Runner’s legacy lives on

Jan McKeown

Jan McKeown

PROSPECT — The namesake of the inaugural Jan’s Run is a very familiar one in the running community across the country.

Jan McKeown ran her first race on May 27, 1979 at the age of 32. The race, which was the 8.5 mile Amity Race, was a turning point in McKeown’s life.

“No stopping now,” McKeown wrote in her race scrapbook after that race.

She was right.

McKeown would go on to become a very talented runner. In 1988, she was ranked the No. 1 runner in New England and 18th nationally in her age group in 1988 by Runner’s World magazine.

“The competitive racing bug just bit her. If she went to a race and didn’t come in first, second, or third, she would be upset,” said John McKeown, her husband.

Jan McKeown, who lived in Prospect, died on June 15, 2015 at the age of 68 after a long battle with cancer. Her funeral drew more than 1,000 people, including runners from all over the state, John McKeown said.

Jan’s Run, which is May 14, is a 5K race in memory of Jan McKeown. The race steps off at 10 a.m. from St. Anthony Church, 4 Union City Road.

Joe Riccio, race director for Jan’s Run and a friend of Jan McKeown, said she began running races at a time when not too many women were competing. However, he said, she still managed to set the pace.

Riccio, who is also a runner, said for years he had only heard about McKeown, but never had the chance to meet her.

“I never knew her, I never saw her face. I just knew there was a woman in the race who was at the lead of the men all the time. I never saw her face because I was behind her. By the time I finished she was packed up and gone,” Riccio said.

Riccio first met her in 1989 when he finished a race just in front of her.

“I saw this woman in front of me and knew I could overtake her. I did and I finished and continued on to my warm down. This woman comes up to me, it was Jan, and said ‘and who the hell are you,’” Riccio recalled.

Throughout the years Jan McKeown competed in a variety of races, running in the Boston Marathon eight times, the New York Marathon twice and winning the 7-mile Litchfield Hills Road Race three times in a row, John McKeown said.

In addition to her finishing times, Jan McKeown was also known for her exploits, Riccio said.

While competing in her first triathlon she came out of the water suffering from hypothermia, Riccio states in the Warren Street Social and Athletic Club memorial about Jan McKeown. She was taken into an ambulance and told she would not be able to finish the race. While the paramedics had their backs turn, she snuck out of the ambulance and continued on her way in the race.

Soon after Jan McKeown passed away her friends began planning the race in her honor, John McKeown said.

John McKeown was initially against the idea because he knew how difficult putting on a race can be. However, because it was her friends that wanted to do it, he began to support the idea.

“I think it’s a great honor now. But it is still a lot of work,” John McKeown said.

The race starts at St. Anthony Church and will follow the same route as the Lions Club’s annual Easter Run for Eye Research 5K.

In addition to the 5K, the race will feature a 2-mile fitness walk and a kid’s fun run.

The fun run for children ages 6 and under starts at 9:15 a.m. and the run for children ages 7 and older starts at 9:30 p.m. The 5K and fitness walk will step off at 10 a.m.

Pre-registration fees through May 7 are $22 for the 5K, $12 for the fitness walk and for runners ages 12 and under and teenagers, and $6 for the kids fun run. After May 7, the fees increase to $27, $15 and $8. For more information or to register, visit www.hitekracing.com/jansrun.

The money raised will benefit the cross country and track and field teams at Long River Middle School and Woodland Regional High School.

“We are very fortunate and grateful that these monies are being donated to our programs. These proceeds will help us maintain our standards of excellence,” said Jeff Lownds, who coaches cross country and girls track at Woodland.