SEA BRIGHT — With the memory of 9/11 and the loss of their Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School classmate in the collapse of the World Trade Center seared in their minds, the friends of Keith McHeffey staged the second annual 3-mile fun run in his name on Sunday.
The race, which ran 3.2 miles from Donovan’s Reef in the borough down to Monmouth Beach almost to the traffic light at Beach Road and back again, was won by Mike O’Connor, 33, a pilot in the Air Force stationed at McGuire Air Force Base, who fittingly was a good friend of McHeffey’s.
"I went to high school with Keith," O’Connor said after he breezed past the finish line in the driveway to the parking lot in back of borough hall, next to Donovan’s, at 17:50.49. "I played football with Keith all the way from Pop Warner through our senior year in high school."
O’Connor said he missed the first race last year because he was stationed overseas in Qatar.
He was pleased to be able to participate this year.
"You think about him when you’re running," he said of McHeffey.
The first woman finisher was Noel Whitall, 24, of Toms River, a fifth-grade teacher at Osbornville School in Brick, who was eighth overall. She placed first among the women last year, too.
Whitall said she races regularly with the Asics Club East of Freehold.
She said she learned about the race from a friend who spends summers in Sea Bright.
"It’s fun," she said of the experience, adding that she likes races of 3 to 10 miles in length.
The race took place on a gorgeous spring-like day, under a blue sky with the first mild temperatures of the season.
It took on a festive atmosphere in the parking lots of Donovan’s and borough hall with dogs, children, baby carriages and runners young and old milling around.
Many sported the "Keith McHeffey 3-mile Fun Run" T-shirts that were given to the participants.
David Devlin, of the Locust section of Middletown, one of the organizers of the race, recalled how he and McHeffey worked together at Donovan’s during the summers.
"He was a terrific guy — very funny, very athletic, outdoorsy," he said of his friend, who was an equity trader at Cantor Fitzgerald when terrorists commandeered two airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in Manhattan.
"He ran for fun," he added, noting that McHeffey was also an avid mountain biker.
Devlin said they were lucky for this year’s race.
"It seems like there’s limited wind this year," he observed. "Last year, it was really windy."
The proceeds of the race and a few other events the KDM Foundation, named for McHeffey, holds during the year go to memorial scholarships which are awarded each year to two graduating seniors — one boy and one girl — from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and to construction of a memorial ballpark, playground and monument to area victims of 9/11 next to the high school.
The memorial is scheduled to open later in the spring. Devlin said it is being built near Piping Rock field, east of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, next to the Pop Warner field.
Michael Panter, another of the organizers, said the scholarships that the foundation awards are $2,500 each.
"This race helps us with that," he said as he lined up runners for the start.
Panter also hosted a cocktail party for 600 people at his home last year to raise funds for the foundation. He said the kickoff event for the year was a fund-raiser at Val’s Tavern in Rumson.
Dan Kelly, of Little Silver, also an event organizer, said members of the foundation were doing some of the manual work in building the memorial ballpark and playground.
He noted Donovan’s has always had a St. Patrick’s weekend race, and had let the foundation name it for McHeffey.
The hundreds of runners decided to participate for a variety of reasons. Ed Hannon and John Scalzo, who work as bartenders at Donovan’s, liked the convenience.
"It’s short. Short is good," laughed Hannon, who added that both of them were going to work at the bar when it was over.
Christiana Ridle, of Little Silver, who graduated in May from the University of (Newark) Delaware, said she came to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day.
Frank Scheuer, of Rumson, who was accompanied by his brother, Eric Scheuer, of the Lincroft section of Middletown, said they had come "just for fun — and to support the cause." He said he had known McHeffey distantly.
Sarah Chiles, of Rumson, said she runs three or four days a week and that the race had special meaning to her because she grew up with McHeffey’s sister, Leigh.
"It’s a good community event," she said. "Obviously, we’re going to support the work of the foundation."
Linda Dooley, of Sea Bright, had multiple ties to the McHeffey family. She said she is a friend of Sherry McHeffey’s, Keith’s mother, and her son, Rich, was a very good friend of Keith’s and lived with him in New York after they had graduated from college.
She has worked for 18 years at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, where she is secretary to the athletic director.
"I have to do this," Dooley said. "My heart is there. Anything I can do for Keith and the other victims of 9/11 I want to do, because we can never, never, ever forget the events of 9/11."
As the runners took up their places to start the race, a trio of two bagpipers and a drummer began to play.
They were Justin Meagher and Daniel Sprague, of the New York Police Department Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band, and Brian Meagher, the brother of Justin, who used to play with the New York Police Department band but has since moved to Washington, D.C., where he plays in another bagpiping group.
They resumed their playing as the runners returned and piped them on to the finish line.
Several runners pushed baby carriages through the race.
Among them was Sean Clifford, of Rumson, pushing a double carriage with Brigid, 3, and Molly, 15 months.
His wife, Mairead, also ran in the race, finishing right behind him.
Kerry Devine, of Little Silver, and her cousin, Molly McBryan, of Hagertown, Pa., took turns pushing a double stroller which carried Devine’s 2-year-old twins, Abigal and Patrick. The children had nodded off during the race and snoozed their way across the finish line, missing all the excitement.
Almost everyone repaired to Donovan’s after turning in their time cards, with a great many exiting the bar on the ocean side to enjoy the day from the boardwalk atop the sea wall and the beach beyond. Children romped in the sand, and dogs raced around with one another.
Before the band struck up some tunes, the winners of the various categories were announced.
Kevin Morgan, 62, was named the winner of the "most courageous" award for finishing in 28:01.
In the 12-to-14 category, Toni Anne Struyk was the girls’ winner. Matt Friesenhahn, although only 9, was named the boys’ winner.
In the 15-to-19 category, Lauren Pappa, 18, was the girls’ winner, and Patrick Madigan, 17, was the boys’ winner.
In the 20-to-25 category, Summer Kubaitis was the women’s winner, and Mike Shaheen was the men’s.
In the 26-to-30 category, Margene O’Connor was the women’s winner, and Michael Griffin was the men’s.
In the 31-to-40 category, Red Bank Councilwoman Jennifer Beck was the women’s winner, and Paul Looney was the men’s.
In the 41-to-50 category, Sarah Key was the women’s winner, and Phil Shaheen was the men’s.
In the 51-plus category, Joyce Bell was the women’s winner, and Peter Reinhart was the men’s winner.
Race organizers said the KDM Foundation was created to keep alive the spirit of Keith McHeffey and the countless other local 9/11 victims by sponsoring a variety of charitable functions.
"Keith was a kind and giving person who will never be forgotten by his family or his friends," a handout about the foundation states. "Keith spent his life giving of himself to others. Now, we are giving back to the community in his good name. His life was a testament of ‘how to live.’ "