Race raises thousands for borough man

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Runners take off at the start of the annual Bob Veillette 5K Road Race and Walk in Waterbury Sunday afternoon. –RA ARCHIVE
Runners take off at the start of the annual Bob Veillette 5K Road Race and Walk in Waterbury Sunday afternoon. –RA ARCHIVE

WATERBURY — Runners pounded city streets Sunday to raise money for a man known for his soft touch on the piano and hard nose for news.

Bob Veillette soaked in the festival-like atmosphere of the Bob Veillette 5K from his wheelchair in the shade of a white tent, but he said through is wife, Bonnie, that he wished he could be out there running.

“This is what Bob loved to do,” Bonnie Veillette said. “He loved this whole environment … Every chance he got he used to run.”

Veillette has been confined to his wheelchair since he suffered a stroke in April 2006 that left him with locked-in syndrome. He is paralyzed below the eyes but remains aware of his surroundings, and can communicate by moving his eyes.

Veillette rose from reporter to managing editor at the Republican-American over 40 years before his stroke.

Dave Krechevsky, the Republican-American’s business editor, and one of the race’s organizers, said he remembered working in the Naugatuck bureau in 2002. Veillette would often go for a jog around midday and show up at the office sweaty and looking for the day’s news.

“He always kept us on our toes that way,” Krechevsky said.

He said Veillette had a wealth of institutional knowledge, and knew how to ask tough questions.

When someone impressed him with a story, Veillette would wave a miniature baseball bat with the word “wow” taped to it, Krechevsky said.

By raising his eyes in response to his wife’s recitation of the alphabet, Veillette asked the public to help find a cure for his condition.

The race, now in its eighth year, raises money for Veillette’s care in his Naugatuck home.

“This is always such a wonderful get together of everybody. So many people still remember Bob, and they admire his perseverance,” Bonnie Veillette said.

She said she could not afford to keep her husband at home and pay for help to watch him 24/7 without money from the race.

This year’s race raised $12,700, slightly more than last year, but much less than the $42,000 raised in 2006. The race has raised $130,000 for Veillette since its inception.

This year, 230 runners and 30 walkers, including several Republican-American staffers and two world-class runners, participated in the race.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Krechevsky said, “But everyone who’s here wants to be here.”

Alan Wells, 50, of Orlando, beat his own record from last year to take first place with a time of 16:19. The first finisher for women was Kateri Danay, 15, of Waterbury, with a time of 21:57.

Former New York City Marathon winners Bill Rodgers and Rod Dixon both ran the Bob 5K this year.

Of the 30 or so races Rodgers runs every year, he said only the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Boston Marathon mean as much.

“I can tell Bob Veillette is an ace … He’s off the charts,” Rodgers said.

Bonnie Veillette said her husband is doing fine now, but suffered through a bad winter with several seizures.

“He’s holding his own, I guess I should say,” she said.

She said he still wants to keep going, and is looking forward to a new grandchild before the end of the year.