By Kassie Parisi
CLIFTON PARK — Frigid temperatures and blustering winds didn’t stop hundreds of runners of all ages, some with American flags hoisted over their shoulders, from joining local veterans for the 10th annual Veterans Day Dash at Shenendehowa High School.
Over 350 runners took part Friday in the 5k run that starts at the high school track and loops around the campus. The dash is a longstanding event hosted by the Shenendehowa Track and Field booster club, and was created to showcase student athletes while also giving students and other community members a chance to connect with veterans.
Runners ranged in age from 11 to 84-years-old. The course was decorated with miniature flags purchased by onlookers to honor veterans or active duty service members in their lives.
Shelly Price, who was the top finishing female veteran, served in the U.S. Navy from 1996 to 2005, first on a ship out of Japan, then in a shipyard in Virginia.
Price, 43 of Clifton Park, was not a first-time racer. For her, the event was meaningful because it shows an acknowledgement, and a willingness to support, veterans who have been through difficult experiences.
“I love it because there are so many people who choose to join the military and they’ve been through a lot, and now they’re going through more than what we went through. And it’s nice to see people recognizing that,” Price said after the race.
Clifton Park resident John H. McKenna III took some time before the race to speak with racers about his son, Capt. John J. McKenna IV, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2005.
Around five years ago, the town named a street after the fallen Marine to honor him. John McKenna III now spends time talking to different groups about his son, and his experience with veterans. He has been to the race four times previously.
McKenna explained that children often don’t have a direct vehicle for accessing veterans or the conflicts they were involved in. While students learn about the outcomes of battles in school, knowing which side won a battle is not as important as it seems, he said.
“What matters is the personal triumphs and tragedies of the individual soldiers,” he said. “Ask a veteran their story. Some of them don’t want to talk, for whatever reason. But what you do is say, ‘Tell me a funny story. Now tell me another funny story. Now tell me something that wasn’t so good. Once you get them loosened up and talking, then they’ll bring up the rest.”
Approaching a veteran in such a way, he said, will not only show support, but will also give the listener a better understanding of what it means to be a soldier.
McKenna acknowledged that many people participated in the 5k for enjoyment of racing as well. But, he said, each time a child hears a veteran’s story, it’s at least one step forward in developing a connection with veterans that may have been non-existent before.
“Each time they hear the message, maybe it’ll sink in,” he said. “You want the good and the bad. The glad and the sad.”