By TIM KELLY
News of the cancellation of what would’ve been the 50th Annual Captain Bill Gallagher Island Run in Sea Isle was met with a mixture of disappointment and resignation, this week – and also hope.
The latter emotion was certainly the case for 68-year old Bill Kehner, who was training hard for what would’ve been his 43rd consecutive start in the iconic beach and Promenade event.
As concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic first threatened the race in March, Kehner came up with a backup plan.
“I didn’t want my streak broken by a virus,” said Kehner, of Pitman, and former Sea Isle summer resident.
As far as he is concerned, it won’t be.
“I decided I’m going to run anyway,” he said. “I’ll be at the starting line at 5:30 p.m. on August 8th, just like I would be any other year.”
Unlike any other year, Kehner will have a lot more running room to himself on the course without 1,200 of his best friends toeing the line beside and behind him and gliding along the course.
“That’s a downer,” SICBP nurse Chuck Allison said of the cancellation, announced last week. “I’ve been fielding a lot of calls from (would-be runners) who are pretty upset. It’s a shame for the runners and the City.”
Beach Patrol Chief Renny Steele, who is coincidentally celebrating his 50th year on the Beach Patrol couldn’t be reached in time for this article.
“After much deliberation, SICBP, in partnership with senior staff of Sea Isle City, has decided due to Covid-19 and related health concerns, to cancel (the event) until 2021,” stated the official announcement on the SICBP website.
The statement goes on to schedule the 2021 race for Saturday August 14 at 5:45 p.m. Traditionally, the time and date of the event are settled upon by the tide charts for Saturdays in August, and a low tide to provide for a wide hard-packed sand running surface on the beach portions.
Race namesake, retired Beach Patrol Captain Bill Gallagher called the cancellation “Not altogether unexpected, but of course, quite disappointing. The race is the high point of the summer for a lot of people.”
He said that five of his family members were training to compete in the milestone edition. While saddened, Gallagher agrees with the call.
“If it had been my decision, I would’ve made the exact same call,” he said. “When you’re talking about such a contagious disease and twelve hundred people jammed into the (Prominade starting area) and sweatin’ and spittin’ for 10 miles, it is absolutely the only call to make.
“As much as I wanted to be firing that starting gun, how could we live with ourselves if someone wound up getting sick or if the runners made other people sick?” Gallagher said.
Kehner, whose running resume includes 26 marathons including 14 Boston, four New York City and three Marine Corps (Washington D.C.) Marathons, says Sea Isle is still his alltime favorite event.
“There’s something about that race,” he said. “Actually, a lot of things about it. The atmosphere, the competition, the course and the fan support is second to none.”
The 10-mile island run starts in front of Beach Patrol Headquarters at 44th Street, heads north to the end of the Promenade and onto the beach, north to Strathmere, a turnaround on the southbound beach and Promenade to the final turn near the Ocean Drive bridge in Townsends Inlet, a final turn and southbound final stretch to the finishing cute back at 44th Street.
But this year, in recognition of the race’s milestone anniversary, Kehner said his version will trace the old half-marathon track, to the Strathmere bulkhead before turning south, and all the way to the OD bridge before the final turn.
“That’s what I’m planning for,” said Kehner, who could fill an entire trophy room with his Sea Isle hardware alone. He has a total of 28 age group trophies, including 10 age group titles from the event. He’s finished as high as third overall and his personal best time of 54 minutes, 25 seconds would’ve won last year’s race by 16 seconds.
Gallagher let out a hearty laugh when told of Kehner’s plan to “race” anyway, and then turned serious.
“I’m excited he’s doing that and I’m proud of him,” Gallagher said. “It says a lot about Bill and his dedication as a runner and his loyalty to this great event.”