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Sleep is overrated for Canton runners

Canton finishes 2nd in 200-mile relay race

This group of Canton runners won the high school division and finished second overall in the Green Mountain Relay, a 200-mile road race across Vermont. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Kucia)

CANTON, June 30  — For a majority of athletes, running isn’t a sport you want to participate in if you’re looking for attention and glamour, especially in high school.

It’s not easy.  Success, like in any sport, demands hours of practice on lonely roads, racing down a street with the wind, the slap of the sneaker on the road and your deep breaths ringing in your ears.

Runners have been at the core of the outstanding success of Canton’s cross country, indoor track and outdoor track and field program. These are young men who live to run and run hard. In the last two years, these runners anchored Warrior teams that won five NCCC championships in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track along with the first-ever state titles in cross country and outdoor track and field.

In this school year, the Warriors won three NCCC titles, a Class SS title in cross country and a Class S crown in track. In cross country, Canton won the
state title with four runners from ninth to 19th place. In track, the Warriors won despite not having a track and field facility to train on.

It’s a special group that won’t let their bond with each other go easily.

The day after graduation of the Class of 2011 at Canton High, six seniors, five juniors and a sophomore drove to Vermont and finished second overall in a 200-mile relay race across the Green Mountain State that took them over 25 hours to complete. There were the first high school team among the 34 teams that completed the race.

The six seniors – David Kucia, Brian Walters, Kevin Kurnat, Evan Camporeale, Nick Chekas and Jon Powell – got little sleep. After graduating, they attended the all-night Project Graduation party. At 4 a.m., they were off to Vermont.

There were 36 legs in the marathon race with each member of the 12-man team running three times. Legs were as short as 2.2 miles and as long as 9.9 miles. They ran in the hot sun, in the rain, during the morning and through the night. Every runner wore a reflective safety vest and the runners at night wore headlamps to illuminate the path ahead.

Tim O’Donnell, Canton’s long-time cross country coach, helped organize the team along with Mike Hughes, the coach of Canton’s indoor track and outdoor track program. Runners on Canton’s 2010 track team initially expressed interest in the race but there wasn’t enough time to put a team together.

This year, the runners wanted to do the race and O’Donnell helped put a team together. Juniors Ned Furtney, Brian Fitzpatrick, Peter LeDuc, Jon Cahill and Tyler Fitzpatrick were part of the team along with sophomore Tyler Steers.

Parents Steve Kucia and Athan Chekas provided support. The team had two vans – one for six active runners in it and the other for six runners resting, sleeping or eating.

The race began in Jeffersonville, Vt., near Smuggler’s Notch and finished in Bennington. Most of the race was run on back roads. The 36 teams began with staggered starts by the seventh leg of the race, many athletes were racing side by side.

By the 21st leg, the Warriors were alone only trailing a team of collegiate students from Bowdoin College in Maine, who eventually set a new course record of 21 hours, 44:15 minutes. Canton finished in 23 hours, 14:18 minutes.

The second time on the course, the Canton runners were very strong. By the time, the runners began their third and final legs, it was 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. “It was a matter of making due,” O’Donnell said. “They managed to grab sleep. But they wasn’t time to stretch or cool down. Once, you finished your leg, you hopped back into the van. They all ran three long distance races in an 18-to-24 hour period.”

Runners crawled into sleeping bags and slept as best as they could in the rest van. They cooked food on a Coleman stove, grabbed some takedown pizza and raced up some steep, steep hills.

Their team name was knuckleheads. It wasn’t easy. But as they have proven over the last two years, the Warriors were up for the challenge and winning it together as a team.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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