PAWTUCKET – Ron Coutu looked at his watch and realized he had gone under his intended goal of one hour.
That wasn’t the only reason he managed to smile on Saturday morning.
The 68-year-old Coutu was among the nearly 800 runners and walkers that participated in the inaugural PFC Kyle Coutu 5K in Pawtucket, one of three races of the Cherry Tree Running Festival. Unlike the Blackstone Valley Half Marathon, the race that kicked off the event in front of City Hall, the 5K has special meaning to the elder Coutu. It honors his grandson, the former Tolman High athlete and U.S. marine who was killed on Feb. 18, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan.
“It’s just great to see the civic pride,” said Coutu, who finished the race in 732nd overall in 52:03.3. “We are going to try and do it bigger and better next year. If you look at a cross-section of people here, it’s fantastic. I think we might have hit almost 1,200 (entries). For a first-time event, I think we hit a home run.”
The race began with family members of Kyle Coutu, which included his grandfather and his mother Melissa, walking together down Roosevelt Avenue to the starting line while bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” Pawtucket police officer Wallace Martin then gave a rousing rendition of the National Anthem and soon after the gun was fired for the race to begin.
Amazingly, the sun that was perched behind the clouds for much of the morning, came shining through nearly the instant the participants began their journey on the moderately, challenging out-and-back course.
In a bit of irony, the race was won by former Tolman runner Anthony Gonsalves, a teammate of the young Coutu. The 21-year-old Gonsalves defeated pre-race favorite Chris Magill of Cumberland with a time of 16:07.6. Magill, 38, a onetime standout from St. Raphael Academy, was second at 16:20.2.
Kim Jackson, 32, of Providence won the women’s title with a time of 18:41.9. She was sixth overall.
Gonsalves, a 2008 graduate of Tolman where he specialized in the middle distance events, remembered the late Coutu as a happy-go-lucky guy.
“He was just a good dude,” he said. “He was always in the back of the bus cracking jokes. He’d make fun of people, but he’d take it to. I was shocked when I heard the news and I think everyone else was to. I know he’s watching today and he has a grin on his face.”
Longtime Tolman track and cross-country coach John Toth was among the many volunteers assisting in the race. He’s also one of the key people that spearheaded the event (along with co-race director and North Kingstown track coach Charlie Breagy) to honor his former athlete, a 2009 grad who played on the football team and was a weight-thrower for his Tigers.
“I think when Charlie and I got together we had hoped to get around 800,” Toth said. “I think we got about 1,000 or so that registered. We have a great community. We had the kids from Tolman that helped out. The kids also ran. It was just fantastic. It couldn’t have been any better for the first time that we did this.”
“Kyle’s family is very happy with it,” he continued. “Obviously some of the money that we are raising is going to go to scholarship fund that the kids at Tolman will be awarded. We already started that this year. Money is going to be kicked back into the athletic department. There’s a whole bunch of things. We just wanted it to be a big, positive community thing and for people to realize what he gave us.”
Ron Coutu, who was often called Papa Dukes by his grandson, misses the quality times he used to spend with the fallen soldier. But he also knows that above the clouds Kyle Coutu was able to enjoy the day, just like everyone else who showed up on the emotional morning.
“We do miss him. It’s sad. There are three gentlemen here (today) that are from his platoon. They are being re-deployed to Afghanistan. They are just great kids. They’re babies,” Ron Coutu said. “Right now, (Kyle’s) laughing. He’s having a good time. He won the race. He won this race. He’s smiling now. No rain, nice and cool. It doesn’t get better than that.”
James Primes, a 24-year-old runner from Newton, captured the men’s title in the Blackstone Valley Half Marathon. Primes took the outright lead after the first mile and was never seriously challenged, winning with a time of 1:16:51.3. Jason Stock, 29, of Hopedale, was second overall with a 1:19:47 clocking.
The top local finisher was also the first woman, Cumberland’s Katie Libby. The 30-year-old Libby, a soccer player and track runner for Cumberland High in the late 1990s, was timed in 1:27:49.5. She was ninth overall among the 664 finishers.
The first Pawtucket runner to cross the line was 40-year-old Richard Kairnes, who was 83rd overall at 1:40:51. Former Tolman High all-stater Kayla Fleming had the best finish among female city residents, taking 120th overall with a time of 1:45:00.4.
“It was good,” she said. “I ran the first six miles with my friends. That was nice because I didn’t plan on running with anybody. After that, I started cramping up at like mile eight.”
Fleming, who graduated from high school in 2005 and is now an assistant track coach at her alma mater, still owns the school record of 4:46 for the 1,500 meters - a time she registered in placing second in the outdoor state meet her junior year.
Saturday’s race was the longest of Fleming’s career. She has been a frequent participant at the Blessing of the Fleet 10-miler every summer in Narragansett.
“It’s tough running the longer races, but you feel great when you’re done,” Fleming said. “It’s pretty neat to accomplish it.”
The 23-year-old runner is thinking a marathon could be in her future.
“I would like to,” she said. “I’m doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon (in Providence on Aug. 7). I’m already signed up for that. In a year or two I would like to run a marathon.”
Cherry Tree Running Festival
PFC Kyle Coutu 5K
Top 20 finishers
1. Anthony Gonsalves, 21, Pawtucket 16:07.6
2. Chris Magill, 38, Cumberland 16:20.2
3. Jon Letendre, 23, Rumford 17:20.9
4. Jim Dandeneau, 43, Fairhaven, Mass. 18:10.4
5. Ethan Bienstock, 18, Pawtucket 18:32.8
6. Kim Jackson, 32, Providence 18:41.9
7. Ric Medeiros, 42, Somerset, Mass. 18:43.8
8. Adam Rundell, 35, Brookfield, Mass. 18:58.2
9. Mark D’Aliello, 26, Warwick 19:01.8
10. Elliot Fleming, Pawtucket 19:40.5
11. Juan Wilson, 18, Pawtucket 20:11.3
12. Kevin Baill, 37, Providence 20:14.0
13. Matt Sieczkiewicz, 27, Warwick 20:26.4
14. Shawn Powers, 36, Attleboro, Mass. 20:28.6
15. Tarsha Cicerone, 32, North Providence 20:41.3
16. Jeremy Pflaum, 17, Pawtucket 20:46.3
17. Steven Mignanelli, 32, East Greenwich 20:58.1
18. Mark Drury, 32, Dallas, Texas 21:15.4
19. Jason Bileau, 27, Pawtucket 21:36.4
20. Michael Volante, 23, Pawtucket 21:42.2
Blackstone Valley Half Marathon
Top 20 finishers
1. James Primes, 24, Newton 1:16:51.3
2. Jason Stock, 29, Hopedale, Mass. 1:19:47.0
3. David Audet, 46, Concord, N.H. 1:23:13.7
4. Matthew Ditrolio, 26, West Bridgewater, Mass. 1:23:15.5
5. Andrew Snow, 26, Provincetown, Mass. 1:25:36.6
6. William Wiet, 24, Newton 1:26:24.3
7. John Lariviere, 43, North Scituate 1:26:28
8. John Dumont, 49, Milford, Mass. 1:27:09.3
9. Katie Libby, 30, Cumberland 1:27:49.5
10. Ben Pittsley, 21, Portland, Maine 1:28:32.6
11. David Gordon, 41, Brunswick, Maine 1:29:18.5
12. Jeffrey Vuono, 48, Westerly, 1:29:20.8
13. Jeff Brown, 30. Woburn, Mass. 1:20:26.6
14. Bruce Stachura, 49, Attleboro, Mass. 1:29:53.1
15. Michael Beaudoin, 30, Warwick 1:30:03.8
16. Laura Pagnozzi, 37, Scituate 1:30:26.6
17. Jason Erban, 39, Wakefield 1:30:50.5
18. Joseph Marquedant, 50, Hopkinton, Mass. 1:30:56.2
19. John Griego, 53, Blackstone, Mass. 1:31:27.6
20. Andrea Bruce, 46, Brookline, Mass. 1:31:31.2