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JFK runners return for annual rite

November 22, 1998|By MIKE WOLFF

WILLIAMSPORT - As Americans look back 35 years, we remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as one of the darkest times in our nation's history.

On Saturday, Washington County did its best to remember its fallen leader in a positive way.

Nearly 900 people braved the cold to run in the 36th annual JFK 50-mile, the kind of event Kennedy hoped would catch on throughout the country.

"I think he (Kennedy) would be absolutely thrilled," race director Mike Spinnler said. "That's what he was trying to do. He wanted to inspire Americans to improve their physical fitness and, in turn, improve their lives."

In 1963, President Kennedy challenged his military officers to complete a 50-mile hike. Many Americans took up the challenge and 50-mile races became common.

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After Kennedy was assassinated, the number of races nationwide decreased, but the Washington County event has remained strong.

Athletes from 42 states and representatives from Argentina, South Africa and Canada came to Washington County to compete in this prestigious event.

"I was in St. Louis, and when I told people I was from Williamsport, Md., they said, 'Isn't that where that race is?'" Dick Allen said. "It makes you feel real proud because this area isn't that well-known."

The race is a remarkable test of endurance. Participants start in downtown Boonsboro and make their way over the Appalachian Trail and along the C&O Canal towpath before finishing at Springfield Middle School in Williamsport.

The JFK 50-mile set a national record in 1973 when 673 people crossed the finish line. That record stood until last year, when the race had 719 finishers.

"The race is terrific for the area because it's an East Coast 50-mile and it's the largest in the country," said Bea Marie Altieri, this year's women's champion. "It's also nice to show off Maryland, my hometown," the Columbia, Md., resident said.

Altieri became just the second woman to break the seven-hour mark. Only Teri Gerber ran a faster time when she won the race in 1984.

Howard Nippert, of Blacksburg, Va., won the men's event in the first 50-mile race of his career.

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