Lap by lap. Mile by mile. Penfield (N.Y.) High School’s cross country team has gone the distance in memory of two classmates.
Led by longtime coach Dave Hennessey, the team of 68 athletes ran for 24 straight hours to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention.
The 80-member team was inspired to honor two former teammates who took their own lives in the last year, and the team opted to run to raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Hennessey, the school’s cross country coach and track and field coach for four decades, said the event also offered his runners a chance to say farewell to their former teammates, both boys.
Suicide awareness and prevention “is an important issue in our school and to all of us,” said Penfield senior Kelly Farrell, 17. “It’s relevant to all of us.”
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, twice as many New Yorkers die by suicide each year than homicide, roughly one every five hours. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults, ages 15 to 34. Through advocacy, education and research, the agency hopes to reduce the annual suicide rate by percent by 2025.
Starting at 10 a.m., Friday, each team member logged one mile (four laps) around the Penfield High School track. One or more runners at a time, the group logged each mile to share the effort. Over the 24-hour span, about 65 teens took turns lapping the quarter-mile track, which meant the athletes ran once every four or so hours and passed their time socializing and other activities, such as drawing with sidewalk chalk, tie-dying shirts and water balloon fights.
With an initial fundraising goal of $800, the team raised more than five times that amount before even setting foot on the track. By relay’s end, the team ran 365 miles and raised more than $5.600.
Some teens walked. Others doubled up with a partner. In the early hours of Saturday morning, some teens skipped, hopped and jumped around the track.
Penfield senior Bradley Farnham, 17, ran his sixth solo lap of the relay around 8:30 a.m., although he logged several more miles alongside friends.
“This has been fun and a good workout for a great cause,” said Farnham, who has been on the cross country team since seventh grade. “It all felt good until the middle of the night, when it just became tiring.”
Few slept more than a few hours — as teens spread out their sleeping bags on the track, in the grass, on the pole vault mat and in the press box. Several teens even slept on the metal bleachers while others set up camp on the adjacent turf field.
“I ran at a nice easy, pace,” said Farrell, who managed to get about three hours of sleep. “My 6 a.m. lap was my hardest. After sleeping, I really didn’t want to get up.”
But each teen did, Hennessey said. “Here, they’re like family.”
Inspired by McQuaid Jesuit High School’s cross country team, which for the past three decades has completed a 25-hour relay for a variety of causes, the Penfield team decided to try running an overnight relay. McQuaid runners completed their annual relay Thursday and Friday and raised funds in honor of a Buffalo boy who died of cancer in 2012 via runforcolin.com, an effort launched by the former students of McQuaid Jesuit principal Adam Baber.
“I’ve always thought of doing something like this with the team but we didn’t have the track or the lights. … Now we do,” Hennessey said. “With the events that unfolded last year, this just seemed right.”
The team plans to make the relay an annual event.