UFT Women's team members (from left) Maureen Duffy, Helen Dole and Amy West pose with Tiffany awards after winning the team title in New York. Richie Orazem
(left) and Company Captain Kevin Miller join in photo. (Photo by Pat Arnow)
UFT uses team effort to earn its trip
to South Africa for Championship
In a series of stories leading to the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship on March 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa, New York is profiled. Previous installments have profiled teams from Singapore, Chicago, Frankfurt, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.
The Running Company shows
its passion, talent for sport
New York, NY, January 20, 2010 - Chasing a dream and earning a living in the business of running, members of The Running Company's championship Male team at June's J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge are probably not the roster many would expect.
For starters, the team's third fastest finisher in New York was a 41-year-old who loves to run marathons. He just happens to also own the company, whose success has been built by a focus on serving runners of all abilities and inspiring them to follow their fitness goals
Gene Mitchell, also the Chief Executive Officer of The Running Company, ran a scintillating time of 18:38 for the tough 3.5-mile loop in Central Park. He was joined by two Running Company store managers - Aidan Walsh, 28, and Brian Harris, 35 - in what turned out to be a management-dominated run to victory. Together with 26-year-old Joe Pienta, they turned back a strong challenge from a JP Morgan Chase & Co. team that featured the race's individual winner - the aptly named Sean Swift.
It was a true team victory, with much of the margin coming from The Running's Company's last scoring runner, Pienta.
"The win was a surprise as you never know how everyone will perform," said Harris, who ran 18:29 and manages the Princeton Running Company store. "Like any team race you are always as strong as your weakest link. The Corporate Challenge as a team event is similar to high school and college cross country. More often than not, the team title comes down to the final team member to score. It proves that it is truly a team effort."
That team effort is sending The Running Company to South Africa to compete in the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship on March 4 in Johannesburg. Pienta, now coaching at SUNY Binghamton, has been replaced by The Running Company's fifth-place finisher at New York, Matt O'Brien, and the team is ready to roll.
"This is definitely a lifetime running highlight for all of us," said Harris. "This is beyond our expectations for all team members. We are looking forward to experiencing the culture and seeing the sites - hopefully a safari if we can fit it in."
They are also looking forward to a competitive race, and have the backgrounds and passion for running to suggest they can be competitive against the best corporate runners in the world.
Mitchell, for starters, ran collegiately at Villanova, where won the Big East steeplechase title in 1990. Despite the demands of owning and operating a retail business, he qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2008 by running 2:20.53 in Chicago. He also has finished in the top 50 in the New York City Marathon three times.
Walsh, The Running Company's Ridgewood store manager, ran for Farleigh Dickinson University and was an eight-time Northeast Conference champion. O'Brien, 24, began running while attending Berklee College in Boston as a hobby and has had increasing success in 5K and 10K road races.
And Harris is a former runner for the University of Virginia who finished 60th in 2:32:29 at the 2007 Boston Marathon. While at Virginia, he lost the second and third toes on his right foot to cancer (synovial sarcoma). He has run since 1994 with only three toes on his right foot. Obviously, it has neither slowed him down nor diminished his joy for the sport.
"We all are trying to get in shape and there is a concern about the altitude taking a toll on us, since we trail at sea level," said Harris. "We want to run competitively for our abilities, meet some interesting people and have fun.
"We are excited to see how competitive we can be against other athletes with full-time jobs," he added. "It's very difficult to compete against professional athletes, because we don't have as much time to devote to training and resting. This time we will be racing against our running peers. Competing in Johannesburg brings the experience to a different level for us."
New York, NY, January 20, 2010 — Winning the Women's team title at June's New York City J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge earned Helen Dole and her teammates from the UFT-DOE a trip to South Africa to compete in the Series Championship on March 4.
Dole already is thinking about a return trip.
"It's exciting to be able to represent New York City that far away from home," said Dole. "It feels a little bit like the Olympics! Someday I would like to run the Comrades Distance Race in South Africa, so hopefully this will be my first of two trips to run races in South Africa."
For now, however, the anticipation of competing in an event that has attracted 100 percent participation from qualifying squads in the Series' 12 cities around the world is the focus of a team that has a long history of competing in the Corporate Challenge.
In June, Dole, Casey Depasquale and Amy West teamed with Zaia Wharton to win the NYC Women's title by 35 seconds over host JPMorgan Chase in Central Park. The victory wasn't won until the fourth and final scorer - Dole - crossed the Central Park finish line in 22:59. That was 41 seconds faster than the fourth place finisher for the runner-ups - just enough to turn the tide. It reinforced the concept that the Corporate Challenge is a true team event.
"I ran cross-country in high school and college (and know that) a team can have the top two runners, but if they don't have the depth they won't win," said Dole. "The teacher's union has a strong team because so many of us turn out for the event and we run our hardest."
In South Africa, UFT will have its depth tested again. Wharton, the team's top runner, can't make the trip and will have her spot taken by Maureen Duffy. Still, UFT is confident, as well as excited, going into the race at the famed Wanderers Club in Johannesburg.
"We saw our competition last year when the World Championships were held in New York City," said Dole.
UFT couldn't stay with the 2008 Women's champions from Johannesburg — Transnet Engineering — on Park Avenue, but then, neither could anyone else. Transnet won the Women's title in 1:16:30. That was almost 14 minutes faster than second-place Polizei Hessen of Frankfurt. Just 26 seconds behind the Germans, however, came UFT for a solid third-place finish and the best American showing by a Women's team by far.
"We know that if we bring our A-game, we will have a shot at placing well," said Dole. "But, regardless of where we race, the experience of running with athletes from all over the world will be something positive to take away."
This is a team composed of teachers. Depasquale teaches grades 9-12 at New York's High School of Graphic Communication Arts. Duffy is a special education teacher at PS 142 Amalia Castro Elementary School. West is a 3rd grade classroom teacher at PS 382 in the Bronx. And Dole is an 8th grade science teacher at the School for Democracy and Leadership in Brooklyn.
None has been to South Africa, or as West put it: "I have never been to South Africa, or even Africa. (But) I am 39 years old and still running reasonably fast."
Fast enough to earn a trip to Africa.
"I run because it provides me with so much: friends, time in nature, time to reflect, more energy, an outlet to be competitive in, but no, I didn't imagine it would earn me a trip to Johannesburg!" said Dole.
She's hoping to use the trip to broaden her perspectives, and those of her students.
"I'm hoping to go to the nearby Madikwe Game Reserve or the Kruger Reserve," she said. "I would also like to visit a school while I'm there. I've traveled to China and Ecuador in the past year and I've enjoyed visiting schools in both these locations. It sheds light on how different education systems are across the world."
It may also be a great time for Dole to scout out her return trip for a race that is slightly longer than the Corporate Challenge's 3.5 miles - the 56-mile Comrades Marathon from the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg to Sahara Stadium in Durban.