Some 500 runners, one as old as 91, kicked off 2024 by participating in the 16th annual Needham New Year’s Day 5K road race.
“We started this as a small group of about 6 to 10 people,” said the Needham Running Club’s John Pizzuto, who founded the race along with Brad Fernandez and Bill Gallagher. “Since then it has grown. We do it because we’re a running community.”
Families, children, teens and adults stepped off at 11 a.m. from in front of the Charles River YMCA on Great Plain Ave. They followed a route down Great Plain, left onto Webster Street, over to LaSalle Road, onto Manning Street, back to Great Plain, onto Harris Ave., back up Webster and then left on Great Plain and to the finish at the Y. The event drew runners (and walkers) not only from surrounding communities but even from the other side of the country.
The race is organized and staffed entirely by volunteers and has raised funds for a number of worthy causes, such as scholarships for Needham High track-and-field athletes. Each year, proceeds are donated to the YMCA and to one other charity. This year’s choice: the Needham Community Council. “We love doing it,” Pizzuto said.
Awards are given to the top three finishers in each age category. Needham High sophomore Delia Roach finished third in the age 12-16 category.. “I’ve been running (the race) with my dad for as long as I can remember,” she said.
Delia runs most days during the week and said she has been working up to running a marathon.
Needham resident Kiko Bracker caught the attention of many by running dressed as a lumberjack, wearing a Santa hat, and holding a fake axe while pulling a Christmas tree. “It’s just a good seasonally appropriate joke,” he said. “It just makes people smile.”
Bracker’s mother-in-law, 79-year-old Jan Holmquist, finished in 24:56, best in her age category. Her motivation: “I’ve done this race several times and I live in Needham.” Holmquist said she has participated in the New Year’s Day 5K five to 10 times. She said she tries to race a couple of times a month. Holmquist holds the U.S. age group records in the 10K for ages 70-74 (45:19) and 75-79 (50:01)
“I didn’t start racing ‘till I was almost 50,” she said, because there were few opportunities for women before then. She found she was good at it and enjoyed it. “It’s so good for your mental and physical health, and getting out in nature.” Holmquist said she runs everything from the 1 mile to 10Ks, and she plans to keep right on doing it.
Molly Krupat is a sophomore at Needham High School