Three decades of memories: The biggest moments in Vermont City Marathon history

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For over 30 years, the Vermont City Marathon has owned Memorial Day Weekend.

The once-plucky race began with 1,000 or so runners in 1989 and has blossomed into the state’s biggest single-day sporting event with 7,500 marathon and relay participants and over 20,000 spectators who turn Burlington streets into an all-day lovefest.

Yet Sunday, there will be no sea of humanity at the starting line. Runners won’t be fueled by taiko drummers at the base of Battery Street’s upward climb. And there will be no party in Waterfront Park.

The coronavirus pandemic forced RunVermont officials in March to postpone the VCM to an October date.

Hitting the snooze on my iPhone alarm clock might be the only positive for my Marathon Sunday — a 7 a.m. start time is a tad on the early side for sportswriters — but I’ll miss chronicling a few of the many stories spawned over 26.2 miles.

To partly fill that void, here’s my list of the marathon’s biggest moments to date:

May 28, 1989

• The inaugural Vermont City Marathon see two runners with ties to the Green Mountains take home the top prizes. Shelburne’s Joe Kreutz makes history as the first runner to break the tape, with a winning time of 2:29:11. Meanwhile, Massachusetts’ Lea Sikora, formerly of Montpelier, captures the women’s race (2:48:22).

May 24, 1992

• The event’s entries now have doubled since 1989, and those 2,000-plus deal with frigid temperatures, rain and sleet. After a Saturday of 80-degree weather, a cold front sweeps through the state for unpleasant conditions for runners. The temperature reads 38 degrees at the start, but 20 mph wind gusts gives it a real feel of 20 degrees.

May 30, 1993

• In a transitional year for organizers — the first without race founder Gordon MacFarland — California resident Brad Hawthorne becomes the first marathoner to break the 2:20 barrier (2:18:03) despite a windy day.

May 25, 1997

• Partially paralyzed in January after contracting Lyme Disease, Mary-Lynn Currier of Massachusetts overcomes the infection and storms to the crown in 2:42:20, the second-fastest women’s time in race history. “To me, it was a miracle,” Currier said afterward (Currier has been an annual force at VCM, winning the master’s division six times).

May 24, 1998

• The course record-holder after her 1995 performance, Gordon Bakoulis returns 10 months after giving birth to her first child and triumphs on the Burlington course in 2:42:51. The 37-year-old New York City editor of Running Times magazine had gone two-plus years between marathons.

May 30, 1999

• Hit by a car during the 1998 race, the marathon’s first serious injury, Brandon’s Amanda Berry overcomes a blood clot that forms near her right temple and 2 1/2 weeks of a medically induced coma to not only survive but make a courageous return to the marathon, running the final leg of a relay.

• A Pennsylvania couple, Lori Wetzel and Jim Heiney, are married at mile marker 25 by a justice of the peace, and then finish the marathon together in just over four hours on a blistering day.

May 27, 2001

• Russian native Michael Khobotov, who misses out on Pittsburgh marathon because of a tardy visa, makes the most of his first trip to the U.S. by setting the men’s course record. His 2:17:03 remains the standard to this day.

May 25, 2003

• Less than seven miles into his race, Burlington’s David Hershberg, 70, goes into cardiac arrest, but is aided by his fellow runners, including UVM medical student Amy Chekos, the 2001 women’s runner-up. They administered CPR on the course before paramedics arrived, saving Hershberg’s life. A year later, Hershberg returns and runs 9 miles, after promising family members he’d keep it to just 3 miles.

May 30, 2004

• The now popular two-person relay makes its official debut, and a well-known couple in running circles garner the first headline, naturally. Eli and Kasie Enman, the husband and wife duo from Huntington’s Sleepy Hollow, capture the two-person mixed division in 2:40:00. 

May 29, 2005

Chris Juarez, an Air Force officer from San Antonio, Texas, flies under the radar to seize the men’s open victory in 2:25:27. Juarez was seventh in 2000, but the 34-year-old was not among the invited runners.

May 28, 2006

• The boiling heat turns the 18th annual VCM into an all-time cooker. More than 200 runners need treatment in the medical tent as the temperature rises to a marathon-record 82 degrees, according to RunVermont records.

May 25, 2008

• Collapsing 50 yards from the finish line due to heat stroke, Hardin Watkins‘ internal body temperature soars to 108.5 degrees. The 41-year-old from North Carolina is dunked into a large ice tank, an addition two years ago, which might have saved his life, according to medically trained staff. Watkins, carried across the line to finish his eighth VCM, returns the next year as a volunteer.

• Matt Pelletier of Warwick, Rhode Island, secures his three-peat in the men’s division, the first in VCM history, with a performance of 2:20:43. Pelletier, 28 at the time of win No. 3, has captured the Burlington race six times overall.

May 24, 2009

 • With near ideal conditions, plus a cool, light rain at the start, New Hampshire’s Heidi Westover blisters the women’s course record with a stunning time of 2:35:02, beating Gordon Bakoulis’ mark by more than 3 minutes. It was the third of six VCM wins for Westover.

 • Bill Carroll, a 9-year-old boy from Massachusetts becomes the youngest to complete the VCM. Carroll, paced by his father until the younger Carroll took off for the final stretch, finishes in 4:17:54. Marathon officials have since changed the minimum age requirement to 16.

May 27, 2012

 • A relay participant in the past, Kasie Enman blazes a new trail in her first full VCM. Enman becomes the first Vermont resident to win the women’s open division in 2:43:13 (Lea Sikora in 1989 and Carol Virga in 1992 had already left the state at the time of their wins). Enman also recorded victories in 2015 and 2017.

May 25, 2014

Jeremy Shortsleeve avoids disaster — he veers off the course on Battery Street before a quick-thinking RunVermont official directs him back — to break his own handcycle course record (1:28:09) for his fifth VCM win. The Jericho resident would add a sixth crown in 2016.

May 29, 2016

• Race officials are forced to terminate the marathon mid-race due to extreme heat, about four hours into the 28th VCM. Officials had warned in the week leading up to the race of the higher-than-normal temperatures and had announced extra precautions to prevent heat-related injuries. 

May 28, 2017

• Putney’s Alicia Dana and Avon, Connecticut’s Krys Zybowski set the women’s and men’s handcycle course records, respectively, in eye-popping fashion after registering for the race the previous day. Zybowski comes in first, just ahead of Dana, but each share the same time of 1:20:14.

May 27, 2018

• Brandon’s Jim Leary, 56, one of four men who have completed every VCM, runs with a heavy heart for the 30th edition. Leary’s parents, Charlotte and Ray, die within three days of each other in the middle of the month. The couple were married for 66 years, and they were part of a send-off committee for their son in what had turned into a beloved marathon tradition.

• The 30th VCM produces a memorable finish for Concord, Massachusetts’ Tyler Andrews, who fist-pumps through the tape for a three-peat and the race’s second-fastest time ever (2:17:44)

May 26, 2019

• Last year’s edition gets off to late start because of a brief thunderstorm, delaying the VCM for the first time in its history. The 45-minute pause forces thousands of people to retreat for cover. 

Contact Alex Abrami at 660-1848 or aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.

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