Fowkes and Cuomo Win Great Bonac Races

Yani Cuesta would like to grow her beginners group
Ryan Fowkes, East Hampton High School’s top cross-country runner, won Labor Day’s Great Bonac 5K in Springs, in 17 minutes and 31 seconds. A teammate of his, Geo Espinoza, below, was the runner-up. Jack Graves

A buoyant crowd of young and older runners turned out at the Springs Firehouse Monday for what was said to be the 40th running of the Great Bonac Footrace, founded by Howard Lebwith. 

The event, a benefit for the Springs Fire Department’s scholarship fund and the Old Montauk Athletic Club, has actually comprised two races in recent years, a 5K — the more popular of the two — and a 10K, which this year was won by Steve Cuomo Jr., 34, of Shirley, whose father oversees the Rolling Thunder Track Club, the members of which have special needs. The Long Island-based club, he added, also has branches in Connecticut and Wisconsin now.

“We believe in inclusion, not exclusion,” Cuomo Sr. said. “I brought 15 with me today, mostly young runners, who will run on their high schools’ cross-country and track teams.” 

Proof that mainstreaming special needs athletes worked could be found, he said, in the fact that one of his protégés, Mikey Brannigan, who had run in these Labor Day races in the past, had been a Paralympic gold medalist in the 1,500-meter race in Rio, and another, Tysheen Griffin, had made it to the finals in the 400. His son, moreover, has also competed internationally, in Poland and Ecuador.

“There was a special needs girl here today from East Hampton,” Cuomo said, in between cheering Rolling Thunder runners on as they neared the finish line. “I’m going to ask if she can run with the high school’s girls cross-country team.”

“For the first time,” he said, “there will be events for disabled athletes at next year’s U.S. Track and Field championships. We’ll have athletes there.” 

Both of East Hampton High’s cross-country teams were out in force as well Monday. Ryan Fowkes, the boys team’s number-one, won the 5K, in 17 minutes and 31 seconds.

Kevin Barry, the boys coach, announced that his team’s planned trip to a big high school and college meet in Lakeland, Fla., at the end of the month had been approved by the high school’s field trip committee Friday. Pearl River, the second-ranked team in New York State, would be going too, he said.

The sole chance to see the boys run here, at Cedar Point County Park, will be Tuesday, said Barry. “We’ll be running against half the league — Sayville, Mount Sinai, and Amityville.”

With Liana Paradiso, Ava Engstrom, and Bella Tarbet, Diane O’Donnell’s girls cross-country ought to be interesting too. Tarbet, who remained with the middle school’s team last year as an eighth grader so that she could run in Suffolk’s cross-country race at Sunken Meadow for seventh and eighth graders (which she won), ran the 10K, her first appearance in a 6.2-mile race, and she paid for going out too fast. 

She’d learned her lesson, she said after crossing the line in 49:31, about 10 minutes after Steve Cuomo Jr. had. That having been said, Tarbet was the 10K’s third female over all, behind Barbara Gubbins (42:06) and Emma Raser (44:21).

Engstrom, whose brother, Erik, a former county cross-country champion, returned recently to the University of Massachusetts, is, like Tarbet, only a ninth grader, but a formidable one. She topped the 5K’s 13-to-15-year-old girls, in 21:45.

Another notable young runner, Luke Castillo, a Springs School sixth grader, won among the 5K’s 12-and-unders, in 20:35. 

“Two years ago, when he outkicked me at the finish,” said Paul Hamilton, a former county mile champion who helps Barry coach East Hampton’s cross-country and track runners, “Luke was running fast and slow, like kids do, but this year he ran at a steady pace. He’s incredible and he’s still two years away.”

Craig Brierley (44:59), who brought several of his girls swim team members with him, couldn’t hang around long inasmuch as he had lifeguarding duties to perform. “It’s been that way lately — lifeguarding and coaching the team, with not much time in between,” he said, adding, in answer to a question, that Bonac’s team would be at least as strong as last year, when its record was 4-2.

Yani Cuesta, who coaches East Hampton’s indoor and outdoor girls track teams, said she’s begun to coach several beginning runners, two of whom made their 5K debuts Monday. “We’ve been meeting at my house in East Hampton. We’ve trained for the past eight weeks. These are people who have graduated from alternately running a minute and walking a minute and a half to a 5K. They told me they felt good. . . . I’d like to enlarge the group.”