CANTON, August 20 – Canton High senior Max Sparks said he hasn’t been running too much this summer – only about 10 to 15 miles a week. It was enough to race away with a convincing victory at the 26th annual Lobster Loop road race in Canton Sunday morning.
Sparks ran away early and beat Karl Schilling, the former Canton High All-American soccer player, by 46 seconds. In the women’s race, Avon High senior Sara Leavens, the youngest woman to win the race a year ago at the age of 16, won for the second straight year with a 21 second win over East Hartland’s Kathleen Shaw.
But the biggest story of this race was the sea of red sprinkled throughout the field of over 460 runners that ran the 3.1 mile race. More than 100 runners donned bright red jerseys with the logo of the comic book character The Flash on the front running in memory of the late Gordon Keller, the Canton and triathlete who died in a tragic cycling accident in June.
Keller, 42, had participated in several triathlons including the 2014 Olympic Age Group nationals in Milwaukee and the 2017 Half Ironman Eagleman Maryland where he placed ninth in his age group. He had recently qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship (1.2 mile swim, 56-mile cycling, 13.1 mile run) in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
But he died in June when he was hit by a car in New Hartford while on a training ride one June evening, leaving behind his wife of 11 years, Alyson and their two children, Riley, 8 and Lily.
“He was so positive and enthusiastic about life and fitness. This showed how much he impacted people and all in a positive way,” Alyson Keller said Sunday morning. “He was determined to always compete to the best of his ability. If he couldn’t do it right, he wouldn’t do it.”
Runners in red jerseys flowed across the finish line. A group of runners in red accompanied Alyson the last 100 meters of the race before Riley finished and Alyson finished pushing Lily in a stroller. It was Riley’s first-ever road race. After a few celebratory hugs from friends and family, Alyson gave Riley a bouquet of red balloons that had been tied to her hand the entire race and it was released, sailing up into the heavens.
“It went as well as it could,” Alyson said. She paused. She was tired after a long race. “I’m pretty speechless. … It’s overwhelming.”
But she didn’t have to face it alone. For a few hours, she was surrounded by friends and family proudly wearing red to honor Gordon.
Sparks became the fourth Canton man to win the Lobster Loop with his best-ever time in the race of 16:26 over 3.1 miles. “I felt good,” he said. “I haven’t run too much this summer. I wanted to use this as a workout day.”
Sparks, who is running between 15 to 20 miles a week, pulled away about a mile into the race. Schilling, who now lives in Summit, N.J., was second in 17:12 while Canton High senior Aidan O’Donnell took third in 17:17. Canton High graduate Matt DeMarco, 22, was fourth in 17:23 while Canton’s Ryan Cleaves was fifth in 17:43.
In the women’s race, Leavens won the second straight year – the first repeat winner for the women since Goshen’s Sammi Glass won back-to-back races in 2013 and 2014.
Leavens erased 42 seconds off her winning time of a year ago, finishing in 19:50 with East Hartland’s Kathleen Shaw second in 20:11. Shaw was 16th overall. West Hartford’s Maria Varela (19th) was third among the women with a time of 20:20. Rounding out the top five for the women were Torrington’s Sara Szallosy in 20:56 and former Canton High runner Susan Mantie of Pleasant Valley in 20:59.
“I didn’t feel so good when I started but I wanted to push myself,” Leavens said. “I thought this would be a good indicator of where I am fitness wise at this time.”
Running with her friend Jane Frawley of Canton got Leavens going early and Leavens stayed close to Avon High teammate Ian Albreski as the race moved up Hill Street. “He is a really good hill runner and I needed him for motivation,” Leavens said.
NOTES: The last Canton runner to win the race was Dean Yost in 2015. Other Canton runners to win include Nate Bussiere in 2009 and Mike LeDuc — twice in 2011 and 2012.