PAWTUCKET -- It was tough to guess who was more excited after the PFC Kyle Joseph Coutu Memorial 5K at Slater Park, the race’s winner, Anthony Gonsalves, or the race committee.
Gonsalves, a 2008 graduate of Tolman High and a middle distance standout for the Tigers’ indoor and outdoor track teams, won for the third time in the four-year history of the event by topping a field of more than 300 runners in a time of 16:42.
But Gonsalves wasn’t Sunday morning’s only winner. The race committee was ecstatic with the turnout, which saw 327 runners and walkers sign up for the event, its largest number since the race broke away from the Cherry Tree Running Festival after its inaugural 2011 running.
“We had an awesome turnout,” remarked Gil Tavares, a member of the race committee who reported that 287 signed up for last year’s race and 308 did so in 2012. “By Friday at noon, we had 259 people who pre-registered. I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting that many.”
Nearly two-thirds of the field hailed from the Pawtucket community and the Tolman High family, which was well represented with its share of students, coaches, faculty members, and alumni, most of them sporting Tolman black and red and others in their white race t-shirts.
And they came out in droves to honor the memory of Coutu, a 2009 Tolman graduate and three-sport standout and a U.S. Marine who was killed on Feb. 18, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, as well as help support the memorial fund named after him.
“We’re very pleased,” said race director Melissa Coutu, Kyle’s mother. “It’s a beautiful day, and Kyle’s up there smiling down on us. I just want to say that it’s an honor. I look around and he’s with us. We got some great support from the community, and it’s wonderful.”
One alumnus who was more than happy to show his support was Gonsalves, who was a teammate of Coutu’s on Tolman’s outdoor track team. He missed the 2012 race due to a knee injury he suffered in college running in the 3,000 meter steeplechase, but noted that this race tops his ‘to-do’ list each year.
“I try to come and do this race every year,” admitted Gonsalves, who ran at Central Connecticut State University and Providence College. “I’m training for a race next month in Loon Mountain in New Hampshire, so even though I’ve been focusing on that, I wanted to come and run this race again.”
Gonsalves led comfortably for most of the race and won it by a minute and eight seconds over a familiar face, Steve Bishop, a longtime assistant coach on Tolman’s boys’ track team and teacher at Goff Junior High who also runs for the Boston Athletic Association’s running team.
“He planned all my workouts [at Tolman],” said Gonsalves. “He was one of the first people to notice that I had some talent and that I could probably run at the collegiate level. He was giving me workouts that he did when he ran at Iona College.
“Steve’s last race was six years ago at the Gaspee Days 5K (in Cranston) and he beat me, so now we’re 1-1,” Gonsalves added with a smile. “We’re going to have to plan a rubber match soon.”
Taking the next three spots were Riverside’s Paul Savickas (19:00), Granby, Conn.’s Mike Hanson (19:35), and Warwick’s Kenny Bager (20:10), and the three places after that went to Pawtucket’s Fernando Silveira (20:20), Dezzy Lorenzo (20:30), and Tolman junior distance runner Ryan Barbeiro (20:48).
The top female finisher was Riverside’s Kelly Savickas, who also took 14th overall in 21:28. She topped Scituate’s Joy Younkin, who was 17th overall in 21:52, and Tolman senior distance runner Zahra Ahmed (18th, 22:05).
The Tolman girls’ track team was also well represented by the Valdez sisters, freshmen Leinni and Lisbeth, who were the next two female finishers, tying for 22nd place with 22:30 times, and senior Lisa Mongeau, who was the sixth female and 25th overall finish in 22:44.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24