"Fab Five" ready to run in 30th Freihofer's Run for Women May 31st in Albany, NY:
Local Women Have Not Missed the 5k Race in Three Decades; Plan to Keep Streak Alive for As Long As Humanly Possible
ALBANY, NY (May 21, 2008) - If doing an activity for 30 days makes it a habit, what does it become after 30 years?
For five women from New York's Capital Region, running in the annual Freihofer's Run for Women 5k has become nothing less than a tradition. Known as the "Fab Five," Linda Campbell, Denise Herman, Cynthia Kelly, Bernadette La Manna and Ellen Picotte have not missed a Freihofer's Run for Women since its inception in 1979. Now, with the prestigious race turning 30 this year, the women are banding together once again to mark their special milestone.
"I'm amazed," said La Manna, who was 27 when she first ran the Freihofer's. "I doubt that any of us began participating in the run with the idea that we'd continue doing so for 30 years."
"It's going to be an emotional year," added Kelly of Albany. "I'm excited about running. Each year you've accomplished one more, though it gets harder and harder to run."
Naturally, much has changed in the three decades since the race started — both with the race itself and in these women's lives. Picotte, also of Albany, remembers running with only 250 other women that first year — a far cry from the 3,200 who now toe the line the first Saturday after Memorial Day.
"I remember coming through the finish line that first year and being handed an index card with a hand written number on it," said Picotte, explaining that the race featured a 5k and 10 k through 1991. "I had no idea what it was for, and later found out it was my finishing place!"
John Tope, the elite athlete recruiter for the Freihofer's Run for Women, believes the Fab Five have become great role models for the community.
"It's an amazing accomplishment when you think about it," he said. "These women have been able to race each year despite whatever life has thrown at them - the good and the bad. I'm sure they have some interesting experiences that could have derailed the streak."
There have, in fact, been some close calls over the years. Campbell, who now lives in Central Florida, was attacked by a pack of dogs a week before the race. Picotte, meanwhile, remembers being out late with friends the night before the race in 1980. Waking up bleary-eyed the next morning to a cold and steady rain, her friends decided to skip the race. And she almost did too. Nearly.
"That second year saved my streak," she remarked. "After that, I was committed to running Freihofer's every year.
While none of the women knew each other well in the early years of the race, it was around the 12th anniversary that they started gaining attention from officials.
"They had us up on the stage that year, and that's when we found out," said Kelly. "I felt motivated. I thought, ’Ok, we'll have to run it next year, and next year and the following.’"
Owing to an oversight, La Manna and Campbell weren't included on the stage that day. But, by the 15th anniversary, all five ladies were well acquainted with each other and acutely aware that they had something of a destiny together.
"It's nice to be part of such a unique and small group," says La Manna. "But, with all of us in our 50s, I can't help but wonder how much longer we'll be able to maintain that status."
It's a thought that crosses Kelly's mind as well. She suffered a broken ankle in 2006, had surgery on it again in December 2007, and now realizes she's running the race with less than a month's training.
"My goal is to finish without any problems," she said. "When I was young, I treated it as a race. The goal was always to finish so hard and expend so much energy that I couldn't walk another step. Now, I don't push myself that much."
Whatever the future holds, the women are committed to keeping the tradition alive for as long as their bodies hold up.
"My goals for the future, without any doubt, are to run in the Freihofer's race every year, even when I'm 80," said Picotte, who'll be celebrating her 57th birthday on race day. "If I have to walk, crawl, or go in a wheelchair, I'll be there!"
"I'm much slower than I was in '79 but, like Ellen, I have no plans for giving up anytime soon," echoed Campbell, whose great niece competes the same day in the Freihofer's Kids' Run, giving her an added incentive to fly back to Albany.
"Frankly, my race goal each year is simply to finish on my own power in a vertical position," concluded LaManna. "The same is true for my life in general, though when that finishes, I expect to be horizontal!"
To register for the Freihofer's Run for Women, or for more information about the Freihofer's Run for Women festival of events, including the Freihofer's Community Walk, Freihofer's Kids' Run and CapitalCare Health & FitnessExpo, visit freihofersrun.com.
Event sponsors include the Charles Freihofer Baking Company (a division of George Weston Bakeries Inc.), Price Chopper Supermarkets, The City of Albany, Fox 23 News, B95.5, and host hotel 74 State.