May 2018 - ATHLETE PROFILE
Linda Campbell 64 Kissimmee, Fla.
Denise Herman 62 Saratoga Springs
Cindy Kelly 68 Albany
Bernadette LaManna 67 Albany
Crossing the Line Since ‘79
40th Freihofer’s Run and a Lifelong Friendship
By Christine Bishop
On Saturday, June 2, four women – for the 40th consecutive year – will be on the starting line of the Freihofer’s Run for Women 5K road race. Linda Campbell, Bernadette LaManna, Cindy Kelly, and Denise Herman have been “Crossing the line since ‘79” as it says on their T-shirts. Little did they realize when they first ran the race that they would be making history in an event that has particular meaning to all of them since it was one of the first races to honor women’s running. That was the reason they all individually decided to do the race, and why they have continued running it. They were strangers in the beginning of this journey and through the recognition, they have formed a friendship and bond that continues today.
Before the inaugural Freihofer’s Run, in the 1960s there was an opinion that women’s bodies were unable to take the stress of endurance running and that they were better suited for caring for children, cooking dinner, and doing other domestic tasks. Pursuing sports was thought to be the domain of men. That attitude gradually began to change in the late ‘60s with the rise of the feminist movement. The Boston Marathon was breached in 1966, when Bobbi Gibbs jumped out of some bushes near the beginning of the race and finished the Boston Marathon wearing nursing shoes, since there were no women’s running shoes.
A year later, Kathrine Switzer officially entered the Boston Marathon using her initials for her first name, and not identifying her gender. When officials realized that she was a female they frantically ran after her and tried to tackle her but her boyfriend beat them off. Kathrine was able to finish the marathon much to the chagrin of the male organizers! In 1972 the ground breaking Title IX legislation was first passed, allowing women to compete in more sports, including marathons – and in that year both the Boston and New York City marathons opened their racing gates to women. However, the first women’s Olympic marathon did not occur until 1984 with Joan Benoit-Samuelson of Maine winning the marathon in Los Angeles. Joan is an inspiring ambassador at the Freihofer’s Run every year!
Since the Freihofer’s Run for Women began in 1979, these women have seen many changes, with the increase in numbers being the most obvious. In the early races the numbers were in the hundreds and now are hovering around 3,500. Cindy Kelly noted that for the first 20 years, the race was more competitive. As it progressed, it seemed as if two races within one had formed, with the elite runners doing “their thing and the rest of us in the back of the pack.”
She now sees lots of runners and walkers of all abilities enjoying the race. Cindy herself is walking now due to injuries, but would not miss it for the world. As the race grew, so did the prize money and the media coverage. The course itself has changed along with the dates. Linda Campbell noted the progression of the race dates from March to April and then to the current first Saturday after Memorial Day. She says the new date is much easier to prepare for in advance, especially for those who are out of town, and need to plan vacation time. Bernadette LaManna noted that a sad sign of the recent times was the addition of armed security.
Denise Herman, who is known by the group as the “true elite” has won the Freihofer’s Race two times, in 1984 in 18:06 and 1987 in 17:16. She came in second in 1985 and 1986 and third in 1988. Her time last year at age 61 was 24:36! However, all four are proud of the growth in size and popularity while always remaining a women-only race.
The group has run many other races but none consecutively. Cindy ran the Corporate Challenge (now Workforce Team Challenge) every year until she retired. Linda ran the Troy Turkey Trot from 1978 to 1994 until she moved to Florida. They have run other women’s races together, like the L’eggs Mini-Marathon in NYC and Bonne Bell Mini-Marathon (now Tufts 10K) in Boston, and delighted in the atmosphere of being in women’s races. Also, they have branched out to other races like the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, Disney World races, and even sprint triathlons. All are still athletic and participate in a variety of sports from running, walking, kickboxing, tennis, Zumba and biking.
The group used to be called the Fab Five, a term they don’t like to use any longer after member Ellen Picotte of Albany passed away from cancer in 2017. Earlier in the year, the cancer that Ellen thought she had beaten, returned. She finished her final radiation treatment two weeks before the 2016 race, and being a trooper, she entered with a determination to finish it one more time. These four friends walked with her to the finish line. Ellen carried a sign saying “We love you!” and Bernadette held an umbrella to shade Ellen from the sun. True to her fighting spirit, she finished the race. She died in March 2017. Linda has said that this year’s race without Ellen will be their second. “We will be missing her dearly as we take to the streets of Albany for the 40th time. Ellen will, however, be right there with each of us in spirit as we continue our tradition of “Crossing the line since ’79.”
So how do they view the changes during the past 40 years in women’s running? They love seeing the great numbers participating in races and also in other sports. Cindy noted that when she first started running there were so few women competing that they all knew each other by name, but not anymore. Linda said, “It’s wonderful to see all the women runners, especially when they beat the men. Just seeing everyone, at all different levels of competitiveness, achieve a PR or getting together with family and friends for a 5K, is simply wonderful.”
The women have had people come up to them and congratulate them on their accomplishment, including much to their surprise, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, who is a frequent runner at the Freihofer’s race. As Linda noted, “It makes you think that, in some small way, you have had an impact on those women that chose to join you in your favorite race the Saturday after Memorial Day on the streets of Albany, New York!”
As part of the 40th anniversary, several past winners are coming back for a panel discussion on “Women’s running from the 1980s to the present, running as a masters runner, and their Freihofer’s Run experiences.” It will be held on Thursday, May 31, 6:30pm at The Armory at Sage College of Albany – it’s free, all are welcome. These amazing women will also be running the race!
Panelists include Jackie Gareau (1982 winner), Regina Joyce (1983 winner), Elva Dryer (1997 winner), Cheri Goddard Kenah (1999 winner, from Saratoga Springs), Carmen Troncoso (multiple masters winner and coach), Joan Benoit Samuelson (masters winner and 1984 Olympic Marathon winner). Learn about the history of this great event and women’s distance running through the experiences of a few iconic female distance runners in the US, sign up at facebook.com/events/602996353396756 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 5K starts at 9am in front of Albany’s City Hall. The Junior 3K Run (ages 7-11) and Kids’ Run (ages 3-11) are at 11am – both are open to boys and girls. The Health & Fitness Expo, which includes packet pick up and complimentary Freihofer’s cookies for runners, raffles and exhibitor booths is on Thursday, May 31 from 4-8pm and Friday, June 1 from 12-7pm, at The Armory at Sage Colleges in Albany. It’s free and open to the public.
Family teams of grandmother-mother-daughter, sister-sister and more, truly make this a family event. Teams of high school runners and members of the Freihofer’s Training Challenge celebrate runners of all ages and abilities. Registration for the 5K, 3K and Kid’s Run is open. For more info and to register, visit freihofersrun.com.
Looking ahead, how will today’s women in their teens and 20s help shape the next 40 years of running? Let Linda, Denise, Cindy, Bernadette and Ellen’s story motivate you to be a part of history and the future of this special race!
Christine Bishop (email@example.com) of Schenectady is a retired media specialist who loves running, photography and bird watching.