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Lightfoot Running Series: Racing for a good cause at the Eaccarino 9-Miler

Hour photo / Erik Trautmann
Runners head out from the starting line during the Lightfoot Running Club’s annual
Ian Eaccarino Memorial 9-miler at Calf Pasture Beach on Saturday.

Posted: Saturday, August 9, 2014
Hour Correspondent

NORWALK — Many of the runners who participated in Saturday’s 16th annual Ian Eaccarino Memorial Race at Calf Pasture Beach did so because they feel a personal connection to Ginger and Larry Katz.

The nine-mile race, the fourth of five progressively longer races in the Norwalk Lightfoot Summer Series, is run in memory of the Katz’s son who died from a drug overdose in 1996 at the age of 20.

The race is close to the heart of Shelton’s George Buchanan, who has known Ginger for years and works in Norwalk and Stamford for Liberation Programs, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Buchanan, 56, finished 13th overall and second in his age group with a time of 1:02.52 for the double-looped course in breezy and pleasant conditions.

“I see drug addiction every day, so seeing people doing things to help it means a lot,” said Buchanan, who still holds the course record in the 30-39 division.

“It gives me a little extra incentive when I’m out there on a tough course like this. Today actually was pretty nice weather-wise. Usually, this is the hottest course of the series.”

The highest finisher from Norwalk was 33-year-old Tim Downs (57:43), who placed third behind cousins Lemy Arias, 27 (56:22) and Henry Pavon, 26 (57:27), of Bridgeport. The female winner was Elizabeth Thomas, 39, of Silver Springfield, Md. (1:05.31), a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Shortly after her son’s death, Ginger Katz founded the Courage to Speak Foundation, which provides drug prevention resources to help break through the silence and denial that enables adolescent alcohol and drug use.

Eaccarino, who was Larry Katz’s step son, worked at the beach the summer before he died and planted many of the trees that align the beach.

Longtime members of the Norwalk Lightfoot Club, the Katzs have run the 9-mile race 25 times. It was named after their son in 1999 and 144 runners completed Saturday’s edition.

“It’s overwhelming and very bittersweet,” Ginger Katz said. “Some of his friends sometimes come out and run the race.

“I have two other moms who lost their children who are a member of my club that nobody wants to be a member of.”

Thomas is in town visiting her husband’s family who live in Rowayton.

Like Buchanan, Thomas is well aware of the dangers of drugs as she works at the Maryland-based National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is a research organization.

Thomas, who is training for a marathon in November, didn’t know about the history of the race but was happy to support the cause.

She only decided to run the race on Friday when she searched for something to fit into her schedule. She and her husband will be returning home on Sunday.

“(A) gorgeous course, really fun,” she said. “Lots of great people to run with. I chatted with some of the other runners. They encouraged me.”
In keeping with its mission to promote a healthy lifestyle for young people, the Courage To Speak Foundation annually presents a plaque to the youngest runner to complete the race.

For the second straight year, the award went to Trumbull’s Jonathan Tinker, 16, who finished 19th overall in a time of 1:06.32.
Tinker remembers listening to Ginger Katz give a talk about drugs when he was a student at the Side by Side Charter School in Norwalk and the message struck a chord.

“She was a big inspiration for me to stay off drugs,” said Tinker, now a member of the cross country team at Trumbull High School. “It was so emotionally powerful.

“It helped me realize what a great family I have and the really awesome life I had that I didn’t need to go ruining it with drugs.”

Tom Cali, 59, of State College, Pa. (58.57) and Riverside’s Peter Bailey, 38 (59:36) completed the top five.

Two other Norwalk runners — Javier Hernandez, 37 (eighth, 1:00.8) and Reyes Moreno, 35 (ninth, 1:00.40) — finished in the top 10.
Norwalk’s Sarah Parker, 30, was second among female finishers with a time of 1:07.28.

The summer series concludes with an 11-mile race Aug. 23 at Silvermine Elementary School.

That will be followed on Sept. 13 by the Sam Elpern Memorial Half Marathon, which is not part of the Lightfoot series.