Runner Doug Benedetto Carries His Patriotism Proudly.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO
Doug Benedetto has come a long way since he wore cutoff shorts, a polo shirt and basketball shoes to run his first road race in Torrington some 15 years ago.
“I decided to give it a shot not knowing anything really about running and training,” said the 50-year-old lifelong Torrington resident and owner/operator for 24 years of Detail Unlimited on the Winsted Road. “I played football, baseball and basketball in high school and weighed about 240 pounds at the time. But I did okay and actually ran past a couple of friends of mine near the finish line.”
Emboldened by his first attempt at running a race, Benedetto entered the Litchfield Hills Road Race the following year, which made him realize just how punishing the sport could be.
“I trained a little for Litchfield but I was still big and it was a wakeup call,” said Benedetto, who has served on the Torrington Board of Public Safety for 13 years. “But I did okay, running the race in about 56 minutes, which was good considering how big I was. But I was always an athlete and competitor and that drove me. I just kept at it.”
Despite maintaining his weight at around 240 pounds, he continued to run and ran his first half marathon in Hartford in 2009, finishing in about an hour and 38 minutes. He actually finished second in the race’s “Clydesdale Division,” for larger men. “I ran the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in Providence, R.I. and finished that in a time of 1:28 in 2010. I was making strides and cutting my times.”
He continued to train on a regular basis, sometimes with pals Skip Renzullo and Kim Marchand, going for long runs in Peoples Forest in Barkhamsted to build up his endurance. His next jump was to the marathon, 26.2 tough, mind-bending miles.
“I really never wanted to run a marathon because it seemed so grueling. But my friends convinced me to give it a try and I ran the Philadelphia marathon in November of 2011 as a way to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. Skip and Kim said they would help me through it and they met me at miles 13 and 20. I hit the wall around 20 miles but I pushed through.” The time to qualify for Boston was 3:25 and Benedetto ran a 3:24.26, making the cut by only 34 seconds. But he had made it.
“The Boston field was filled for 2012, so I got into the 2013 marathon.” Fate and tragedy would then play a part in Benedetto’s running career and life. He finished the 2013 race in good stead, but some 20 minutes later the terror attack commenced.
“I was walking back to the finish line and I heard a boom, which most of us thought was an explosion underground or a generator exploding. Then a second huge explosion went off and we knew it was something very serious.”
Benedetto, along with other runners, were told to go to local hotels so as to clear the streets in case of further attacks. He waited for his friends and then left for home.
“A few months after the attack we went up for a charity run for the victims of the attack,” he explains, “and they picked me to carry the American flag for the last five miles, which was an honor.” Little did he know at the time that the American flag and he would become linked at future races.
He decided to run carrying the flag on a pole at that year’s New York City Marathon to honor the fallen and injured at the Boston Marathon. Seems like a patriotic thing to do, right? Well, it wasn’t that easy.
“I was told by the police before the start of the race that I couldn’t run with the flag. I protested and was very angry. I mean, it was the American flag and Boston had just happened a few months before. A rules chairman showed me where it says you can’t run with a flag in the race. A policeman took the flag off the pole I had and I was so mad that I wasn’t going to run. A Coast Guardsman saw what was going on and took me aside. He said, “You’re going to run with that flag. We got a small pole, zip tied the flag to it and I ran with it.”
The image of Benedetto running with the flag was captured by a number of media, including the New York Daily News, the New York Times and NBC Nightly News.
“There were tears in my eyes and I must have received 5,000 pats on the back during the race,” Benedetto recalled. “My shoulder was actually becoming sore.”
He ran with the flag (with no hassles) and the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 in Washington, D.C., and the following year a photo of him with the flag was used for the cover of the race’s brochure. At the Chicago Marathon he had a tearful encounter with a Marine who had lost a leg and who told him that it was inspirational to see him run with the flag. He has carried the flag at every race since, including the New York City Marathon. “It’s sad. I have to pay somebody to wait with flag when we come off the Verrazano Bridge at the start because they still won’t let me officially carry it,” he said with a frown,” even though I make sure I run to the side and don’t interfere with anyone.”
But, most times he has encountered only welcoming attitudes from race officials when he shows up with “Old Glory”. “I ran the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day and I was told by the race director that of course I could run with the flag.”
By the way, Benedetto is now 172 pounds, thanks to his running, training, and a vegan diet. He has also transitioned to duathlons; events that call for a run, a bicycle ride, and another run. He finished first overall at a duathlon held in Litchfield this year. “I like beating the young kids.”
Balancing training, competing, running his own business, and maintaining a family life is no easy task. But Benedetto has developed a routine.
“I get up at 4 a.m., train, and then come to the shop. My wife (Jill Tedesco) is very understanding because I am out a lot, even on the weekends when I go for a run or bicycle and am gone for hours.”
Benedetto was preparing to run in a race called the Blue Black Mitten 5-K Run Sunday in West Hartford.
“I’ll be there with the flag and I’ll carry it proudly,” the man who once ran in cut off shorts, a polo shirt and basketball sneakers on his feet. That seems like a long time ago for Doug Benedetto, who has seen running change his life, as well as the way he views the world.