Heavily rooted in U.S. history, what has become the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon began as a challenge issued in the early 1900s by President Theodore Roosevelt, who demanded that his ranking military officers be able to lead their men 50 miles in a 20-hour time period.
Six decades later, President John F. Kennedy initiated a similar physical fitness movement.
In celebration of both men’s vision and leadership, the JFK 50 in Washington County started in the spring of 1963 as one of numerous 50-mile races held around the country, but many were never run again following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.
The local event — one of the biggest and most prestigious on the North American continent today — has stood the test of time. On Saturday, it was run for the 50th straight year.
“It was just what we had hoped it would be — a grand celebration of what John F. Kennedy’s vision and Teddy Roosevelt’s vision was for America; a fit and a vibrant America,” race director Mike Spinnler said afterward.
To celebrate the occasion, two descendants from both presidential families took part in the event — Roosevelt’s great grandson, Teddy Roosevelt IV, and Kennedy’s grand nephew, Christopher Kennedy McKelvy.
Roosevelt served as the honorary starter of both 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. groups of runners in Boonsboro while McKelvy was on hand to distribute awards to the day’s winners at a ceremony inside the Spring Field Middle School gym in Williamsport.
McKelvy, a 2nd lieutenant who recently graduated from Army Ranger school, said it was very special to be a part of the event, which featured 1,000 runners, including those from every military branch and some of the most elite athletes in the world.
“It’s just great to see that after all these years, the President’s legacy still lives on. He still impacts people’s lives,” McKelvy said. “... Being one of the members of the family in the military, it’s really special to be able to come out here and shake these guys’ hands. I’m really proud, my family’s really proud. We’re happy to be out here; a really great event.”
In addition of having Roosevelt and McKelvy on hand, Saturday was a special one for Spinnler as he saw new records set in both the men’s and women’s races, making it the fastest in event history.
Spinnler, a two-time winner of the event who has served as race director for the past 20 years, said the day was representative of the positive spirit that Roosevelt and Kennedy had envisioned for America, “a fit and vibrant and a happy country.”
“It’s back ... and it starts with little pockets like this and it can grow,” he said. “I’m sure John F. Kennedy and Teddy Roosevelt are locked arm right now looking down and saying ‘They can still do it. They can still turn this around.’”
McKelvy was equally impressed by the effort and the spirit of the participants who overcame the course this year, seemingly with ease for some.
“Military or civilian, it doesn’t matter. It’s something really incredible,” he said. “I don’t know how they’re all smashing records this year, but I hope they keep it up.”