Bob Conneely wasn’t about to walk across the finish line at the fifth annual Minds Over Matter 5K in Sag Harbor on Saturday.
As he came down the homestretch on West Water Street past Baron’s Cove Marina, Conneely handed his cane to his cousin Tim Clancy, linked his arms inside of Clancy’s and friend John Kosinski’s, and with their help—as well as his own grit and determination—he picked up a light jog, drawing cheers from the other runners and walkers gathered at the end of the course.
The fact that Conneely was even at the race, let alone participating, was a miracle. Conneely is a 25-year survivor of brain cancer, is paralyzed on the left side of his body, has undergone seven brain surgeries and had to postpone a chemotherapy treatment just to take part in Saturday’s race. The same determination that made him refuse to walk across the finish line on Saturday is precisely what has kept him going in the face of a disease that typically claims lives in less than two years.
“I’ve been running since I was a freshman in high school and I’ve never walked across a finish line,” Conneely said proudly and with a smile after the race.
Conneely is the founder of the Minds Over Matter running team, the predecessor of the Minds Over Matter 5K. He created the running team in 2001, and
with a small group, ran the New York City Marathon that year to benefit brain tumor research. Conneely met the Kosinski family of Sag Harbor around the same time, when Gwen Kosinski, who was suffering from a brain tumor, called him to join his brain cancer support group.
Kosinski’s family took over operations of the Minds Over Matter running team when Conneely became too ill to handle the responsibilities.
After Gwen Kosinski passed away in May of 2002, her family founded the Gwen L. Kosinski Foundation and turned the Minds Over Matter running team into a 5K event in Sag Harbor.
It was only appropriate that Conneely was the highlight of the race, which had its highest turnout in its five-year history. More than 500 runners were present at the starting line and an additional 100 runners had preregistered but did not race.
Jaime Kosinski, the daughter of Gwen Kosinski and the director of the race, spoke about what has made the 5K so popular in a relatively short period of time.
“I think it’s just a really great community event,” she said. “It’s really a family event; it’s not just for elite runners.”
Conneely was a testament to that fact. He participated in the first MOM 5K, but said he “cheated” by riding in the pace car instead of going on foot. This year, he made sure he’d use his own feet to get from start to finish.
“I did my training on the treadmill,” Conneely said of his preparation for this year’s race. “I got pumped up and I was ready to go.”
In addition to the cheers of the other runners who had already finished the race, Conneely was also greeted at the finish line by “The Man to Beat,” Pierson graduate Eric Bramoff. Bramoff, who now lives in Syracuse, has been a fixture in the 5K from the start, dressing up in a different costume each year as a race mascot of sorts, encouraging runners young and old. This year, he wore a Scooby Doo dog costume and handed out high-fives to the runners as they approached the finish line.
Jim MacWhinnie, 36, of Southampton, who is a trainer at Core Dynamics in Water Mill, was the overall winner in what was his first time running the race. He finished with a time of 17:34 (5:40 pace). Jason Hancock, 34, also of Southampton was second in 18:06 (5:50) while Tara Farrell, 29, of East Quogue was the top female finisher and was third overall in 18:40 (6:01). Hancock is trained by MacWhinnie and shaved more than a minute off his previous best 5K time. Greg Sinnott, 23, of Center Moriches was fourth in 18:48 (6:04) and Joe Amato, 42, of East Quogue rounded out the top five in 18:49 (6:04). Full race results are available at islandtiming.com.
MacWhinnie, who is an avid runner and triathlete, said he enjoyed the race.
“The conditions were really good and the cool weather definitely helped,” he said after the race. “I thought the wind might be a factor, but it really didn’t come into play.”
MacWhinnie said he wasn’t surprised that the race drew such a high number of participants despite the cool and cloudy weather.
“It’s such a good cause and it’s nice to see so many people out here supporting it,” he added.
Kosinski said that the race raised more than $18,000, but she expected the number to be closer to $20,000 by the time all the donations were counted. She said she was particularly thankful to the 150 volunteers who helped put the race together, as well as the sponsors. To date, the Gwen L. Kosinski Foundation has pledged more than $150,000 to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has been working on developing a vaccine for high-grade brain tumors.
Conneely’s inspirational performance at the end of the race wasn’t the only touching moment of the day. During the post-race ceremony, Jaime Kosinski’s younger brother, Jack Kosinski, took the megaphone and, in front of the crowd, proposed to his girlfriend Dana Rose Rufino. Kosinski said that her brother asked her two weeks prior to the race if he could make the proposal, saying he chose that moment to honor his mother.