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Tolling the Bell for Sandy Hook, by Beth Shluger

Tolling the Bell for Sandy Hook

 

by Beth Shluger
 

Photo: 15,000
participants gathered for the Sandy Hook Run for the Families in Hartford, CT.

Photo courtesy of the Hartford Marathon Foundation

 

On December 14th of 2012, just 40 miles from my home, 20 first-grade
children were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Six of their teachers
were killed with them. Our hearts broke all over Connecticut, all over our
nation, and I, like many, wanted to do something‰ÛÓanything to make it hurt less.

 

And so I did the thing I know best. I created a road race
and promised to give every penny collected to the Sandy Hook School Support
Fund. I committed that 100% of expenses would be covered by my organization,
the Hartford Marathon Foundation. That amount turned out to be nearly a half-million
dollars.

 

My amazing staff went to work and our Board of Directors
supported the effort.

In a few short weeks, we moved the venue to three different
cities in order to handle the amount of expected runners. When we reached
15,000 entries, we closed the race and asked people to continue to send us
their entry fee and run in their own neighborhoods. We added another 5,000
people into this “Virtual Run.”

 

Over the next month, we planned and re-planned as we moved
the venue, first from a college campus outside of Newtown, then to downtown
Danbury and finally to the state capital, Hartford. That meant courses were
designed, logistics set and venues mapped out. All those plans went out the
window as the event grew and moved and we started the process all over again.

 

Moving the event further away from Newtown was a delicate
issue. We knew that the last thing the Newtown Police Department needed to
think about was a road race, yet, the public wanted to run as close to Sandy
Hook as possible.

 

Our decision to move the race to Hartford, an hour away from
Sandy Hook, was a good decision for many reasons. We produce the Hartford Marathon
each year and know how to work in the city. We have strong relationships with
the police and the mayor’s office. And we knew the city could handle the huge
crowds expected. Hartford is the capital of Connecticut and was the appropriate
place to invite the entire state to gather to support their neighbors in
Newtown.

 

By and large, the response to the move to Hartford was met
with acceptance by the public. 

The HMF staff was consumed with the production of the race
almost to the exclusion of the other 35 races we were staging during the year. We
had a very short period of time to put a million details in order.

 

First and foremost, we needed to find financial and product
support of over $400,000. We began calling our loyal vendors, both national companies
and small mom-and-pop operations. Without an exception, everyone responded,
“Yes and what more can I do?” 
Reebok donated 15,000 shirts and our local printer took care of the
printing. Chronotrack gave us B-Tags for 20,000 bibs and Electric City Printing
donated the bibs. Baystate Race Services donated timing for the 15,000 racers. On
and on it went in this wonderful outpouring of generosity and support until we
came within $16,000 of our goal. Our running community is an inspiration.

 

Race day was March 23rd. The usual pre-race competiveness
and nervous energy was replaced by an atmosphere of hope, resolve and an
overwhelming sense of community. This was not a celebration of those who have
survived an illness or a push to raise money to find a cure. This was
different.

 

The starting ceremony included the Oake National Children’s
Choir, comprised of 200 young, sweet voices, accompanied by 75 adults in the
Travelers Choral. Their beautiful voices filled the air with spiritual sound. Connecticut’s
Governor, the Mayor of Hartford and the First Selectwoman of Newtown offered
thanks and encouragement.

 

And then we rang the bell.

 

(Photo: Ken & Beth Shluger)
 
As we were planning the start of the race, I realized it had
to be moving and meaningful. But I didn’t want it to be sad. And so, my husband
Ken, an avid sailor, went to our sailing club and unscrewed the ship’s bell
from the wall and brought it home. We practiced ringing that bell until the
timing was perfect. Just before the start of the race, Ken held the bell while
I counted, and we rang it slowly, 26 times. Each time it rang, we pictured the
face of a sweet first grader and their beautiful teachers. It took a long time
to ring that bell 26 times.

 

We donated over $450,000 to the Sandy Hook School Support
Fund, the largest single donation received. Our expenses were covered
completely by our loyal vendors, sponsors and anonymous donors.

 

But I think that perhaps, most
importantly, we saw what a road race, a sporting event, can mean to a
community. We witnessed how our road race served as the great stage to unite
our region, deep in pain, and lift its spirit.

 

In closing, a tip of the hat to the HMF Staff – What an
extraordinary group they are! Credit goes to Josh Miller, Matt Anderson,
Danielle Alt, Kim Neurath, Jill Hallet, Genevieve Lattimer, Nancy Loughlin,
Diane DiBerardino, Tom Hutchinson, Ellen Smith, Lisa Butler, Sarah Roberson,
and Shari Maglio with special thanks to Ken Shluger.

 

‰ÛÓBeth
Shluger is the Executive Director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation and Race Director of the Hartford Marathon.

 

 

 

 

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