By Jim Sullivan
---- — AMESBURY — They ran, they walked, they jumped and they threw for 12 straight hours at the Amesbury High track Saturday — all to help out friend, mentor, longtime Amesbury cross-country coach Mike Farmer.
“All the love he has given over the years is coming back to him today,” Amesbury indoor and outdoor track coach Ernie Bissaillon said of Farmer, who is currently battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Farmer’s diagnosis prompted his friends and rivals to put on a Miles For Mike Relay, which pulled together all the Cape Ann League track programs to help with Farmer’s day-to-day living expenses.
“Mike is a self-employed carpenter,” said Bissaillon. “Unlike me, who has sick days because I work for the school system, undergoing all the chemotherapy and the things that he is doing, it’s hard for him to work during the day. So that’s why we put on this benefit. All the funds will just go directly to him. Every last penny is going to him.”
Local companies such as Fitzgerald Real Estate, Jackson Lumber and Millworks, the Barking Dog, Merrimack Valley Glass and Mirror, Amesbury Chevrolet, New Balance, Latitudes and the Hollow Café either donated money or were on hand to help Farmer, who will also be undergoing stem cell and bone marrow transplantation in the near future.
“It’s heartwarming,” Farmer’s Newburyport rival of 20 years, Don Hennigar, said of the turnout. “Mike’s done so much for so many people for so long that this is awesome.”
“Mike is the sort of person, if somebody needed something and he could get it for them, he would, and they would never know about it,” said Bissaillon. “He was always there for people.”
Current Amesbury outdoor and indoor track team captain Perry Mroz, on hand to help, said that Farmer has had a great influence on him.
“It really (stinks) not having him here,” said Mroz, adding that joining the track team was the best decision he ever made. “Not having him for the outdoor season is brutal. Because we had him for the indoor. But it’s great to see all these people come out — some of them I’ve never seen before in my life — but clearly he is a celebrity when it comes to this area.”
Former Indian Curtis Muse, 24, was happy to be out supporting his one-time coach.
“It would be cool to see him,” Muse said of Farmer. “But it’s nice to support him. He does a lot for the community. I ran with him for four years, at least two seasons a year. So it’s nice to help him out.”
“It feels good to support a coach who is struggling,” said Newburyport senior Dan Holbrook. “We have almost everyone on our team here. Everyone’s pretty pumped.”
Triton track coach Joe Colbert brought his entire outdoor team to the event that supported his Amesbury counterpart.
“We’ve coached against each other for the 13 years I’ve been here in the league,” Colbert said of Farmer. “We’ve worked together on many things, so I feel like I know him pretty well. He’s such a low-key, mild-mannered kind of guy; it’s hard not to get a good turnout for him.”
Many of Colbert’s runners were surprised by the turnout on a Saturday morning.
“I didn’t expected it to be this big, but there’s a lot of people here,” said Triton senior and distance runner Victoria Lojek. “It makes me feel a part of something. I’ve known people who have had cancer so this is awesome to see.”
“Some of my friends’ parents have had (cancer),” said Triton sophomore Ryan Kent. “So I’ve seen the effects and it’s pretty bad. But it’s good that people are getting together (here) and giving to a good cause.”
Farmer’s son, Sean, was at the event and found himself moved almost beyond words.
“I feel great that so many people have come out here to support him,” Sean said of his dad.