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> Printer-friendly page Sapienza 4-Miler

Daddy Always Won
Sapienza Memorial is a family affair


The twenty-first editon of the Sapienza memorial was dedicated to the memory of Audrey Sapienza, wife of the late great Tony Sapienza, who recently lost a three-year battle with breast cancer. Ironically she passed away exactly 20 years to the day from when Tony was stricken with a fatal heart attack after breaking the American Master's record for 3000 meters in 1987 at Brown University.

The first time I met Audrey Sapienza I told her about my memories of running in races with her husband. I told her how amazed I was that Tony ran so fast with his somewhat awkward running form. She told me "The only person that believed Tony could run fast was Tony." Actually there were three other people that believed Tony could run fast - Audrey and her two daughters Toni and Joy.

Race winners Jessica Flinn and Steven Plouffe with their classic trophies.
photo Dave Camire

"When we were young our job was to pick out the merchandise at races," recalls Toni Donais, Sapienza's daughter. In those days many races awarded merchandise to the winners. The merchandize was usually displayed on a table. When the Sapienza' s would arrive at a race, Toni and Joy were quick to scout out the best loot for their dad. This was a regular occurrence for the sisters because as Toni points out, "Daddy always won."

All totaled Tony Sapienza won a remarkable 33 New England Championships, placed fourth in the 1958 Boston Marathon and finished sixth at the 1963 Olympic Marathon Trials. Not bad for a guy that few people believed could run fast.

Road racing for the Sapienza's was a family affair. Tony would run, Joy and Toni would pick out the best prize and Audrey would be involved with the race organization. Audrey was usually responsible for writing down the runner's numbers in the order they finished. This was the perfect job for her since she was on a first name basis with 90 to 95-pecent of the runners.

This year's running of the Sapienza memorial is the type of event that would have made both Tony and Audrey proud. It was a family oriented affair that had lots of food for everyone, not just the runners, great competition and, of course, a terrific merchandize table. The best prizes, however, were reserved for tonight's male and female winners. Both were presented with classic trophies that Tony had won in 1961 and 1964. As Master-of-Ceremonies Dave LaBrode pointed out the trophies were older than tonight's winners.

The overall winner, by way of UMass Lowell and Methuen, MA, was Steven Plouffe. The Riverhawk cross-country standout zipped through the rolling course in 20:15 finishing ahead of John Henley (20:39) of Chelmsford and Matt Pimentel (20:58) of Andover. The women's title went to Jessica Flinn of Sandown, NH who ran 23:03. The Boston College cross-country and track star is off to St. Louis this fall to attend law school. Two Merrimack Valley Striders closely followed her, Kara Molloy (23:41) of Chelmsford and Caroline Bjune (24:14) of Andover.

The Sapienza Memorial is a well-organized event that fittingly memorializes one of the Merrimack Valley's greatest runners and his wife who was one of New England's most dedicated race volunteers. This race, like its namesakes, is a winner and hopefully will continue on for another 21 years.

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