Volunteers supply, encourage JFK ultramarathon runners

November 22, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Forty-five years ago, Mark Rosette sat in front of his television watching history.

The president of the United States had been assassinated.

Rosette was a teenager when John F. Kennedy died in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Rosette decided to honor Kennedy's memory on the anniversary of his death by participating in Saturday's JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon.

But not as a competitor.

"I wanted to volunteer," he said.

Standing behind a table near Dam 4 Road, Rosette lined up bottles of water and Gatorade in anticipation of thirsty runners.

"This is the first time I've been part of the race," the Hagerstown man said. "It's cold. But I felt a need to be out here."


Rosette was among dozens of volunteers who offered supplies and shouts of encouragement to participants in this year's ultramarathon.

Like Rosette, many people had a special reason for lending a hand, including 10 people from Greencastle, Pa., who worked the Donnie Oberholzer Memorial Water Spot in Downsville.

"Donnie was an avid runner who raced in the JFK," Rich Secrest said. "He passed away several years ago, so we thought this would be a nice way of remembering him."

Secrest is head coach of the cross country team at Greencastle-Antrim High School and director of the Greencastle Flyers, a road running, cross country and track and field club for area youths.

"I didn't know Donnie personally, but I know about his special dedication to fitness and young people," he said. "This is a small way of saluting that commitment."

Secrest was joined by members of his high school cross country team and Flyers club.

This is the third year that the group has volunteered for the JFK ultramarathon, he said.

"We really enjoy it. You meet people from all walks of life," he said. "It's also so neat to see how much the runners appreciate us being out here."

Of all of the things a teenager could be doing on a Saturday morning, standing in freezing temperatures along the towpath would be pretty far down the list.

But on Saturday, 14-year-old Jordan Jensen was doing just that -- and enjoying every moment.

Jordan was among a group of volunteers from Young Life Washington County, a youth ministry organization from Clear Spring.

"I wasn't feeling very well this morning, but I didn't want to miss it," Jordan said. "I've done this before and really enjoy it."

Jordan said it's a good feeling volunteering for the race.

"The runners are so thankful for what we do," she said.

The Young Life group was responsible for the mile 42 aid station on Dam 4 Road along the towpath.

"We have about 20 young people who volunteered," said Kimberly Jensen, whose husband, Brian, is director of Young Life.

The Cumberland Valley Athletic Club provides most of the supplies, she said, "but we added some extra items, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

Young Life has participated in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon for the past several years, Kimberly Jensen said.

"It's fun because we're stationed at the end of the towpath and we can give them encouragement with only about eight more miles to go to the finish line," she said.

Among those waiting at the finish line at Springfield Middle School was Eric Seifarth of Hagerstown, who came to cheer on several friends who were runners.

In past years, Seifarth said he has raced in the JFK, but this year he was an observer.

"It's a tough course, and guys like me have to be sensible," he said. "I have to go to work on Monday."

Still, Seifarth said he missed being a participant this year.

"It's different standing and watching," he said. "Plus, I've never been at the finish line with daylight. Usually, it's getting dark."

JFK runners are passionate participants

WILLIAMSPORT -- There was a time, two decades ago, when Dave Downin watched participants in the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon finish and thought, "They are loony!"

"Then I made the mistake of running one, and now I can't quit," Downin said.

Downin, 62, of Sharpsburg, completed his 22nd JFK 50 Mile on Saturday, finishing in 10 hours, 8 minutes. He ran the race for the first time in 1987 -- which was the 25th running -- and said he wants to keep running until the 50th.

"I got bit by the bug and haven't been able to stop," Downin said. "The first one was a test, and I just fell in love with it."

Saturday's cold and windy conditions made this year's JFK 50 Mile even more punishing than most, but Downin said 1987 was worse.

"I finished in the snow," he said. "I have the pictures to prove it."

Williamsport resident Bob Hornbecker finished the race for the 12th time Saturday, crossing the line in about 12 hours, 27 minutes.

Hornbecker, 58, called the JFK 50 Mile "a family affair."

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