Sports can often be an inspirational outlet to a community that needs something to cheer about.
An example: When the University of Miami’s football team won its first national championship in 1984, it gave folks in South Florida something to cheer about at a time in Miami when tension in the city was at a high. It started a run of five national titles at the school over the next two decades.
More than 1,700 miles to the north, in the small town of Millinocket, Maine, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about lately, either, with the shuttering of Great Northern Paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket over the last few years.
Having spent a lot of time in Millinocket growing up, with family roots coming from this northern Penobscot County community, it does make me sad to a degree. My grandfather had a long career in the mill, and both of my uncles worked in mills in both communities.
Then came the creation of a marathon. The ultimate accomplishment for any long-distance runner.
The Millinocket Marathon, the brainchild of longtime Maine marathoner and distance runner Gary Allen, welcomed more than 500 runners to the Magic City on Saturday.
While Allen waived registration fees, he encouraged participants to contribute to the community in some way, whether it was eating in restaurants, shopping at local businesses, sleeping in local hotels, or all of the above.
Those runners braved temperatures well below freezing on Saturday, but that comes as no surprise to this former long-distance runner. The thermometer is often irrelevant to harriers who are merely seeking personal-bests, to finish the illusive 26.2-mile distance for the first time, or to support a deserving community.
The fine, hard-working folks in Millinocket deserve to have something positive to talk about in their community. Thanks to the hard work of Allen and his crew, this marathon certainly gives them that.
I can remember a lot of times in the heyday of Stearns High School football that the Minutemen were the hot talk of the community. Stearns won a couple of state championships in the 1990’s. Two of my cousins – one of them being Justin Cummings, one of the best running backs in the history of Maine high school football – played on those teams. They meant a lot to those folks in Millinocket.
This marathon does as well. Yes, we saw some fast times – race winner Ryan Collins of Portland’s winning effort was 2 hours, 45 minutes, 57 seconds, which is pretty darned good for a frigid December day in Maine – but it’s impact on this great town is an even better triumph. Women’s winner Jennifer Vandongen of Bar Harbor was timed in 3:18:18.
What will next year bring? That remains to be seen. But on one weekend, thanks to a man who has done a lot for the running community in Maine for years and years, the people of Millinocket had something to cheer about.
A bigger kudos should also go to the running community from Maine and beyond who turned out in droves for what proved to be a fantastic day of racing.