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Fahey volunteers with JFK even though he can not compete

November 15, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Tom Fahey

Age - 65.

Occupation - Engine assembler for Volvo Powertrain.

Hometown - Cumberland, Md.; moved to Washington County when he was 12.

Where would you see Fahey? - This Saturday, Fahey will be a welcome sight for the runners of the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon. He will be staked out at Weverton Cliffs, a high spot on the course, providing encouragement and keeping runners on track.

Fahey is "retiring" from his volunteer position after this year's race, a job he took on in 1998. He said it takes him 20 to 25 minutes to climb to his spot from the lower Weverton Cliffs parking lot.


Equipped with a backpack, sign, sealed snacks and Gatorade, Fahey gets in position at about 7:30 a.m. and finishes up about 1 p.m., when the last runner passes by.

Weverton Cliffs is about 15 miles into the race and Fahey said he has had to help injured or dehydrated runners, some of whom continue on and others who decide to call it quits.

Once the runners pass Fahey, it's not too much longer until they reach an aid station and the C&O Canal towpath, a welcome relief from the rocky, treacherous terrain of the early part of the run along the Appalachian Trail.

Fahey, himself a 10-time finisher of the race, knows what the runners are going through. His average time for his finishes is about 12 hours.

The 1959 graduate of St. Maria Goretti High School said he didn't start running until he was 46. A running friend challenged him to run the JFK.

It was a challenge Fahey took from 1988 to 1997, earning him a spot in the Streakers Club (for those who finish the race 10 consecutive times), as well as the 500-mile sweatshirt.

He said each year he looked forward to the race, for the people he met, as well as the interesting stories he'd hear from the other runners during the course of the race.

Fahey stopped running after he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. With diabetes on both sides of his family, he said it was only a matter of time before he got it and added that running probably helped stave off the diagnosis.

He wasn't ready to end his connection to the JFK, though. Fahey remembered how helpful the race volunteers had been in supporting the runners and decided to return as a volunteer.

"The volunteers really made it. They were like a bunch of cheerleaders. Once you get to the 25-mile mark, it's a mind game. They encourage you - give you snacks, drinks, anything to keep you in the race," Fahey said. "I had no hesitation about giving back."

He said he ran his first race in terrible weather, ranging from rain to snow to sleet to wind. It was the worst weather he encountered as a JFK runner.

"I was a wet duck when I finished. I said 'No more,' but I was hooked," Fahey said.

When he was a child, Fahey's family moved from Cumberland to Sharpsburg, then to Hagerstown when his father got a job at Fairchild. Fahey was a member of the first graduating class at Goretti to go there all four years.

He and his wife, Ellen, married in 1963 and have two adult daughters. They live on Maryland Avenue and are raising their granddaughter, Morgan, who is a junior at Goretti.

Fahey has discovered an historic connection to the race course. His grandfather was an Irish immigrant who settled near Martinsburg, W.Va., and fought in the Battle of South Mountain, Antietam and Chancellorsville, where he was injured.

Along portions of the JFK course, Fahey said there are trenches left from the Civil War.

"Where I'm running for fun, some were running for their lives," he said.

Hobbies - Fahey remains active, although he gave up running. He now walks about three miles with friends, in the early morning before work.

He has two collections he's passionate about - muscle cars and antique model trains. Fahey said he has three muscle cars right now, one that's running and two that he's working on.

As for his train collection, he is interested in tinplates from the 1920s and 1930s. Fahey's father worked for the Western Maryland Railroad and got his son started on the hobby.

Fahey is a member at St. Mary's Catholic Church and said he's part of a Renew group that has helped serve and clean up at the Hagerstown Rescue Mission's Thanksgiving dinner since 2000.

He also helps his wife as needed with the floral business she co-owns, Ellen-Joy's in Halfway, whether it's helping set up for weddings and parties or delivering flowers.

What does Fahey like best about Washington County? - "I like history so much," said Fahey, who added the architecture in the area is diverse. He's also interested in the history of the cars that were made in Hagerstown, including the Dagmar and the Pope-Tribune.

Fahey also thinks highly of the people of the county.

"I think the people are great. There a lot of different people. You can learn a lot by listening," Fahey said.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail

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