'Weakened Warriors' put on the Wilton spirit for 200-mile race

What possesses a group of nearly 50-year-olds to run a 200-mile relay race?

Camaraderie, to gain a sense of accomplishment, to create a memory, to display “true Wilton spirit.”

Twelve members from the Wilton High School Class of ’83 will get that chance when they compete in the 200-mile Hood to Coast Relay race, Aug. 22-23, in Oregon.

The team has dubbed itself the Weakend Warriors.

Led by captain Jon Goldstein, the team members are twins Cheri deFelice McCusker and Cindy deFelice Lasher, Jonathan Silverman, Kari Larsen Janes, Merrie Moskow Bolon, Scott Schraff, Bill Flaherty, Maribeth Holland, Doug Cuneo, Toby Goodwin Ganz, and Andy Griswold.

Ms. Bolon, and her father Wiltonian Ray Moskow, took it upon themselves to collect photos and comments from each of the “Warriors” for this story. Ranging from the heartfelt to the humorous, they all recognized the passage of time and gift of friendship strengthened by participating in such an endeavor. A few took the opportunity to rag on Mr. Griswold, who has been charged with driving the team van. (As of press time, the team was searching for a 12th runner.)

They will be competing against 1,000 other teams and had to win a lottery to participate. More than 2,500 teams from 50 states and 39 countries applied this year. On two previous attempts, the Warriors did not get in.

The Hood to Coast race begins at Timberline Lodge and makes its way down the slopes of Mount Hood, through Portland, over the Oregon Coast Range to the beach town of Seaside. It covers 200 miles and is run in 36 legs, with each team member running three legs in rotation. Running overnight, teams must complete the course within 32 hours, for an average of 9:30 per mile. Individual legs range from 3.4 miles to 7.8 miles, and a runner may total between 13.6 miles and 19.7 miles. The van picks up and drops off each runner at the beginning and end of each leg.

There is no prize money for winning, or enduring, the race, and it is a fund-raiser. Last year more than $800,000 was raised for the Providence Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society.

Team members

Sisters Cheri deFelice McCusker and Cindy deFelice Lasher said they originally signed on for the fun of re-connecting with old friends, but in July “our stepbrother Todd Duitsman suffered a severe spinal cord injury while body surfing in Hawaii and has been paralyzed from the chest down,” they wrote. “We are running now because he can’t. We are following his progress on Facebook — “Big Daddy’s Big Adventure” — we hope you will, too. Every step of every training run — especially the tough ones — we think of him and hope that one day soon he will feel what we are feeling again. He has absolutely inspired us!”

The sisters live far apart today, with Ms. McCusker in Franklin Lakes, N.J., and Ms. Lasher in San Diego, where she is manager of client services at Universal Vacation Club. Ms. McCusker is a substitute teacher.

Jonathan Silverman, who now lives in Arlington, Mass., and is an English professor at UMass Lowell, joked he is doing this “because I like running down mountains rather than up them” and hopes to “gain a sense of accomplishment and a T-shirt.

“For those who haven’t done a relay with friends, it is a super memory to create,” he added.

Merrie Moskow Bolon has run in a number of relay races such as this, saying they are among her “best running memories.” She thinks this race, dubbed the “‘Mother of all Relays,’ with this team of childhood friends now turning 50, will top them all.  I am confident that we will finish, but uncertain of how fast and in what condition!”

The career coach at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business has lived in five cities with her family and is now in Chapel Hill, NC. Nevertheless, she said, “when I return to my folks’ Wilton residence, I know I am ‘home.’”

Team captain Jon Goldstein originally got the wheels moving when he “read an article about the Hood to Coast race on my way traveling to our 25th high school reunion, and happened to mention it to Bill and Merrie,” he recalled. “That was my first mistake.” He said by phone Tuesday, “from my perspective it never occurred to me we would actually do it. I was just making conversation.”

The conversation resulted in a team name, coined by Mr. Flaherty, which Mr. Goldstein said is a great triple entendre, and an enthusiastic response from potential teammates.

Now a financial adviser in Mill Valley, Calif., Mr. Goldstein said some teammates are experienced runners, others are not. The venture is certainly not about winning.

“It’s about the camaraderie and making a fun memory that we’re all going to have. …There’s just a continuing thread through our lives.” Mr. Goldstein said he’s known some team members 40 years. “We’re involved in each other’s lives on many levels. To just be involved in their lives again is fun.”

If there was a qualification to be on the team, he said, “it’s that you’ve got to be fun in a van for 30 hours. You had to want to spend a significant amount of time with people in an enclosed space.

“Ordinarily I might be concerned about the interpersonal stuff,” he wrote earlier in an email. “But these are people I’ve known for decades — some for 40-plus years. I just don’t see problems there. Besides, we have Andy Griswold driving the van, so what could possibly go wrong??”

Scott Schraff, a pediatric ENT physician from Phoenix, Ariz., sees it as a “once-in-a-lifetime ‘race’ and a great way to connect with former classmates, but he is wary of one thing.

“I am concerned that the van driven by Mr. Anderson Griswold will get hopelessly lost,” he joked, “but I am ready to race!”

Mr. Griswold, who now lives in Wellesley, Mass., and is a certified financial planner and investment advisor, is taking the joking in good stride.

When asked why he is doing this he replied, “Peer pressure of course. I’m the van driver, for God’s sake!” A basketball injury left him with knee problems.

As to what he hopes to gain from the experience, he said, “a clearer sense of what a determined set of almost 50-year-olds can accomplish and some good new memories with old friends.”

Does he have any concerns? “That I get lost or am late or someone goes down and I’m the hobbling ‘fill-in!’”

Maribeth Holland will travel across the country from New York City to participate. She said she “will never forget this experience and I know I will treasure these 200 miles of memories. I never thought our gang would try something like this.”

Now a portfolio manager for Sutton Place Capital Management, she added, “You never know what happens when you take a chance and attend a reunion.”

This will be a familiar experience for Kari Larsen Janes, who actually graduated in 1985 and ran the Hood to Coast race in her late 20s. (She dated a member of the Class of ’83 in high school, and became friends with the others.)

“I hope I don’t get lost and run off course, especially in the middle of the night in the industrial part if downtown Portland like I did last time,” she said. “I figure I survived the Tough Mudder at Northstar in Lake Tahoe with hypothermia. As long as I’m not freezing and as long as I can get some sleep, I can manage.”

Now living in Los Gatos, Calif., she said of her teammates, “they are a rare combination of personalities, yet they are fast friends forever. That is so great.”

Bill Flaherty joined the venture because he “loves a challenge,” but also is “really excited to do this with my fellow WHS classmates. Although I have stayed close with a few Weakened Warriors, I am eager to reconnect with others. … I am certain that the good times we will have will outweigh the physical pain associated with such a strenuous challenge. I believe I am fortunate to be a part of this group and the lasting memories we have are forging.”

Mr. Flaherty now lives in Sudbury, Mass. and is president of Vention Medical, a medical device manufacturer.

Don Cuneo, who now lives in Seattle and works as a medical insurance rep, is another experienced runner who logs about 20 miles a week and welcomed the chance to reconnect with fellow Warriors. “I am very thankful Jon Goldstein thought of me when he was assembling a team. I’ve never run a relay. Should be fun!”

Brushing aside any concerns, he said, “There are multiple things that could go wrong but at its most basic level running is pretty simple: lace ’em up and go.”

Toby Goodwin Ganz was only a little less optimistic. After experiencing two major life changes in a matter of days — becoming an empty nester and moving from New Jersey to Cincinnati two days later with her husband Peter — she thought training for the race would help her get to know her new environs.

“When I started training seriously in January, my base mileage was somewhere between two to three miles. I am running about 18 miles a week now, but I am terrified about running three legs seven to nine hours apart.  I really depend on a few rest days between a six- and seven- or eight-mile run.

“I am also a little hesitant about the lack of sleep and, of course, THE VAN!”

Asked about her confidence level she replied, “Hmmmmmm. We can always walk, right? We still get the shirt.”