UNION, NJ — A record 300 participants walked, jogged and bolted across a brand-new course at the fifth annual Mayor’s Run on Sunday, Sept. 20, each finishing on the synthetic red track at Union High School. A handful of competitive runners were done in under 22 minutes, while others were still making their way around the track after an hour, happy just to finish.
But the happiest face at the Mayor’s Run might have belonged to its 10-year-old beneficiary, Benjamin Duvelson, who has sickle cell anemia, and who walked around the track afterward with a wide grin. Seventy-five members of the Union High School Marching Band, wearing T-shirts that read “Benjamin’s Band — Sickle Cell Warriors,” had surprised Duvelson and his family several hours earlier.
“Our instructor, Miss Muller, thought of the idea for all of us to do the race together, so I just started organizing for the T-shirts and everyone’s registration and stuff like that,” said Ashley Figueiredo, a senior member of the band. Benjamin’s older brother, junior Jonathan Duvelson, is also a longtime band member, and he started crying when he saw his bandmates.
“We wanted to surprise the whole family,” said Figueiredo, enjoying the story of how that worked out. “We all had sweatshirts on, and we all took them off to show the shirts and they turned around and saw the band. We had 75 people here, wearing the shirts and supporting Ben.”
Benjamin said that he felt good, enjoyed the surprise and wanted to thank everyone who came out. And the turnout for the Mayor’s Run has never been better, according to Jim Masterson, the executive director of the Union Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the race and selects a beneficiary each year.
Many of the event’s participants, such as Union residents Rich and Christine Bevensee, pointed to the purpose behind the Mayor’s Run as the inspiration for them coming out.
“We knew it was for a good cause, and we’re proud of where we live, so we wanted to come out and support both causes. This is our third year together doing this race,” said Rich Bevensee, who finished first in the 40-49 age group. “This year it got bigger. If you look around, the event itself — more tables, more sponsors, more people wanting to chip in — I think a lot more people are starting to notice that Union wants to make this an event to take part in.”
At one end of the track were 53 tabled sponsors, waiting with free giveaways, services and more, said Masterson, compared to just three sponsors for the first edition of the Mayor’s Run. That’s just one indicator of the increase in popularity, added Masterson, for the USATF-certified race.
Some of the race’s participants, such as Manny Vijayan and Jeria Kuniath, said that it was a safe, fun course, and they enjoyed having it in town.
“Right in their backyard” in Union, said Vijayan.
Kuniath and Vijayan also said they participated because the race was being held just a few hundred feet away from them, literally.
The Mayor’s Run attracts people from all different parts of the state, according to Masterson, including people from South Jersey and Essex County, but “the majority is Union people.”