NEWBURYPORT — Jon Pearson has spent the last 28 years directing the Yankee Homecoming 10-mile Road Race, an annual Newburyport tradition that offers a course filled with challenges, seemingly endless climbs, and every once in a while, a feeling of personal triumph.
In a way, the course personifies Pearson, a man who first started directing the race for 400 runners in 1982 and has overseen the race's growth to the point that he is now expecting 3,000 runners split between a 10-mile and 5K races at the 50th annual running on Tuesday evening. The race has brought Pearson the highest of highs and, perhaps, its own share of lows, too.
Pearson met his wife, Victoria, at one of the first Yankee Homecoming Races he directed in the early 1980s. They were married for 20 years and became one of the most popular couples in town, culminating when Victoria was the top vote-getter in her election bid for the Newburyport School Committee in 2004. Victoria never got a chance to pursue her dream of completing her four-year term. She died after a three-month battle with cancer in March 2004.
Jon Pearson, a past district governor of the Newburyport Lions Club, never took a break from running a race that continues to grow in participation numbers and popularity. He said the race director responsibility becomes what amounts to a full-time job roughly five months prior to the race. Ask him why the race has been so successful for so long, and he'll cite the course, the water stops, the endless stream of spectators, the prize money for the winners, the family atmosphere — really anything other than the hard work he puts in as race director.
"I enjoy working on the race," Pearson said. "We do things to show how serious we are about the race, like the prize money and the water stops, but a large part of the success comes from the families that come together."