Around Cape Ann: an American tradition since 1933
At 10:15 on the morning of July 4th, 1933, a Cape Ann and American athletic tradition was born: 14 runners took off from Stage Fort Park on the first Around Cape Ann road race.
Posted Friday, 31 August, 2007
At little before noon Jimmy Hennigan of the North Medford Club became the first winner of the 15-miler in 1:30:43. The Gloucester paper’s account the next day called it “a real grind, with hills and winds” (and heat), observing that the last of nine finishers was “Clarence Parsons of this city [who] just made the line before he collapsed and was taken to the hospital.” A true Gloucesterman never quits.
Today the Around Cape Ann 25-kilometer is among the most pedigreed of footraces, the 11th-oldest in America. Since Johnny Kelley’s first win in 1944 it’s been held on Labor Day, and through the years Cape Anners from Riverdale to Lanesville, Pigeon Cove to the South End, Thatcher Road to Our Lady of Good Voyage church to the final twisting hill on Cherry Street have turned out to support those who have accepted the challenge of one of the most difficult and beautiful race courses in New England. On September 3rd, the tradition renews.
That 1933 race was organized by the local American Legion post. Later, the Bay View Brotherhood and the Wingaersheek Running Club took turns, modifying the course without fundamentally changing it. For a time the race started in Lanesville, then Gloucester High School, always circumnavigating Cape Ann. Today, ACA is the only USA Track & Field-certified 25K course in New England and New York. For the past decade ACA has been held under the auspices of the Cape Ann YMCA with the start and finish at O’Maley School off Washington Street (near the Grant Circle rotary).
The list of winners reveals many of the great runners of New England history. Johnny Kelley (’44, ’48, ’52), Charlie Robbins (’45, ’49), “the younger” Johnny Kelley (’57), Art Dulong, perhaps the greatest Massachusetts prep distance runner ever (’68), Irish Olympian Patrick McMahon (’69), Dan Dillon (’88-’89), Paul Hammond (’85), Bob Hodge (’92), and most recently, Casey Moulton (‘05-’06). Bill Rodgers won the 1973 race on the cusp of his breakout into athletic immortality, calling it the toughest course he’d ever run. Tom Derderian famously hurdled the finish tape in 1976. Larry Olsen, still going strong today at 60, won in ’77, 79, ’80 and ’83, the most ever among men, and in 1978 Maine’s Mike Buckley set the men’s course record of 1:18:49 - an astounding 5:04 per mile pace. (Two-time winner Ed Sheehan came close in 1981 with 1:19:09.)
Women were on the scene by 1976 and had an immediate impact. Brazilian Eleonora deMendonca’s 1:43:06 (’79) stood for years as the world’s fastest 25K run by a woman in August. Beverly’s four-time winner Julie Peterson (’83, ’85-’87) qualified for every women’s Olympic Marathon Trials through 2000. She placed second at least that often to the peerless Gillian Horovitz, who summers in Gloucester and whose 11 ACA wins stands as the most victories by a woman in any major American road race. Last year an award to the women’s champion was named in her honor. Lisa Senatore’s 1992 course record (1:31:45) would have beaten Johnny Kelley twice.
The lore of the ACA 25K is inextricably part of Cape Ann’s own. Though years of race history and results were lost in a basement flood during the “Perfect Storm” of October 1991, it is a Labor Day tradition, the land counterpart to the schooner races, drawing athletes from all over New England and beyond. The winners may be future US Olympians; for the other 800-plus runners it is both a celebration of fitness and a profound achievement.
The race starts at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, September 3rd. For information call the Cape Ann YMCA at 978-283-0470. On-line registration is closed, but races day registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Monday at O’Maley School.