By TAYLOR HARTZ
More than 1,000 runners lined Woodford Avenue in Plainville early Sunday morning, for the eighth annual GE 5K Road Race, benefiting the Petit Family Foundation. The annual race honors the memories of Jennifer, Hayley and Michaela Petit, whose lives were lost in a Cheshire home invasion in 2007.
The foundation has raised close to $2 million in funds donated to the education of women in sciences, individuals battling chronic illness, and victims of violence.
The road race featured a children’s fun run, followed by the fitness-geared 5K run, and family walk.
Drawing families from across the state, regional runners groups, and racers from as far as New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, there was no shortage of community support.
Justin Roncaioli, 24, who finished first in Sunday’s race, traveled from Pittsburg to participate in what he called a great local event.
“Its always a great atmosphere,” said Roncaioli of his third year participating.
Originally from Berlin, Roncaioli said he enjoys being able to support his hometown region, “to come back here and be able to do that is awesome.”
The race began one year after the Cheshire tragedy. It was organized by Robert and Gary Heslin, former track athletes at Plainville High School and teammates of Dr. William Petit, the surviving member of the family.
“My favorite part about the race is seeing everyone have such a good time, and all the people in the community who give back to the foundation,” said co-director of the race, Robert Heslin.
“I think this brings together the town. It brings together a lot of people,” said Dr. Petit, sitting down to speak with several of his daughter’s former classmates.
“It has been hard but this is a way to make it a good situation,” said Margaret Milford, of Middlebury, who attended Chase Collegiate school with Michaela Petit.
In its eight-years, the GE sponsored 5K has raised $1 million for the foundation.
On Sunday, several local vendors donated refreshments to runners and volunteers, including bottled drinks from Starbucks, iced coffees from Dunkin’ Donuts, teas from Pure Leaf, and hotdogs from Saints Restaurant in Plainville.
Awards were distributed to racers in several different categories, recognizing age groups ranging from under 10-years-old to above 80-years-old, with prizes donated from GE, Timex, The Stanley Works and Play It Again Sports.
Runners donated $30 for their registration and were each given Petit Family Foundation shirts with the Mahatma Gandhi quotation, “be the change,” written on the front.
Petit told runners they embodied the “idealism, activism, and kindness” that the foundation promotes.