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Mike Townsley was the quickest of five Franklin County residents who ran, jogged and walked to the finish line of the Mount Washington Road Race on June 15. The 7.6-mile course is an ascent from spring to winter; from 60-degree temps and light breezes into a 40-degree climate with sub-freezing wind chills and 55-mph wind gusts.

“I noticed the cold wind blowing on me with two miles left,” said the 44-year-old Bernardston resident. “I had to have something on me or I’d have been really cold.”

The steeply graded auto road takes a toll on first-timers who underestimate the exertion of reaching the highest peak in the northeast. Approximately 1,300 people started and over 100 dropped out. “People get educated on that mountain really quick. The first time I did it, I was walking before the first mile. This year I was walking at three miles.”

Townsley reached the top of the 6,288-foot summit in an hour-and-a-half, placing him 145th overall and 10th in his age group. “One thing about running that steep of a mountain is most people don’t get injured because they just can’t go that fast.

“Running a race like that,” he added, “you’re with world-class athletes, realizing how good they are at what they do.”

The entry fee was $80 and the two main sponsors were Delta Dental and Hart’s Turkey Farm of Meredith, N.H. “We got a toothbrush and carved turkey,” said Townsley.

Five-foot-10, 145-pound Eric Blake of New Britain, Conn., was the only runner to finish in under an hour, beating the buzzer in three ticks under the chime. A three-time winner, Blake is the cross-country coach at Central Connecticut State University and a former state high school cross-country champion. The 34-year-old Blake is profiled on the U.S.A. Track and Field web site and his favorite quote befits Mt. Washington: “Start slowly, then taper off.”

The words were uttered by the late Walt Stack, an outspoken character from San Francisco’s hippy days where he was renowned for jogging bare-chested over the Golden Gate Bridge and then jumping into the cold bay waters for a 30-minute swim.

The women’s winner, 45-year-old Coloradan Laura Haefeli, finished 18 minutes behind Blake and was 50th overall. Both winners received $1,000 and a $300 bonus for finishing first in their respective age group.

Once again, this year’s old man on the mountain was 93-year-old George Etzweiler, a retired Penn State professor who finished next-to-last in three hours and 15 minutes. This was his ninth appearance and he jokingly keeps saying he’ll race the mountain until he’s 100, “and then drop dead.”

The other four Franklin County finishers were South Deerfield’s Amy Rusiecki who was 33rd in the field of 327 women, Sunderland’s Sara Smiarowski finished 43rd, and 61-year-old Jackie Lucchesi of Turners Falls was 186th but fifth in her age group. Sunderland’s John Carey, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Franklin County Technical School, was 561st overall.

Next up for Townsley is the 30th annual Bridge of Flowers race and its challenging centerpiece, Crittenden Hill. Daunting for some, but a mere bump in the road for Townsley.


After a long hiatus, Bobblehead Day is back at Saratoga Race Course. Earlier this week, the New York Racing Association announced that rather than the usual hat and umbrella giveaways, it’ll be handing out mantelpiece souvenirs. The first is Aug. 11 when Fourstardave bobbleheads will be doled out with each three-dollar admission.

Fourstardave was a chestnut gelding that won at least one race at the Spa from 1987 to 1994. The following Sunday, Aug. 18, replica models of Saratoga Race Course will be given away and on Sept. 1, the track will give away Saratoga beer steins.

Bring a chair and the Sunday papers and get there about 7 a.m., because the handouts are first-come first served, and track policy allows the railbirds to get as many as they want. Such people making repeated trips through the turnstiles are called spinners, and I’ve seen them carrying dozens of boxes containing the prized mementoes.

I’ve arrived before noon and been shut out, so this year I’ll be up with the roosters to get my fair share for Christmas, birthdays and the sheer fun of it.

Racing at Saratoga starts on July 19.


Squibbers: The Ottawa Senators’ home rink is now called the Canadian Tire Centre, or as Denis Potvin refers to it, “The Garage.” ... The NHL’s Pierre McGuire, on the language he hears while reporting from between the benches: “It’s not a very sanitary place.” ... Rookie Wil Myers’ first big league home run, a grand slam off CC Sabathia at the Stadium last Saturday, was as good as any touchdown pass, slam dunk or overtime goal. It gave the Rays a 5-3 lead and epitomized the excitement that is baseball. ... The Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa and the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara are next-door neighbors in Slovakia. ... By drafting Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots got a 2-for-1 package — a football player and sociopath. Webster’s Dictionary defines the latter as “a person whose behavior is aggressively antisocial.” And the Pats’ scouting report warned that Hernandez, “enjoys living on the edge of acceptable behavior.” ... Loge boxes behind third base were selling for $65 ($30 under face value) for Tuesday’s Red Sox game against the Rockies. ... In Atlanta, the brothers Upton, B.J. and Justin, are batting .175 and .240 respectively and making a combined $27 million. ... After news broke that over a dozen major leaguers had bought performance-enhancing drugs from a South Florida anti-aging clinic, Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino wrote it was no surprise that none of them were Miami Marlins. “It’s far more believable that Marlins players may be using some sort of performance-diminishing drug.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.

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