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Great American Relay rolls through area

RELAY REPRESENTATIVES — Among those participating Monday in local legs of the Great American Relay, a coast-to-coast run that began Sept. 11 in Boston and ends in Santa Monica, Calif., on Oct. 19, were, from left, Bruce Harris of Weirton; Michael Moran of New Cumberland; Capt. David L. Sullivan of the North Street Steubenville Fire Department; Shawna Solmen of Salem; Megan Evans of Richmond; and Janice Kiaski, community editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Day 10 of the Great American Relay, a 38-day coast-to-coast run to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11, made its way through the area Monday with a handful of runners logging their part of the overall 3,500-mile journey.

The relay started Sept. 11 in Boston and covers 19 states with 415 stages of it involving lead and support runners, according to race director Vince Varallo, who lives outside Philadelphia and is traveling along the route that has passed the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa. It ends Oct. 19 in Santa Monica, Calif.

For the most part, each leg begins and ends at a fire or police department, and there are numerous stages each day with the first beginning at 6 a.m.

That was the case for support runner Bruce Harris of Weirton and lead runner Michael Moran of New Cumberland, who covered three states as part of their 11.9-mile run. They began at the Hanover (Pa.) Volunteer Fire Department and headed to Weirton, down Colliers Way and along U.S. Route 22, before crossing the Veterans Memorial Bridge and ending at the Steubenville Fire Department headquarters on North Street.

“The bridge wasn’t bad, but coming down that highway it was still dark, and there’s a lot of traffic that goes to Pittsburgh,” Harris commented later in the day.

“It was a little scary,” he added, but noted they had flashlights and stayed close to the guardrail.

“I told Vince I’ll sign up for next year. It was enjoyable and for a good cause,” Harris noted of the relay that is generating money for three charities — the Green Beret Foundation; C.O.P.S., an acronym for Concerns of Police Survivors; and the Firefighter Five Foundation, founded by Steve Bender, a runner who designed the route.

“We enjoyed it, and I got to know Mike. We talked a little bit on the way,” Harris said, noting the two swapped their personal racing experiences.

“I hope they do it again and come through this area again,” Harris said.

“It’s been one heck of a day,” commented a retrospective Megan Evans of Richmond, who was a support runner on Stage 104 — 5.2 miles from the downtown Steubenville Fire Department to Wintersville United Methodist Church that involved less mileage but was a challenging course that included a stint up Washington Street Hill, then the climb up Sunset Boulevard.

Making that journey safer and inspiring, though, was a department vehicle escort with the theme from “Rocky” playing and Capt. David J. Sullivan running up Washington Street while dressed in full gear.

Varallo said that was a first for the relay. “Maybe he’ll start a trend,” he said.

“The best part of being involved in the Great American Relay was the camaraderie and the community support,” said Evans, who taught life science at Indian Creek for 11 years before accepting a position at Edison High School four years ago. “I started running about six years ago with a goal to run a race in every state. I’ve made it to 14 states so far. I’ve run one full marathon and several half marathons,” the 37-year-old wife and mother said.

“My hope is that our area first responders realize that their service does not go unnoticed,” she added.

Lead runner of that stage was Columbiana County resident Shawna Solmen, who lives in Salem with her husband, Mike, her “greatest supporter” who cheered her on along the route.

Solmen said it was important for her to be a part of such a unique event.

“I wanted to participate to honor first responders and those who serve and protect us daily,” she said. “Often their sacrifices go unnoticed. To be involved with bringing awareness was a privilege and to have such a small part in something so impactful,” she said.

Solmen said she had considered dropping out because of recent setbacks.

“I was giving too much power to the fear of slowing down the team, but I had a great team who was encouraging and positive. This leg of the race was strenuous with all the hills,” she said. “In fact, it’s one of the most challenging races I’ve done. However, each race I run allows me the opportunity to give God the glory for giving me the strength to get through something greater than me and goes beyond my limits. I lived through debilitating pain for five years, and then three and a half years ago was healed.”

“When I run, I love to choose a cause that has deep meaning as I’m grateful and appreciative that I no longer have to be on the sidelines of life,” she continued. “The journey to health that I’ve been on reminds me that life isn’t always about victories; it’s more about falling and getting back up. It’s about taking back the power that you give to negative voices and leave you feeling defeated and discouraged and rather surrounding yourself with those who will encourage and support you. When I run, it reminds me to keep moving forward in life no matter the circumstances.”

Joining Solmen and Evans was support runner Janice Kiaski, community editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times, who said she participated “out of respect for area first responders who go the distance every day.”

At Wintersville United Methodist Church, the trio of women connected with lone runner Annie Wolfe, a former area resident who lives in the Cleveland area and had family support on hand, including her parents, Roger and Linda Hilty of Steubenville. A presence by Wintersville Fire and Rescue was on hand there, represented by Lt. Tye Levi and firefighter Clay Gilliam. Wolfe’s mother initially followed her on a bicycle.

Wolfe’s run was 7.9 miles to the Bloomingdale Post Office.

“It was real good,” Wolfe said later of her run. “We waved at a bunch of people; some people honked. They were probably thinking ‘Who is this crazy lady running with a baton?’ I thought it was really good, really inspiring, I have been following Vince’s Facebook page and tearing up. I like to run, and it was for a good cause. It was fun.”

The final local presence in the relay was Melanie Wherry Owen of Cincinnati, who ran from the Bloomingdale Post Office to the Clifford Fire Station in Cadiz for a total 11.6 miles.

As she awaited Wolfe’s arrival, Owen said she was ready to go.

“It’s been quite an honor to come out here and represent and run for first responders and all that they do for us, and our liberties and freedom as well with our military, and the firefighters and police officers who keep us safe. It’s going to be very memorable to be able to run this course especially since it’s close to where I grew up,” said Owen, a Toronto native.

Varallo explained the Great American Relay originated as an event out of the Boston Buddies Run Club he established in 2016 when a small group of runners needed motivation to start training for the Boston Marathon.

For information, visit the website www.greatamericanrelay.com.

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