By Jim Sullivan
---- — A little over 200 runners took to the Ghost Trail in Salisbury last night as part of the 35th annual Pat Polletta 2-Mile Rail-Trail Race, the first of its kind with a handicapped and adaptive athlete’s race category.
“Pat introduced running to women back in the 1970s before it was big,” race director Tanya Anderson said of Polletta. “He passed away a few years ago, so I didn’t know him, but in his honor, I added a handicapped division this year.”
Named after former Amesbury high school running coach Pat Polletta, who was paralyzed by an injury while at sea, the race supports the Amesbury Boosters and running programs as well as the nonprofit, Adaptive Sports Partners of the North County, which provides sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical and developmental disabilities.
Rick Dayko started the race back in 1978 for his friend Polletta who passed away in 2005.
“I cannot fathom why more people do not name races for a living person who can appreciate the fact that they are being honored,” said Dayko. “Most of these races are memorial races. He was initially embarrassed by it, but as people say, ‘He feels a little funny about it. But, on the other hand, he just beams when he talks about it.’ And he was always our official starter.”
Newburyport’s Steve Dowsett, 25, finished first at 10:23.5, only 0.3 seconds ahead of Chris Grange.
“I took a wrong turn right at the start,” said Dowsett. “I just wanted to go fast, so I just took off to the right. Then I got back on it. Worked with (Grange) in the middle, then I just took the lead in the last 10 seconds. This is my first local win.”
“He went off pretty quick, then I caught up to him at the mile mark,” Grange, 29, of Amesbury said of Dowsett. “We tied with about a half a mile to go, then I passed him and he passed me back with about 200 meters left. But it’s good to be competitive.”
Heather Mahoney, 30, of Westford, finished first in for the women with a time of 11:44.8, and Amy Bernard, 35, of Hampstead, NH, was second at 11:51.7.
Jared Howlane, 14, of Haverhill was running the race in a wheelchair along with the aid of a group of six people from Adaptive Sports Partners, including, Justin May-West, 24, of Portsmouth, NH.
“Normally we take this thing up mountains and on hiking trails,” May-West said of the racing chair Howlane was in. “So it’s rocks and uphill and everything. This is pretty easy so we just opened it up and jogged.”
“We were flying,” said Howlane.
Dave Smith was also assisting Howlane.
“This is a lot of fun to be out with a group,” said Smith. “This is my first time meeting Jared. I hope they will be coming up north to run with us (again) in a while.”
Shauna Roaf, 10, who is legally blind, ran the race with her teacher, Kim Sullivan, from Amesbury Elementary School. Although she took a fall on her knees at the beginning of the race, Roaf still finished with a time of 30:53.
“That was not a good time to fall,” said Roaf. “It was in the first part of it.”
“We’ve been running once a week for six weeks to get ready, and she was awesome,” Sullivan said of her student. “She was the best cheerer for all the runners on the race course. Everyone that went by, she yelled for.”
Jessica Mecheski, 36, of Salisbury was on her first Polletta Race and was familiar was the Ghost Trail.
“I run this all the time,” said Mecheski. “It’s a perfect (course). It’s a nice way to kickoff the weekend.”
Mecheski‘s friend, Merrill Thompson, 29, of Amesbury was also on her first Polletta Race.
“I love it,” Thompson said of the Polletta. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the community, and it betters myself as well.”