We’re less than a month away from the 27th annual running of the Paul Skeffington Memorial Race! Are you registered?

I remember when it first started, way back in 1988. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, when acid-washed jeans, Guns ‘N Roses and big hair were the rage.

Back then, I played volleyball and golf, I ran neither cross country nor track. My, how times have changed! Who knew that in 27 years, the Skeff Race, originally thought to have just a few years of life, would last over a quarter of a century with participation reaching well over 700 in recent years!

I didn’t know Paul Skeffington, but I loved the grocery store, especially after my daughter was born. Just a couple of blocks from where my husband and I first lived, “Skeffs” was just a quick walk away. And after Moira became mobile? To trail behind her as she pushed one of those miniature little shopping carts down the aisle was hilarious!

As for the race that honors Paul Skeffington, it’s only recently that I started getting involved, but once I joined the fun, I fell in love.

First, there are the “options.” Anyone can enjoy the Skeff Race: there’s the fun run for the kids, the two-mile run/walk and for the braver souls, the humbling five-mile race.

Second, last year’s new time: what started as a Saturday morning event is now in the early-evening! I’m sure there are some who enjoy heat and humidity. I’m not one of them. Just remembering the heavy, thick air on some of the Saturday morning Skeff Races makes my chest tighten. By 6 p.m., the heat is usually letting up, and with the day’s work behind you, it’s time to have some fun!

Finally, the route: I’ve never minded the many changes it’s taken, but I love that the five-mile race course includes the Paul Skeffington Memorial Trail. And new for this year, the two-mile route will venture along DeWitt’s 3rd Avenue, giving residents a reason to come out and watch the parade of runners and walkers.

During last year’s race, as the five-mile course wound around the north section of the trail, I saw one of my close friends, Kristi Klinkhammer of Clinton, struggling. When I stopped to check on her, sudden foot pain was preventing her from running. Despite stretching and kneeding the sole, the foot just wouldn’t cooperate, but quit? Pfft!

Sometimes shuffling, most times walking, we hung together. No matter how bad it hurt, Kristi was going to finish. Sure, it can be a drag coming in last, but it’s far worse to give up. I’d say Kristi, unaware of who Paul Skeffington was, honored him with her grit.

Praised by previous editors of The Observer, first after his passing in a 1988 column by Bob Parrott, then again in 2001 by Mary Rueter, Skeffington was lauded as a community hero.

The late Parrott wrote about Skeffington as a kindred spirit with an undying love for DeWitt and its residents, eager to see his community survive the farm crisis of the 1980s.

Rueter, witnessing DeWitt’s survival and flourish since those dark times, told of the scholarships and park improvements the race that bears his name has funded. Both writers painted a picture of a man who loved his town and would do anything to keep it going.

With the Paul Skeffington Memorial Race already in its next quarter century, it remains an excellent way of experiencing DeWitt’s fun side while also honoring the legacy of one of the town’s great heros.

Come June 21st, I hope to see you all there!

Originally published 24 May 2014 in The Observer.

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