Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. Special Olympics Athlete Oath
From all sorts of name variants: Satins, Silks and Stars, Silks and Stars, Silks and Satins 5K, and finally Silks and Satins Jeff Clark Memorial 5K Run, we have gone from a plucky attempt to a well-established Spa City event with over 1,000 preregistered runners. Sponsors like Price Chopper have been with us since the beginning; others like Fleet Feet Sports who supplied the classy Brooks tech tees, are more recent. Some volunteers have been with us since its inception and, like corporate players in a conference room, insist on having their customary course marshal posting. Others like Hannah Wood, who just moved to the area last week (!), are new. But all are dedicated to the Special Olympics cause and the Saratoga Health, History and Horses concept.
Twenty years ago a group of Saratoga Stryders thought it a shame that there was no major footrace in downtown Saratoga and decided to remedy that situation. Dan Kumlander, Bill and Cathy Taylor and Jeff Clark plotted a 5K route that would showcase the flat track area at the start of Saratoga’s unique tourist season. Appropriately, the route begins at Fasig-Tipton, flies by the Oklahoma Training Track with its view of galloping horses, and then winds around over 40 intersections highlighting residential areas, formerly viewed only as potential trackside parking places.
Jeff Clark’s connection with Saratoga horses extend well beyond Silk’s 20 years however. His grandfather, John Porter, bred and drove harness track horses and in fact won the first race held at the Saratoga Harness Track. Jeff would spend his summers helping at the farm, and his dad, Jack Clark, a professor at SUNY Cobleskill, also trained horses while his sister, Mary, raised colts to finance her college education. So it was natural that he should look to these equine athletes for inspiration.
In the search for the third part of the athletic equation, the cause of the Special Olympians seemed a natural fit. Jeff had always appreciated the fact that New York Special Olympics funneled all fundraising proceeds back to the athletes themselves and not into fancy corporate perks.
In October 2013, Jeff, a non-smoker, became ill with Agent Orange-related lung cancer and succumbed in May 2014, yet another long-term Vietnam War victim. After his death, our friend Maryanne McNamara, who often drove him to chemo appoints, told me he said, “You know, I’ve lived a good life and I feel satisfied if this is my time to go. I just feel bad about leaving Laura.” His optimism, ever-present smile and genuine desire to help others succeed impacted our community in so many ways. He was, in fact a winner, and oh so brave in the attempt.
While he was sick, his good friend Peter Goutos, now of Firecracker4 Productions and current Silks Race Director along with his partner, Bob Vanderminden, took up the reins. With Jeff’s passing Peter honored his friend by dedicating the event in his honor. Last year, in fact, was the first time I had ever run the race, having previously spent all my time behind the scenes. Peter insisted I abandon my post and honor Jeff by following along with the crowd. It was wonderful to feel the support and see everyone enjoying the day.
This year, my son-in-law Darren Suarez and grandchild Emilia ran alongside. Daughter #1, Julie, along with Granddaughter #1, Elena, were already committed to working the Food Bank Farm. Jeff would have been proud. I made it to the start line with seconds to spare, pinning my bib as I ran, looking for all the world like one of those folks who arrive minutes before and not at 5 o’clock in the morning! There was one thing missing. Before any race, Jeff would always shout, “Shoelace check!” Sounds silly, loosens the tension, but has a practical purpose. Without the shoelace check call, Emilia headed down East Street with two sets of wandering laces, which we naturally had to pause to re-tie. I know Jeff was up there shaking his head and laughing!
By laura clark