shoot like Vig and despite the fact that he never passed the ball to Raap during their high school days, Raap still talks to him and makes a great business partner. They are the faces of the LHRR and the Village is one of my first stops every year.
Beth Murphy because, well, she is Beth Murphy. Enough said. So many others – Mike Landry, John Torrant, Terry Collins, Donny Murelli, Charley Gill, my writing colleagues, Lori Riley, Joe Palladino, Peter Wallace, Tim Gaffney and the list goes on and on and on.
The difficult about this is all the faces you haven’t mentioned. So I will take my 30 whacks now and apologize.
All I know is this. The second Sunday in June is a race. But the LHRR is more about a face. The people that make it go and always have. The people that have made it a deliciously special time. Every year.
Make no mistake about it, the LHRR is more than anything a race with a face.