It’s really about Team Utica…
Utica’s 15K Boilermaker takes place in my backyard—not literally, but close. Yet, this was the first year I dragged myself out to watch it. The stories, the characters, the international pack that led the race to the winner’s tape, the slow pokes, the wheelchairs, the young, the old, the serious, the fun crowd, the rock-hard abs, the softies pushing themselves to finish…. It was all there. But there was one story that struck my heart more than any other today: Utica’s community spirit is gripping and has its own heartbeat.
Uticans faithfully show up on a Sunday morning in July every year. The race starts at 7:30, and being in place earlier is sound advice; there are police roadblocks, and the logistics of walking to an optimal spectator spot takes planning and time. I watched this morning’s race from Valley View Golf Course, at about the 3.5-mile mark. Within minutes, the first wheelchairs whizzed past. Then the pack-leading international runners arrived and they didn’t quit until they crossed the finish line. You might think it’s a sacrifice to get up that early and watch a race, but the Boilermaker is an event. It’s a weeklong celebration that binds this community: Locals fly Boilermaker flags; there are pre-Boilermaker breakfasts and parties; there’s a run for kids and a walk for adults; and there’s one big party after the race.
If you live here, you either run the race, you know several people who do, or you show up to support runners that you’ll likely never meet. The cheering, hootin’ and ringing of cowbells didn’t stop today until the last runner brought up the rear. It gave me goose bumps to think of the loyalty in that. It also made me vow to never again miss it as long as Central New York is my home. Watching the race made me want to be part of it. It’s a big deal and it’s full of community spirit.
About 17,000 runners ran this year. Registration opens yearly in spring for just one week. I’ve heard rumors that it usually fills up in 15 minutes. I wonder…could I possibly have it in me? I have some time to think it over. It did look a bit painful for some. Either way, I’ll be there next year as a spectator, and if I get real gutsy, maybe I’ll try to run it. It I do, I know I’ll have quite a few Uticans along the route to cheer me on and keep me going.
To my friend who kept after me to experience it, thanks for pushing me Margaret! I have a much better understanding and appreciation of why this race is such a big deal, and of the spirit that drives this community.