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Runners get underway at the starting line for the Captain Bill Gallagher 10 Mile Island Run.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Matt Francescangeli knew he had a tough 10-mile race ahead of him on a challenging course that included running part of the way on the asphalt of Sea Isle City’s oceanfront Promenade and the rest on the hard-packed beach sand.

But he had plenty of inspiration. Throughout the race Saturday evening, he thought of his father Gino Francescangeli, who died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 62.

“It’s good to have him in mind and to help push me through,” Matt said of his father.

Matt was among more than 600 competitors who took part in the Captain Bill Gallagher 10 Mile Island Run, a 51-year tradition that has grown from a tiny race that originally allowed only Sea Isle’s lifeguards to compete in it to one of the Jersey Shore’s top draws for the running community.

The race maintains a close association with the For Pete’s Sake Cancer Respite Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing vacations to cancer patients and their families. The organization was founded by Marci Schankweiler and her late first husband, Peter R. Bossow Jr., a former Sea Isle lifeguard who died of cancer in 1999.

Tony DiBrino, third from left, and Matt Francescangeli, center, were among the members of the For Pete’s Sake running team.

Matt Francescangeli, 31, of Willow Grove, Pa., was part of a group of runners from For Pete’s Sake that raised nearly $11,000 for the organization in Gino Francescangeli’s memory.

“It’s a total, total team effort,” Tony DiBrino, a Sea Isle resident who served as captain of the For Pete’s Sake running group, said of the fundraising campaign.

DiBrino and Gino Francescangeli were close friends who worked together for more than 20 years as national account salesmen. As he prepared for the start of the 10-mile run, DiBrino said it was an honor to raise money for cancer patients in Francescangeli’s memory.

“He was one of the best fathers and best people I ever met,” he said, smiling.

The members of the For Pete’s Sake group reflected the community and charitable aspects of the 10-mile run. The race also attracts other private organizations and running teams, along with the individual competitors.

Bill Gallagher, fourth from left, and his family members celebrate the 51st year of the race.

Bill Gallagher, the race’s 78-year-old namesake and retired captain of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol, said the 10-miler has become so popular over the years because of the warm reception that the town gives to the runners.

“I think it says a lot about Sea Isle and the way everyone treats the runners,” Gallagher said.

As an example, he pointed to the hundreds of spectators who lined the railings of the Promenade to cheer and encourage the runners as they passed by the enthusiastic crowds.

The race was first held in 1970. It was canceled in 2020 following the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned last year. Gallagher said the hundreds of runners who were entered this year shows that the race continues to recover from the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“It has been popular and successful,” Gallagher said after watching the race get underway on the Promenade in front of the Beach Patrol headquarters on 44th Street.

Runners are cheered by spectators lining the Promenade.

Saturday’s turnout was huge compared to the mere 16 runners in the inaugural race in 1970, Gallagher said. He explained that the first race was limited to only Sea Isle’s lifeguards, but a decision was made in later years to open it up to the public to attract more runners. As a result, the race continued to grow.

“We’ve kept it alive for 51 years – 51 years,” Gallagher said amid applause from the runners just as the race was getting ready to start.

In its early years, the race was 13 miles long and was held on Sea Isle’s streets, but as the field got large and larger, the course was shifted out on the beach to avoid creating traffic congestion.

Now, the 10-mile run takes place on approximately 2.5 miles of the paved Promenade, while the rest of the course is on the beach’s hard-packed sand close to the water’s edge at low tide. Conditions were made even more challenging Saturday by the 84-degree temperature and steamy humidity when the race started at 5:30 p.m.

While many of the runners struggled with the sticky conditions, Kevin McDonnell dominated the field to finish first, giving him the win for the second straight year. His winning time was 54 minutes, 21 seconds.

McDonnell, 32, of Cherry Hill, took the lead after four miles and didn’t look back. His closest competitor was David Dorsey, 27, of Philadelphia, who also finished second to McDonnell in the 2021 race. Dorsey finished in 55:10.

Kevin McDonnell takes the win with no other runners near him at the finish line.

Both runners are graduates of St. Joseph’s University, McDonnell in 2012 and Dorsey in 2018. They ran track and cross country at St. Joe’s.

McDonnell said he wanted to relax and conserve his oxygen while running on such a challenging course.

“It’s like training for a marathon,” he said. “You are out there for a long time.”

On the women’s side, Katie Florio, 29, of Philadelphia, cruised to the win with a time of 1:03:10. She also won the race in 2018 and 2019.

“I wanted to go out slow and feel good,” Florio said of her race strategy.

She surged ahead 6.5 miles out and led the rest of the way.

The top female finisher, Katie Florio, is a three-time winner of the race.

Florio ran competitively at Penn State University and was the captain of her team. She also competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in 2020.

She laughed when someone suggested that, as a three-time winner, she has a dynasty going at the Sea Isle 10-miler.

“I just wanted to win,” she said.

Complete results for the race can be viewed at Captain Bill Gallagher Island 10 Mile Run Results (runsignup.com).