Photography and Story by Gianna Volpe
Nina Landi, the race director for Saturday’s fourth annual Katy’s Courage 5K race, had tears in her eyes as hundreds of Sag Harbor residents, East Enders and others took off running along the waterfront in memory of one beloved little local, Katy Stewart, who in 2010 succumbed to a rare pediatric cancer when she was 12 years old.
More than a thousand participants signed up for the event with far more on hand to volunteer and cheer, despite the morning’s cold, gloomy weather, which Ms. Landis said spoke to Katy’s unique and vibrant nature.
“I learned more from Katy than I’ve learned from anybody in my entire life span of time on this Earth,” she said. “She was incredible; wise beyond her years and every single person that ran down the street just now either knew her or was affected deeply by her.”
Katy’s father, Jim Stewart, said Saturday’s event netted the Katy’s Courage, a non-profit organization, more than $30,000, which will go toward establishing a bereavement center at the Children’s Museum of the East End this fall, in addition to benefitting pediatric cancer research and providing money for multiple scholarships, including a $10,000 annual scholarship for a graduate of Pierson High School.
“Each year we do the race we say that we feel she is here with us, but it’s even more so this year,” said Mr. Stewart. “I think it’s because each year we’re having more and more people join us and help us. The goodwill people bring to us is absolutely incredible and we thank Katy for that because when people say they’re here, they’re here for Kate. It’s a fantastic gesture on their part just to be here today.”
As Mr. Stewart took photographs at the event and gave out high fives to runners dashing to the finish line, his wife, Brigid Collins Stewart, joined the mass of 5K participants, afterward saying she felt “proud, happy and grateful” on what she described as a “tremendous day” for her family.
“Katy had a light around her,” she said of her daughter. “She’s still here with us, bringing a lot of love to the community.”
And the feeling is mutual.
Sag Harbor resident Benito Vila, 52, whose teenage daughter, Kerrie, was Katy’s classmate in April 2009 when Katy was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer called Hepatoblastoma, said making the choice to attend the annual event was an easy one.
“She was a great kid and was able to bring different parts of the community together,” said Vila. “Kerrie’s friends changed when Katy got sick. It brought a whole group of girls together and then, as Jim and Brigid sought out help — both of them being involved in school districts — they brought together others by reaching out to different churches and groups. All of the faiths were represented at [Katy’s funeral] service.”
Members of the East Hampton High School track team, on hand at the race, correctly predicted sophomore Eric Engstrom, 15, who attended pre-school with Katy, would take the race for the second year in a row, which he did with a winning time of 16:44.9.
“I made my move at about a mile to go and then just coasted in,” the track star said of the race. “I kind of sat back and stayed in, like, third for most of the race before I did that.”
Luis Ramirez, 22, of Southampton finished second overall in 17:01.5 while Doug Milano, 30, of Aquebogue finished third in 17:24.1.
Dana Cebulski, 16, another track star at East Hampton, was the first overall female finisher with a time of 19:42.5. Hannah Jungck, a cross country runner from Pierson who is also on the Bonac track team, was the second female finisher with a time of 19:57.9 while Tara Wilson, 27, of Shelter Island Heights finished third in 20:01.1.
For a complete list of results visit island-timing.com/katy.html.