MIDCOAST — 3:15 a.m., Sunday morning, Aug. 13, I head south on foot along Route 1 from the Belfast Fire Station to the Northport Fire Station. Twenty feet ahead of me is almost total darkness. The same is true for the sides of the road and behind. I hear a rustle of clothing and I hear footsteps beating the pavement. Relief is instant and ongoing as I affirm that one set of footsteps is expected. No others can be heard.
At its inception five years ago, founder and former firefighter Steve Bender created a coast-to-coast fundraiser relay for first responders using fire stations across the country as transition points. Since then, the relay has been condensed into a Maine-to-Maryland event, starting August 10 on Great Cranberry Island and ending at the Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Maryland, yet maintains the same various aspects and experiences of a cross country trek.
When I stop to tie my shoe, a gentle harmony of crickets fills the near silence of the night – a natural concert that will be as muted as the darkness in just a few hours. In a few hours, further runners of the Run2Respond Relay, a charity event for Firefighter Five Foundation, out of Delaware, will navigate through a din of traffic, sidewalks of pedestrians, and acknowledgment from the community at large.
As the day grew, so too did the interest and participation. I never saw Jason Geroux, who ran two consecutive legs – 19 miles from Bucksport to Belfast – at a 7-minute mile pace. He was finished and long gone before my 3:05 a.m. arrival.
Seven hours after I start my 7.5-mile, hour-plus, solo run outside a sleeping Belfast station, a large group of runners from Rockport would pass the baton at a lively, welcoming Rockland station.
Sam Spinrad also ran solo, this time from Northport to Lincolnville. But then the dawn grew, and with it, the neon shirts of Responder awareness.
Katie Daggett ran the baton from Lincolnville to Rockport with three others. In Rockport, their group of four met up with Jala Tooley’s group of five.
Tooley, of Camden, and former wife of a police officer, had mentioned on Facebook that she’d be running the relay for the second year.
“All of a sudden I had two people asking if they could join me, then that turned into two more,” she said.
What could have been another sleepy exchange outside another sleepy station between turned into a bigger event.
According to Tooley, her group attracted attention due to the multiple neon-green Relay shirts they wore, garnering several honks of appreciation along their 7.1-mile leg. The appreciation continued at the Rockland station.
“It was wonderful to come over the hill to see my friend Theresa ready for the handoff, and also the Rockland Firefighters cheering,” she said. “The Rockland Firefighters thanked us for running and offered us water and snacks. They were very appreciative.”
Among them was the family of Theresa Withee, of Hope, the primary runner for the Rockland-to-Warren stretch. Withee is the proud wife of Hope Firefighter/South Thomaston EMT, Charles Weidman; as well as proud mother to Farin, her 16-year-old, junior firefighter daughter, who can do everything in the fire service except enter a burning building.
Though this was Withee’s fourth year running for responders, this year held it’s own. She ran with Frances Killea (who ran from Rockport – almost 16 miles to Withee’s 8.9 miles) This year, as Withee neared Warren Volunteer Fire Department – the station she helped to highlight due to proximity – Warren responders raced away to a motor vehicle accident.
Such is life for a responder, the family to a responder, and the world.
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