HOLMDEL, N.J. - A sorority of 250 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 24th Annual Saturday in the Park Women's 5K, on the perfect-racing-weather morning of September 2.  The event’s purpose is for “Women Taking Steps to Help Women” and is organized by the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC).  The cool weather was a nice change from the many typically warm-weather events of recent summer months.
After a fine rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, 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.

Madison Brand, 17, of Middletown was first into the finish-line chute and broke the finish-line tape held by director Hinck of Monmouth Beach and Jennifer Bauer, of race beneficiary Providence House, in a racing time of 20:10 (twenty minutes and 10 seconds).  North Arlington’s  Shannon Clancy, 15, was today’s runner-up at 20:28 and third place went to Julia Tambaro, 15, of Fair Haven at 20:30, just two seconds back.  All racers received a custom charm necklace and pink sport towel as they finished. 
Brand, a senior standout on the Middletown South High School Track and Cross County Teams, bettered her 2016 21:50 seventh place finish at this event by one minute and 40 seconds. 

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As the first Jersey Shore Running Club member to cross the line, fourth finisher Dianne DeOliveira was awarded the Mary Conry Memorial Award, and is also a frequent runner at the event.  “I'm not sure how many years I've been doing the race...several now, but I like the cause and the fact that it's just for women!” she has shared in post-race comments.  “I love the course and maybe among the few who love hills and don't mind the bowl!  Some of the Bellas (her running team) who ran the race for the first time today already said they are definitely doing it next year and the ones who did it last year for the first time did it again this year!  Also, kudos to the race director and the volunteers!”

The "bowl" is the popular area of this annual event and that's where all 250 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, 76, of Eatontown, mother of the race's director who finished first in her age group running 32:44.
Lauren Rhatigan of Beach Haven, finished in 26th place at 23:33 a 7:35 per mile pace good for second place in her age group. "The most difficult part of this race is trying to keep up with the youngsters," said Rhatigan. 

Nancy Thorne, 58, of Long Branch who was the director 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 31:26, 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 purple singlet that she and thirty 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, Chuck Whelan, a former race director of the event and past JSRC president, who lost his life six years ago after a long, heartbreaking illness, and Jim Robbins, a dedicated runner and friend of the local running community who passed away recently, in recognition of their dedication to the JSRC and to Saturday in the Park.  
Hinck then introduced Dawn Ciccone, race committee member, who offered appropriate remarks that fit in with the main reason for this event:  Women Taking Steps to Help Women.  
“Each one of you here today plays a huge part in the success of this event. Thank you for being here...for believing one person can make a difference, because each "One" of you adds up to many!
Whether a fellow athlete runs ahead or beside you, you'll both finish the race for the same reason...
she believed she could, so she did.”

Old Bridge’s Jim Buckler, past JSRC President, acted as emcee for the awards ceremony. Penny Hinck and JSRC member Lorraine Buckler awarded certificates, inspirational bracelets ('She believed she could – so she did'), hats and tote bags to the aforementioned winners as well as age-group leaders and other special achievers near the tree-lined race finishing area. The Middletown South Girls 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 19 such teams entered.  Catherine and Cynthia DeSousa of Oceanport repeated their win in the Mother/Daughter division, followed by Red Bank’s Mya and Kerry Ostermiller, in second place and Catherine and Elisabeth Kratka, Lincroft, in third. The top three Sister/Sister teams were Middletown’s Kathleen and Rosemary Shay, Nick and Kristiana Kuras, of Fair Haven, and Kay Romano and Patti Panfile, of Bayonne.                    
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 Jannee Neary of Ocean Township.
"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 24th running of the event, and look forward to next year's 25th Anniversary. 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 $225,000 and has created public awareness of options and services available to women. Beneficiary organizations for the 2016 include Providence House of Catholic Charities in Ocean County, and women’s charitable organizations in Monmouth County.
Over 110 dedicated volunteers were available for the myriad activities of putting on an event such as this and among them, 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 and finish line. Elite Racing Systems organized the computer results. This event also includes kids’ races for 2 to 12-year-olds and several youngsters participated.
Complete list of event finishers can be found at www.saturdayinthepark5k.org. Photos for the event can be found on the website, courtesy of Mike Berry, Atlantic Highlands.

Leading Holmdel finishers of their championship course of Holmdel Park with their racing time:  Julianna Brown 23:29 (23 minutes and 29 seconds) Maggie Wojie 25:10, Annika Sharp 25:20, Rebecca Fink 25:53, Caitlyn Joyce 26:20, Jade Brand 27:33, Lindsay Cannon 28:42, Lindsay Guarnaccia 28:51, Sofia Mancino 28:52, Rylie Liberator 28:52, Caroline Rebele 28:57, Nele Sharp 28:59, Candace Wolkovitz 29:09, Trina McCartney 29:38, Kiera Joyce 29:50, Tricia Hall 29:57, Julia Brusco 31:17, Francesca Peloro 31:29, Theresa Veilleux 31:50, Sophia Fanzini 32:06, Olivia Beshara 32:25, Christine Heyt 32:30, Jessica Kuleshov 33:10, Mikaela Lee 33:45, Anne Fink 34:43, Julia Hall 38:10, Megan Hansen 38:10, Laura Lavell 38:17, Olivia Ferranti 40:00, Deepti Varma 41:22, Chrissy Bodsford 41:22, Karen Strickland 41:30 and Randee Gevertz 50:57.

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 Monday, 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.