KATY’S RACE: East End Turned Out

Katy’s Courage 5K
Sag Harbor’s Main Street was filled to the brim with runners and walkers of all ages who turned out Saturday for the first Katy’s Courage 5K. Among the estimated 1,600 participants were, bottom from left, Erik Engstrom, a highly touted 12-year-old East Hamptoner, Mike Semkus, a triathlete and former three-sport athlete at Pierson High who was the overall winner; Laura Brown, the women’s winner, and Jim Stewart, Katy’s father. Durell Godfrey Photos

    The rule of thumb for first-time road races here is not to expect more than 200 participants, though the Katy’s Courage 5K in Sag Harbor Saturday blew the doors off that assumption.
    “We had 1,000 preregistered,” said Richard Plotkin, “and about 600 more showed up this morning. People have come from all over the East End. Local people, summer people . . . we’re all fighting cancer together. It’s amazing, the love people have here.”
    “It’s just the beginning for us,” said Brigid Collins Stewart concerning a four-year college scholarship fund that is to be set up at Pierson High School in memory of the Stewarts’ late daughter, Katy, who died, at the age of 12, of a rare form of liver cancer at the turn of the year.
    “It’s a beautiful day for it,” said Katy’s father, Jim, a teacher and former longtime wrestling and soccer coach at East Hampton High School, as he set out from the West Water Street starting line to walk the course, which took the long line of participants through the historic village’s streets.
    “We’re beginning the scholarship at Pierson, but we’d like to expand it to East Hampton and to other schools on the East End.”
    Plotkin estimated that the proceeds from that day’s event, which arguably saw the largest turnout ever here for a debuting race (Ellen’s Run drew 600 in its first year, 1996), would reach $60,000 (putting it on par with the first Ellen’s Run in that respect).
    “Everybody wanted to keep the memory of that beautiful child alive,” said Tom O’Donoghue, a Sag Harbor builder who suggested to Jim and Brigid Stewart soon after Katy’s death that a Katy’s Courage race be held.
    “You can’t do it alone,” O’Donoghue continued. “Andrea Pizzinelli helped me a lot, as did many, many others. We ran out of everything — food, numbers. . . . We’d hoped for 1,000. We registered 1,400, and there were another 300 to 400 without numbers. We’ll definitely do it again next year.”
    The Plotkins and Stewarts have shared strong bonds, brought together as they were by the fact that children in their families were stricken several years ago with forms of pediatric cancer. Richard Plotkin’s 7-year-old grandson, Max, for whom the Plotkins’ Max Cure Foundation was named, is in remission, his grandfather said, “after two years of heavy-duty chemo.”
    He added that “pediatric cancer in this country is incredibly underfunded. Twelve thousand five hundred a year are diagnosed, 3,000 a year die from it. We’ve spoken of the very great need for government to protect this country’s children before a Congressional committee, a committee that I’m trying to get Tim Bishop to join. Max is going to address that committee in September. I’ve virtually dedicated my life now to this cause.”
    Plotkin said that 75 percent of the Katy’s Courage proceeds would go to the scholarship fund, and that 25 percent would go to establishing a pediatric cancer research laboratory at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Moreover, he said that the foundation’s fund-raising event at the East Hampton Indoor-Outdoor Tennis Club on Aug. 20 (the third such to be held) would be known this year as This Roar’s for Katy.
    Fittingly, Saturday’s race attracted a legion of young people. East Hampton High’s varsity softball, lacrosse, and track teams were there. The Montauk Rugby Club, which was to play a game that afternoon in Center Moriches, was there. Pierson High’s softball team was there. Southampton’s junior high girls soccer team was there. . . . Not only was the run-walk a record-setter crowd-wise, it was the first race of the season.
    And it was won by a former all-state soccer goalie, Mike Semkus, a 23-year-old triathlete who teaches sixth grade at the Amagansett School. Of his winning time, 17 minutes and 48 seconds, the broad-chested Semkus said he hadn’t been running lately, though his 5:45 per-mile pace was, nevertheless, creditable. Ross Kadri, 18, a member of the combined Ross-Pierson boys track team, and Luis Ramires, 20, of Water Mill dueled for the lead most of the way, but Semkus outkicked them in the end.
    Laura Brown, 43, of Westhampton, a former Old Montauk Athletic Club sportswoman of the year, was the women’s winner (and seventh over all) in 19:19. Brown, who manages a Gubbins Running Ahead store in Southampton, didn’t hang around long, for she had to go to work. Her goal, she said, was to “get in under the big 19,” but, considering it was her first race of the season, she would take it.
    Mike Bahel, who owns the Body Tech fitness centers, was fourth, in 18:49, and Jason Hancock, 37, another Amagansett School teacher, was fifth, in 19:04.
    Another all-state soccer goalie, Brandon West, 18, of East Hampton, who’s to play that position at perennial D-III-champion Messiah College in Gran­tham, Pa., was 10th, in 19:46. Erik Engstrom, a 12-year-old East Hampton Middle Schooler highly touted by the veteran track coach, Bill Herzog, was 13th, in 19:56.
    Kathryn Hess, the catcher on East Hampton High’s softball team, was listed as the second female finisher, in 20:24. Ashley West, East Hampton’s record-setting two-miler, who gave her time as 20:36, was also among the top women, though she wasn’t listed in Bob Beattie’s overall results. Ditto for East Hampton High’s Mike Hamilton, who said he finished in 18:38.
    Among the age-group winners were Colton Kalbacher and Fallon O’Brien, in the 14-and-under division; Jeb Thomas and Doris Quigley, in the 15-to-19 division; Neil Falkenhan and Jennifer Comber, in the 20-29 division; Hancock and Erin Tintle, 30-39; Bahel and Sharon McCobb, 40-49; Mike Bottini and Terry Stevens, 50-59; Alex Talasko and Lisa Grey, 60-69; Bernard Berger and Kathleen Reilly, 70-79, and Walt Stewart (Katy’s paternal grandfather) and Mary Collins (Katy’s maternal grandmother), 80-89.
    Andy Neidnig, Sag Harbor’s popular nonagenarian, put in an appearance, but did not compete.
    “It was all I could do to walk here,” the 91-year-old, who looked quite fit considering, said with a smile. “I could have watched the race from my porch [on Glover Street]. There were so many little kids I shoulda run. . . . I can’t stand too long, I can’t sit too long, I can’t walk too long. I only do a mile a day. If I make it to July, I’ll be 92,” he said as he began to make his way up to his friend Tony Venesina’s Conca D’Oro pizzeria.