Lions gets loyal support from generations of runners

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:49

    Warwick-On Monday, about 500 runners and walkers from around the entire tri-state area will participate in the 13th annual Lions Labor Day 5K Race/Walk. It has become a tradition for many n like the Pinkham family. Karen Pinkham has run in the Lions race nearly every one of her dozen years here in Warwick n except for the occasional vacation or when she was pregnant. The race has definitely caught on at her house n this year, three generations in her family will be taking part. Besides Karen, her husband, sister, brother-in-law, father, and two of her sons will hit the pavement come Monday morning. "My dad ran it just for kicks and he finished near the top of his division!" Karen said her family will span at least four different age groups, ranging from 2 to 64. "We're not really a running family," she said. "But we're an active family. We exercise and stay healthy." Which makes sense since Karen is a fitness instructor and personal trainer at Sports, Fitness, and Fun in Florida. Karen has much respect for Carol and George McManus, the race directors. "I've watched Carol and George. They took this race from just a few people to what it is now. There is so much excitement and energy there. It's just a fun day! They do a fantastic job." Ditto, said Eric Nilsestuen, a competitive runner who has run in every Lions race so far. This year will be no different. What is different about Nilsestuen is that he doesn't race to win the race for himself. Instead, his goal is for his friend and fellow runner, Ken Stewart, to win in his age division. Nilsestuen is a guide runner. He runs with Stewart, who is legally blind. The two have run many races together, mostly 5Ks and half marathons, in their eight years together. "The Lions race is Ken's favorite. He likes the way it is put on, likes the course, and let's face it, Carol McManus does a great job," said Nilsestuen. "Lions is all about raising money for important causes, and their biggest mission is eyesight." Just how does a guide run a competitive race with his partner? Well, for starters the guide has to be in great shape, which isn't an issue for Nilsestuen who has run 21 full marathons over the years, including New York, Boston, and right here in Warwick. "I pretty much have to talk constantly throughout the race," said Nilsestuen, allowing Ken to follow his voice. What does he say throughout the race? Nilsestuen describes the course to Ken, introduces him to other runners and just explains generally what is going on around them. In a longer race, this isn't too bad because the runners are pretty spread out, but in the 5Ks, he said some people get annoyed with his talking n until they realize why he does it! Then, some people run along with them, talking as they go. The two are tethered together as well, with Nilsestuen holding the cloth in his right hand and Ken holding it in his left. Ken can feel the motion of his partner through the tether. They both wear vests n Ken's says "sight impaired runner" while Nilsestuen's says "guide." The two runners met while running local races years ago. They became friends, Nilsestuen said, something that is vital to running as partners. They don't train together, though. Nilsestuen said Ken trains on his own and commented that his partner, who is 15 years older than he, is in excellent shape. "Our goal is to run a marathon together this year," he commented. Ken introduced Nilsestuen to a cross-country ski program for the blind n "Ski for Light." He is a guide for that organization as well. "I like guiding blind people," Nilsestuen said. "It gives me joy to help them. My personal job on Monday is to see that Ken gets his medal." The Lions Labor Day 5K is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 6, at the Warwick Middle School. Registration starts at 8 a.m., with the race beginning at 9. This is a moderately difficult course, certified by the Orange Runners Club. The entry fee is $17, with proceeds going to the Lion's Quest Program in the Warwick schools.