MYSTIC — Just under 800 runners donned layers of spandex and neon sneakers on Sunday for the 38th Annual Tarzan Brown Mystic River Run, organized by the Ocean Community YMCA.
The 5.5-mile run along the river is named in remembrance of Tarzan Brown, a Narragansett Indian famous for his running prowess; he won the Boston Marathon twice and competed in the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin. He died in 1975.
Ethel Brown, Tarzan’s wife, said she has come to the race almost every year since it started. Sitting inside her family’s van by the finish line on Pearl Street, the 94-year-old Brown was accompanied by two of her granddaughters and several great-grandchildren, one of whom ran in the event.
“It’s a nice remembrance for him,” she said, explaining that her husband often ran in Mystic during his athletic career.
“I hope this race continues every year,” added Anna Brown, one of Ethel’s granddaughters.
For 17-year-old Kahekee Northup, running in the event was more than just a chance to enjoy the crisp November air. He said he always thought about his great-grandfather: “When I run, I know he’s there with me.”
Northup is a junior at Chariho High School and a member of the track team, so he runs frequently, though he prefers sprinting to long-distance. Northup said he hopes to break his school’s sprinting record this year.
Like Northup, Westerly resident Kate Leach had participated in the run once before, and this time made it a family event.
Two of Leach’s three children ran the 1K Fun Run held before the main race. “I try to run in as many local races as I can,” she said. “I really love this race though, it’s so scenic.”
Leach’s son, Eli, 7, and daughter Adara, 9, said the kid’s race was fun, though Eli added that it seemed a little long. Both said they liked cheering their mom on from the sidelines, accompanied by their father, Jim, and 2-year-old sister Jada.
“We love the YMCA so much,” Kate said. The entire family has a membership at the Westerly branch, where Adara participates in gymnastics and theater, and Jada takes swim classes.
The Poe family, of Groton, had four runners in the main event. Twins Iain and Ryan, 12, and 14-year-old Grace, just started running on their school’s cross-country teams this year. The children and their father, Rusty, all participated for the first time this year.
“It was a good race,” said Ryan. “It felt longer than I expected, and there was a lot of people running faster than me.”
“You ran faster than a lot of people, too,” Rusty chimed in.
With the cross-country season at school recently over, the family agreed that the event would be a good opportunity to celebrate their love of running while they were already in shape.
“I always heard this was a great event,” said Rusty Poe. “It was an awesome run, and I loved seeing all my kids coming and going on the way back.”
The onlookers echoed their appreciation for the event as they stood at the finish line, bundled in hats and scarves and sipping coffee and cocoa.
Eileen Gustavson, of Mystic, went to support her daughter and granddaughter in the race.
“It’s a great community event,” she said. “It gets everyone out in the fresh air, and it’s just good family fun.”
The community spirit is the highlight of the event, according to Dan Reeve, branch director of the Mystic YMCA.
“It’s all about bringing people together,” he said.
Emily King, healthy living and youth development director at the Mystic branch, said this year’s event went very smoothly, thanks largely to the help of 80 volunteers.
Members of the Coast Guard Academy, the Naval Submarine Base and YMCA volunteers all participated, handing out water and monitoring safety on the course.
“We couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
King estimated that organizing the event cost between $8,000 and $10,000. The expenses include food provided after the event by the Steak Loft Restaurant, T-shirts for participants and timing equipment.
The race was followed by a picnic at Cottrell Park for participants and their families. All proceeds from the event go toward the Ocean Community YMCA’s Reach Out to Youth Campaign, which provides financial assistance and scholarships to local children and families.