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Dr. J. on Running

Nate the Great

Runner's Dream Fulfilled

Published in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The fourth annual "Nate the Great" 5K road race on June 12 will be a great celebration for the Canastota High School running program and a fulfillment of a dream. A few weeks ago, the school district passed a referendum to construct an 8-lane modern outdoor track facility.

Despite the lack of training facilities, the Canastota running program produced many winning teams along with some outstanding runners in recent years. The girls' cross country team's winning record recently stood at 80-1, and included numerous sectional and state championships.

Individually, Patty Wiegand won three NCAA titles and numerous school records at the University of Tennessee, including 3,000 meters in 9:09.83 and 5,000 meters in 16:12.03 in 1991. Mindy Watkins, also a star performer at Tennessee, ran 5,000 meters in 17:07.71 as a sophomore at last year's Penn Relays. Mary Beth Romagnoli, a former Ithaca College runner, remains one of the top sub-masters runners in Central New York with recent performances of a mile in 5:10 and 10,000 meters in 37:04.

The "Nate the Great" run honors former Canastota runner Nathaniel Joseph Holdridge. Born on May 27, 1978, the son of Douglas and Cynthia Mueller Holdridge, Nate was a life resident of Canastota. He was a senior at Canastota High School when he died from injuries he received in an automobile accident on January 23, 1996.

Nate ran cross country, indoor and outdoor track since seventh grade. He was an All Tri-Valley League selection in both cross-country and track since his high school freshman year. He planned to attend St. Lawrence University in Upstate New York, and to run on their cross country and track teams.

Prior to his death, Nate expressed his embarrassment with Canastota's training facilities, which he described to college recruiters as the school halls in winter and the parking lot in spring. Following his untimely death, Nate's family and friends started the Canastota Running Club to fulfill his dream of building a track.

Canastota coach Andy Pino described Nate as much more than a track star. He was one of the most supportive people you could ever meet. He never judged or complained. He was the team's best recruiter, who relayed his love for running to everyone he touched. Pino used to call him "Nate the Great" after the children's book series. Coincidentally, Nate often used the word "great" to show his appreciation to people or events around him.

The weekend before the accident, Canastota competed at the Yale University indoor track invitational. There, Nate ran two personal records, 800m in 2:02 and a mile in 4:38. Pino remembered their final talk about Nate's plans to attend St. Lawrence University, and his goal to return to Canastota and coach the boys' running program. They also discussed Nate's dream of building an 8-lane track and hosting major athletic meets.

Pino recalled giving the eulogy at Nate's funeral on a stormy day, punctuated by sudden gusts of wind at every mention of Nate's name. At the cemetery, when Nate was lowered into the ground, a large, bright rainbow appeared in the sky. That rainbow returned on the first day of cross-country practice, and greeted the Canastota runners at every invitational throughout the season. The girls' team finished the season undefeated, and advanced to the State Championship.

As fate would have it, St. Lawrence University hosted the State Championship in 1996. A torrential rainstorm forced the relocation of the course. A rainbow of balloons marked the finish line, and a bright celestial rainbow crowned the victory of the Canastota girls cross country team, which Nate's father named the Rainbow Runners.

Each year, the "Nate the Great" 5K run finishes under a rainbow of balloons at the Canastota Recreation Park and Little League Field. This celebration goes beyond remembering Nate's life into a promise to follow his dreams. With the plans for building the track well under way, the Canastota Rainbow Runners broaden their focus to include scholarships, as well as youth and adult fitness programs.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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