By Jean DePlacido
---- — HAMILTON — For someone whose life was cut far too short, Gabe Pacione left an indelible mark on so many people that he had the chance to meet.
Gabe’s Run, which will be held for the fifth straight year tomorrow morning, honors the life of the former Hamilton-Wenham running superstar. It’s when hundreds of runners flock to Patton Park in Hamilton the day after Thanksgiving to remember his zest for life, his kindness and his wonderful smile.
Women’s and men’s 5K races will be followed by a one-mile fun run and awards ceremony. All proceeds go to the Gabriel Pacione Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards two scholarships annually: one to a college-bound senior from Hamilton-Wenham and the other to a member of a Cape Ann League school. The students selected encourage and inspire others the way Gabe did and also strive to attain high accomplishments.
A multi-time Salem News Runner of the Year while at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, Gabe was days away from attending Dartmouth College as a freshman before he was tragicially killed in an auto accident.
“Both 5K races get a little bigger each year,” said Jeff Pacione, Gabe’s father. “The race pays for itself, and all proceeds go to the scholarships. We get a lot of kids from local schools, many (who) come back from college to compete (while) others come to volunteer and support us. We want people to enjoy it and have fun.
“Every year, we get a handful of notes from people with nice memories of Gabe. That means so much to us. People come back year after year; both Gabe’s friends and others he competed against. It’s interesting to see young kids start out with the fun run (that are) now doing the 5K.”
An act of kindness
Kerry Phelan of Peabody, who attended Hamilton-Wenham Regional, was one of two Pacione Scholarship winners last year and just wrapped up a sensational freshman season running cross country at Merrimack College, didn’t know Gabe personally but was well aware of his talents.
“This is the first year I’ll be running as an individual; every other time I did it with my Hamilton-Wenham team,” Phelan said. “I never had the chance to know Gabe; he died right before I started high school, but I heard all about him.
“This is an awesome race, always a fun time. Because it’s during Thanksgiving break, everybody is back home and you get a chance to see old friends and people you raced against. It’s great the way the whole community gets behind it.”
People come to run in the event not only from across the North Shore, but all over New England. There will be prizes and food, including chowder from Woodman’s. In addition to the individual competition, there will be Team Challenge and Community Cup awards.
Moira Riccio remembers Gabe not for his athletic feats as one of the top runners in New England, but for an act of kindness to her young son Andrew when he was 4 and doing a local H-W Ed Fund fun run.
“Andrew fell and was crying,” said Riccio, a Wenham resident who was a track athlete at Marian High School and has continued running her entire life. “Gabe helped him up, and they ran the race together. I will always remember the wonderful spirit of Gabe, slowing down to help someone else. Every year, my husband and I and our four children participate in Gabe’s run to support the Paciones and the Hamilton-Wenham community.”
The Michel family from Hamilton will all run this year, too. Mark and Alice Michel, along with son Austen (who plays basketball and baseball at H-W) and daughter Aymee (a first-grader) will take part in the fun run.
“We’re doing it together because we know the Pacione family, and it’s for such a great cause,” Mark Michel said. “There are always some pretty good runners at the front, and I have to admit a lot of young kids run right by me.”
Melissa Jaynes ran last year for the first time and said she is now “addicted” to returning every November. The 32-year-old began running five years ago and trains under Mike Toomey, focusing mainly on marathons.
“The message is important to me,” said Jaynes, who moved to Salem six years ago. “Gabe’s Run shows that you can run competitively, love every minute of it and have fun. Sometimes runners focus so much on times, results and the finish line that we forget to appreciate all the fun in getting there. Gabe’s reunion race acts as a reminder to me that life is meant to be enjoyed.
“Everything I have heard about Gabe inspires me. He loved to compete, but most of all had a genuine good spirit and loved running. I am happy to honor him by making this part of my Thanksgiving tradition.”
Dartmouth College hasn’t forgotten the young man who never was able to join their running program, either. Jonathan Gault has come to Hamilton for the event each year except 2010 (when he was out of the country). He raced against Gabe when he was at Bedford High School and would have been Gabe’s Big Green college teammate.
“Gabe always beat me,” said Gault, who finished in this race seventh a year ago. “When I heard the news about his death, I was devastated. I knew if there was a way to keep his memory alive, I would be interested. So when the Paciones organized this race, it was a no-brainer for me to run it. We also try to get members of the men’s and women’s teams at Dartmouth to run it every year to show that Gabe is still remembered as part of that community, as well.
“Overall, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate Gabe and to reunite with friends and former competitors over the Thanksgiving break. He struck me as a friendly kid. He’d always be there with some encouraging words before the race. He was one of the reasons I looked into Dartmouth in my college search (Class of 2013).”
This year’s Hamilton-Wenham cross country boys and girls teams, which include Gabe’s sister Claire, will be there to lend support. But the Generals will not run because a bus will pick them up at the fire station in Hamilton to take them to New York for a regional event the following day.
This year, a collection to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy will also take place, with a drop-off tent in Patton Park to collect items needed in the tri-state area. Baby food, soup, cleaning supplies, flashlights, batteries and paper products are all needed (no clothing). For further information, go to www.gabesrun.org.
5th ANNUAL GABE'S RUN When: Tomorrow; registration opens at 7:30 a.m. Where: Begins and ends at Patton Park in Hamilton (Route 1A) Why is it run?: To raise money for the Gabriel Pacione Memorial Scholarships