More than 750 runners pounded Bellmore’s pavement last week at the annual Independence Day Run, hosted by the Bellmore Striders running club.
The event was held for the first time 31 years ago in honor of Matthew Warkala, a former Striders member and Mepham High School alumnus who died of brain cancer. The running club’s coach and president, Alex Cuozzo, said this year’s race was the largest by about 100 runners.
Festivities began at 8 a.m. with the one-mile run for children, ages 12 and under. The four-mile run was open to all athletes, ages 13 and older, and began at 8:30 a.m.
Javier Barajas, a 26-year-old runner from Brooklyn, finished first in the main event with a time of 20 minutes and 29 seconds. The first female finisher was Joanna Johnson, a 24-year-old from Chulo, Calif., who placed 19th in 23:37. Matt Hassett, 22, was the first Bellmorite to complete the four-mile race, finishing fourth in 21:31.
Noting that the first female finisher was from the West Coast, Cuozzo explained that, this year, there was more out-of-state participation than in past years. The event drew runners from eight states, Puerto Rico and Denmark.
“What it shows is that they’re coming to New York to celebrate with some family and friends, and they see our event and they take the time to spend the morning with us,” he said. “I don’t think my goal was to make it a very large race. I wanted to have a good local race and show off my town.”
Cuozzo added that more families and spectators are turning out watch the race each year, whether to cheer on relatives and friends or racers decked out in patriotic attire for Independence Day.