Rochon Blasts Through Firecracker Five


WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ--A patriotic field of 353 road racers (43 more than last year), many of which garbed in red, white, and blue, as well as stars and stripes, began celebrating our nation’s 237th Independence Day on a cloudy, warm, and humid Fourth of July morning, by competing in Wall Township Recreation’s 24th annual Firecracker Five (mile) race.

After a recorded rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” by Cher, organized by Spin Doctor (Herbert [Butch] Watt, Neptune), who also provided motivational music, Fred Rummel--race director for all twenty-four years—asked the assembled and ready-to-go racers, “To please remain silent for a moment in honor of our military who have been and are now fighting for us to have the freedom to participate in a race such as this.” He then gave a three-command start and the racers were off at 8:35, following the lead police vehicle driven by Sergeant Kenneth Brown of the Wall Township Police Department, and jockeying for positions. The 5-mile course starts in front of the Wall Township Municipal Center on Allaire Avenue, follows adjacent Roads of Campbell, Bailey’s Corner, and 18th Avenue for about four miles, finishing its remaining distance within the fifty acres of the well-manicured Center with its finish line on an access road.

Mark Rochon, 37, of Downington, PA, was the first to enter the finish-line chute, which was set up and organized, along with the other necessary equipment, by He was also the first to break the tape held by Patty Hancock, former president of the Ocean Running Club and Penny Hinck of the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC), and caused the digital clock to display a racing time of 27:21(one minute and 16 seconds faster than last year’s winning time). Coming in second place was Brian Kayser, 29, of Charlottesville, VA, at 29:58, followed by Pat Ford, 53, of Neptune City, at 30:20.

“After about the first hundred yards, I took the lead, and kept it the whole way,” said Rochon in describing his championship performance. “It’s a great course--it’s very well-marked--there are slight hills that allow you to utilize the different muscles in your legs,” he said when asked. Of the weather, he offered that, “At the start it was sunny and hot but about mile one it started to get overcast and for that I was very pleased.” He further offered that, “Just under 26 (minutes),” was his fastest for this distance, but couldn’t recall where or when. 


“No. He (Rochon) had a good lead on me and I was happy to be second,” said Kayser, the runner-up, when asked if he tried to catch the leader. He too liked the course because, “it’s all on roads and I like to run on roads--especially paved roads.”
Bronwayn Oleary, 38, of Cliffwood Beach was the first female finisher at 33:18 (11th place overall). Coming in second and third place respectively were hometown runner Denise Clark, 39, at 33:52 (13th overall, last year’s winner), and Amanda Scheer, 25, at 34:02 (15th overall).

“I’m really proud of my winning performance today because it was hot and humid out there,” said Oleary when asked to comment. She was also thinking of a former student who is now overseas and that student gave her the inspiration she needed to become champion. “Yes,” she said when asked if she would be signing up for this event next year.

Race-walking is also a foot race but it is different from “running” in that one foot must appear to be in contact with the ground at all times. Race-walkers are on their honor to follow that rule. This event’s race-walkers were John Fredericks, 65, of Brick at 53:56;  Fred Linkhart, 60, of Oakhurst at 54:45;  Panseluta Geer, 66, of Hazlet at 55:07;  Ray Robertson, 69, of Asbury Park at 57:45;  Phyllis Wenslauskas, 65, of Silverton at 1:13:23.  
Martin Fitzpatrick, 48, of Allenhurst, active member of the Jersey Shore Running Club (JSRC), commented that, “I love five-mile races, as compared to 5K (3.1 miles) races,” and explained: “You don’t have to go out so fast; you can ease into the race.” Fitzpatrick finished at 38:45, a highly respectable 7:45 per-mile pace. “Fred Rummel is a good friend of mine and he does an excellent job,” he added.
Joe Renzella, 70, Neptune City, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran with four Bronze Stars (two with Valor) and a Purple Heart who also has a CIB (Combat Infantry Badge) usually wins an award in his age group. But today, as he did in past years, he chose to run with his friend from Toms River, Joe Placente, 80, a Korean veteran, dressed in stars and stripes, who, with Renzella’s help, ran the whole five miles carrying a 3’x 5’ Stars and Stripes flag atop a 6-foot pole. “Absolutely,” both veterans said when they were asked if they were glad they made this exhausting effort and both added a final comment: “God Bless America.” They finished at 1:08:07.

Renzella would continue his Independence Day celebration by going to the picnic area at Monmouth Park racetrack where he would meet other members of Chapter Twelve of the Vietnam Veterans Association, and hopefully all wagers will be winners.

 “It’s typical of Firecracker Five weather,” said Steve Foley, 57, of Oceanport who finished at 43:48, a respectable 8:46 per-mile pace. He further informed that typical means, “hot and humid.”  Foley took a short hiatus from directing the annual Run Thru Deal in October, but last year the Deal fireman was back at it and will also be directing this year. It is now a 5K distance and is scheduled, as always, the Sunday before Columbus Day.   

“This is the first time I’ve ever done this race, but as I’ve often heard, it sure is hot and humid,” said Nancy Thorne of Long Branch who finished at 55:35. Nancy will continue directing the Michael Thorne Memorial Scholarship 4-Mile Run in West Long Branch to remember her fireman brother killed while on duty. It is always presented on the third Sunday in May.

Dave Demonico, champion runner, didn’t compete, but decided to offer patriotic music by way of his trumpet, at about the three-mile mark, to his many running friends.


“A beautiful day and no major problems--everything went smoothly,” said Hilary Addonizio of the Wall Township First Aid and Rescue Squad, when asked to comment on the day’s emergencies.

At the finish line, lending their expertise to the necessary activities, were Phil Hinck (Twice past-president of the JSRC), and his wife, Penny, along with John Cheer, Patricia Hancock, Gene Geer, and other club volunteers. All female finishers were given a rose by Debbie Adamchak, of Wall, recently retired English teacher of Raritan High School in Hazlet, while the male finishers got hand-held U.S. flags.  

The event includes a 2-mile leisure walk and Kids’ Races.

 Many government dignitaries were on hand to help Rummell in the many activities of the Firecracker Five, including Deputy Mayor Clint Hoffman, Committeeman Jeff Foster, and Committeewoman Ann Marie Conte.           

Rummel awarded sweatshirts and trophies to the aforementioned winners and age-group leaders at the Leo Kubaitis Amphitheatre on the grounds of the Complex. After the awards ceremony, the racers were invited to Bar Anticipation in Belmar for a buffet luncheon.

 “The race was very successful with the help of fire, police, and first-aid squads, and with all the sponsors (names were printed on the event’s T-shirt), that help with the financial support. I want to acknowledge the patience of local motorists who had to be detoured for the safety of the racers. Thanks to Fred and Anna Torres of the Elite Racing Systems for the computer results, and the many volunteers in moment to moment work, and to the runners/walkers-- without whom there is no Firecracker Five,” said the obviously pleased, popular director, when asked to summarize the day’s activities.