PAWTUCKET — Augusto Rojas and the Pawtucket Red Sox got everything they could ask for and more from their inaugural PawSox 5K Race/Walk at McCoy Stadium.
A sunny morning. A strong turnout. Plenty of positive feedback.
And a fantastic finish for first place.
In a thrilling conclusion that had the fans scattered along the stadium’s lower box seats cheering wildly, Geoff Nelson survived a frantic sprint with Nathan Petesch around the warning track by nipping him at the finish line near the PawSox’s dugout by less than a second.
“When I came on the field, you could kind of tell by the way the people were cheering that there was someone right behind me,” added Nelson. “At that point, I thought I had him, but he was a little closer than I thought, and I really didn’t want to look behind me. When I crossed the finish line, I glanced over and he was no more than a step or two behind me.”
Nelson, who topped a field of 349 with his superb 15:05 clocking, and Megan Jaswell, who was the women’s top finisher and finished sixth overall in 19:17, were rewarded handsomely for their victories. In addition to each pocketing $250, they won a prize package that included round-trip Amtrak tickets to either Boston or New York and gift certificates for running shoes.
Another big winner was the Pawtucket Red Sox Charitable Foundation, which supports hundreds of organizations throughout New England that focus on children and families. The proceeds from the race, which was the brainchild of Rojas, the PawSox’s General Sales Manager, went towards the longtime charity.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done since I’ve been at McCoy,” remarked Rojas, who also took part in the race and squeaked into the top 50 with a 24:03 time. “But I think it was probably the most enjoyable because it was something I was really, really passionate about and it was helping the community as well.”
Most of the runners in the community who came out for the 5K pegged North Kingstown runner Eric Lonergan as the odds-on favorite to win the race, especially since the talented 26-year-old runner, who runs for the competitive Rhode Runner club in Providence, had more than a dozen victories this year in road races throughout Rhode Island.
But in the end, it was two Providence residents who recently moved to the state’s capital – the 27-year-old Nelson from New Fairfield, Conn. and the 24-year old Petesch from Bellevue, Iowa – that stole the show.
Nelson, who started working at Citizens Bank in Riverside two weeks ago, and Petesch, who is a 2011 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and currently doing an internship with the Brown University men’s cross country team, took early control of the race and nearly turned in sub-5:00 times in the first mile as they began to distance themselves from Lonergan.
“(Longergan) said (his time) was 5:12 at the first mile mark and we were about 10 seconds ahead of him,” said Nelson. “(Petesch) and I were kind of neck-and-neck the whole way. I kind of put a couple of steps on him with about a half mile or so to go, and when we got into the parking area (at 2.75 miles), I put a little bit of a lead on him, but he came back. He’s a good runner.”
“He was pushing pretty hard during the race and I gave him too much,” added Petesch, who was still a bit dejected after coming up short at the finish line. “When we ran into the stadium, I told myself that I should go, but I ended up waiting a little too long and he held me off.”
Lonergan finished a distant third in 16:44, and surprisingly, no other runners were able to crack the 19-minute barrier. Mike Beaudoin of Warwick placed fourth at exactly 19 minutes, and Paul Savickas of Riverside rounded out the top five finishers with his 19:14 time.
There wasn’t any drama for the women’s title, as Jaswell, a 25-year-old standout runner from Johnston, topped the next female finisher, Zofia Wieciorkowska of Stratford, Conn., a 49-year-old veteran runner who is regarded as one of southern New England’s best runners in her age group, by 53 seconds.
After Wieciorkowska, who also placed 10th overall, was Barrington’s Patti Agustin (13th, 20:51), Providence’s Anne Hird (17th, 21:01), and Pawtucket’s Kayla Fleming, a former standout runner and soccer player at Tolman High who is currently the Tigers’ girls’ cross country coach (18th, 21:04).
While Nelson was obviously happy with his victory, he was also pleased with the event and his overall experience at McCoy, and he shared those feelings after recalling his battle with Petesch.
“For a first annual race, I think they did a really good job,” offered Nelson. “It’s a unique finish coming onto the field and running on the warning track, which I liked a lot, and it’s a flat, fast course, which is always nice. And they had a lot of sponsors and it’s great for the community, so again, I think they did a very good job.”
Rojas, who was making his debut as a race organizer, was also happy with the morning’s events, and when the post-race awards ceremony and raffle ended, he received his share of compliments and congratulations from several of the participants.
“I can’t wait for next year’s race,” Rojas said with a smile. “Anyone who ran today, if they send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org  with recommendations, I am definitely going to look at all of them because I want to make this one of the best 5Ks in the area.”