When race officials promised ‘kids’ aged 1-100 would have a ton of fun at Sunday’s 22n/a Annual Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic, they weren’t kidding.
From a 4-year-old participating in the Sesame Sprint to a 96-year-old World War II veteran, Les Penny, finishing the 5K, everyone had a great time.
More than 1,000 runners showed up at the Middletown Theme Park to compete in the featured 5,000 meter event, one mile run or Sprint.
Early morning fog gave way to sunny conditions as riders enjoyed visits from popular Sesame characters such as Elmo and Abby Cadabby, a chance to see the Middletown Super 21 fire truck and ride back to the house a free Sesame day pass (valid until June 18).
Penny, who as a member of the U.S. Sixth Marine Division was awarded the Purple Heart for bravery in the battle to retake the island of Okinawa in April 1945, did not start running until the 50 years old. But he has done enough shopping. to know when he sees a good one.
“When I hit 50, I thought to myself that I had probably lived through more than I had left,” said Penny, a Boston native who currently resides in Langhorne. “So I will try to make it as qualitative as possible. Today’s race was fantastic. I wish we could do more.”
Penny, who turns 97 next week, was asked if she thinks running is the secret to eternal youth.
“I think,” he said with a smile, “that’s one of them.”
Matthew Brown, a 31-year-old Perkasie resident, won the overall 5k title with a time of 17:10. In a somewhat surprising finish, a runner followed in second place as 34-year-old Philadelphian Milani Duarte reached the line in 18:19.
Robert Walton, 34, Bensalem in 6:30 p.m. for the silver medal and Christian Carabell, 52, Yardley in 6:40 p.m., rounded out the top three men in the competition.
On the women’s side, Megan Esmonde-Boga took second place. The 40-year-old Morrisville resident ran 8:25 p.m. Third went to Theresa Gagliardi, 41, of Coatesville in 21:38.
In the one-mile race, the top three overall for the men’s competition included: Drew Aldinger 12, Philadelphia, 6:56; Luke Knapp, 8, Morrisville, 7:21; Stephen Colsher, 9, Morrisville, 7:31 a.m. Top three women: Isabella Dias, 15, Levittown, 7:54; Liliana Dias, 17, Levittown, 8:01 a.m.; Javhan Velez, 29, Springfield, Mass., 8:19 a.m.
Rose and Steve McIver again led the Sesame Sprint, which saw more than 75 youngsters compete on the 50-yard course. Each runner received a finisher’s medal and congratulations from everyone, including family members at the finish line.
As always, Mark Toretsky and his team at LinMark Sports did an excellent job with their state-of-the-art timing system as well as the flawless method of registering riders for all three races.
Race organizers were pleased with the turnout, especially since the event had been suspended for calendar years 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
“We’ve had an increase in registrations this year that we couldn’t have anticipated,” said Jill Gilardi, who oversees registrations as well as jersey and medal procurement. “But I think having a full crowd of over 1,000 people is the way this race should be.”
Having Sesame characters on hand remains one of the biggest attractions of the event.
“A lot of people took advantage of every photo opportunity,” Gilardi pointed out. “We were thrilled to be a part of this event after a two-year hiatus.”
The Kiwanis Club’s Donna Milner, the Classic’s treasurer, said she was thrilled to see all the kids back in racing mode and had a personal interest in one runner in particular.
“Not only was I thrilled to participate in this event, but I was so proud to see my four-year-old grandson run the sprint,” she said. “Just an awesome day. What a great return to our Classic after the break.”
Dixie Rhodes of Levittown-Bristol Kiwanis Club remains one of the event’s biggest supporters.
“What a terrific turnout today,” she said. “We believe the race was a huge success. Everyone seemed thrilled to be released after the pandemic – to participate in competitive activity and socializing with family, friends and neighbors.”
An important aspect of this year’s race was to restore it to the local calendar. Proceeds from the event go to the Dick Dougherty Honorarium Award which, since 1999, has raised more than $400,000 for financial assistance to college-athletes at 18 Bucks County high schools.
“Everyone had a great time,” Rhodes said. “Seeing all the smiles on the faces of young and old made all the planning and hard work to make this event happen was worth it. I can’t wait to start planning for the event of the year next.”
Those who helped get this race back on track were Kiwanis members Mary Berman, Jill Saul, Joe DeFranco (president) and Tom Delia. Ernie Nocito was instrumental in marketing and contracts. Bucks County Herald editor Joe Wingert continues to provide editorial and sponsorship support. Fraser Marlow captured all the action with his trusty camera. PJ Schweizer of Sesame Place also deserves a thumbs up for overseeing the racing operations and promotion of the Classic.