When race officials promised “kids” from ages 1 to 100 would have a ton of fun at Sunday’s 22nd annual Kiwanis-Herald Sesame Place Classic, they weren’t foolin’ around.
Whether it was a 4-year-old competing in the Sesame Sprint or 96-year-old World War II veteran Les Penny finishing the 5K, a good time was had by all.
More than 1,000 runners showed up at the Middletown theme park to participate in either the featured 5,000-meter event, the one-mile run or the Sprint.
An early morning fog gave way to sunny conditions as the runners enjoyed themselves with visits by popular Sesame characters such as Elmo and Abby Cadabby, a chance to see the Middletown Super 21 Fire Truck and take home a free, one-day pass to Sesame (good through June 18).
Penny, who received the Purple Heart for bravery and valor in the battle to retake the island of Okinawa during April, 1945, didn’t take up running until the age of 50. But he’s been around enough races to know when he sees a good one.
“When I reached 50 I said to myself I probably had lived more than what I had left,’’ said Penny, a Boston native who currently resides in Langhorne. “So I’m going to try to make it as quality as possible. Today’s race was fantastic. Wish we could do more of these.’’
Penny, who turns 97 next week, was asked if he thinks running is the secret to eternal youth.
“I think,’’ he said with a grin, “it’s one of them.’’
Matthew Brown, a 31-year-old resident of Perkasie, won the overall 5K title with a time of 17:10.
In a somewhat surprising finish, a female runner followed in second place as 34-year-old Philadelphian Milani Duarte hit the line in 18:19.
Rounding out the top three men’s competition were Robert Walton, 34, Bensalem in 18:30 for the silver medal and Christian Carabell, 52, Yardley in 18:40.
On the women’s side, Megan Esmonde-Boga took second. The 40-year-old Morrisville resident ran 20:25. Third went to Theresa Gagliardi, 41, of Coatesville in 21:38.
In the one-mile race, the top three overall finishers for male competition included: Drew Aldinger 12, Philadelphia, 6:56; Luke Knapp, 8, Morrisville, 7:21; Stephen Colsher, 9, Morrisville, 7:31. The top three females: Isabella Dias, 15, Levittown, 7:54; Liliana Dias, 17, Levittown, 8:01; Javhan Velez, 29, Springfield, Mass., 8:19.
Rose and Steve McIver once again directed the Sesame Sprint, which saw more than 75 youngsters compete on the 50-yard course. Each runner received a finisher’s medal and congratulations from everyone, including family members at the finish line.
As always, Mark Toretsky and his crew over at LinMark Sports did a fine job with his state of the art timing system as well as the impeccable method for registering runners for all three races.
Race organizers were pleased with the turnout, especially considering the event had been on hold during the 2020 and 2021 calendar years due to the pandemic.
“We experienced a surge in registration this year that we couldn’t have predicted,’’ said Jill Gilardi, who oversees registration as well as shirts/medals procurement. “But I think having a full crowd of over 1,000 is how this race should be.’’
Having Sesame characters on hand remains one of the event’s biggest attractions.
“Many people took advantage of every photo opportunity,’’ Gilardi pointed out. “We were excited to be a part of this event after a two-year hiatus.’’
Kiwanis Club’s Donna Milner, the Classic’s treasurer, said she’s gratified to see all the kids back in racing mode and had a personal interest in one particular runner.
“Not only was I thrilled to work this event but I was so proud to see my four-year-old grandson run in the Sprint,’’ she said. “Just an awesome day. What a tremendous return to our Classic after the hiatus.’’
Dixie Rhodes of Levittown-Bristol Kiwanis Club remains one of the organization’s biggest backers of the event.
“What a terrific turnout today,’’ she said. “We believe the race was a huge success. Everyone seemed delighted to be liberated after the pandemic – to join an activity competing and socializing with family, friends and neighbors.’’
An important aspect of this year’s race was to reestablish it on the local calendar. Proceeds from the event go to the Dick Dougherty Honorarium Award which, since 1999, has raised more than $400,000 for financial assistance to college-bound scholar-athletes from 18 Bucks County high schools.
“A good time was had by all,’’ Rhodes said. “Seeing all the smiles on the faces of the young and old alike made all the planning and hard work to make this event happen well worth the effort. I’m looking forward to start planning for next year’s event.’’
Those helping to get this race back on track included Kiwanis members Mary Berman, Jill Saul, Joe DeFranco (president) and Tom Delia. Ernie Nocito was instrumental in marketing and contracts. Fraser Marlow caught all the action with his trusty camera. Sesame Place’s PJ Schweizer also deserves a tip of the hat for overseeing race operations and promotion for the Classic.