Off to the Races
Photos by Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Words by Mike Kasarda | Staff Writer
Early Saturday morning, sunlight peaked over Miller Bell Tower and indiscriminately illuminated the grounds. In the daybreak, a sizeable gathering of all ages, creeds and walks of life bustled near Miller Park, the Institution’s original meeting place. They had all assembled for a single purpose: to ring in another Chautauquan milestone with a gallop around the grounds. Nearly 900 men, women and children gathered in front of Sports Club to celebrate Chautauqua’s 140th birthday with the Old First Night Run/Walk.
Runners warm up before the race. Registered participants included 247 men and 251 women who ran the 2.7-mile course; 79 of them were under the age of 13, while 20 of them were older than 70 years old. The Old First Night race is not exclusive to sprinters. Nearly 345 Chautauquans walked the perimeter of the grounds, showing their support for their fellow Chautauquans and the Institution’s commitment to vibrant, engaging tradition.
Runners prepare to start the race. “One thing that strikes me about Chautauqua is that most people take the ego off the table,” said Peggy Ulasewicz, who has organized the race for 26 years. “It doesn’t matter what job they have or where they come from. They just enjoy being with people in a beautiful environment and wish everyone the best. The race really reflects that.”
Participants take off from the starting line. Over the steep hills and long miles, Chautauquans came together to encourage, assist and motivate one another, holding signs, offering water and cheering.
Rhys Burgett, 18, from Severna Park, Maryland, broke the tape with a winning net time of 14:45, just 0.05 seconds faster than last year’s winner. Although he was first introduced to Chautauqua this year, he hopes to share in the tradition for years to come.
“This was a spectacular experience,” he said. “I would love to come back again and again.”
With the finish line in sight, everyone gave everything he or she had. And once the race concluded, they call came together to rejoice in their mutual achievement.
“I’ve never seen so much motivation in one community,” Burgett said. “Chautauqua is a special place.”