Conditions were windy as racers prepared for the 16th Annual Seaford Wellness Council Hot Chocolate 5K. The Seaford High School jazz band played, and the Seaford Wellness Council handed out racing bibs, welcoming all inside the warm school auditorium before the 9 a.m. start.
Many runners stretched in the auditorium. Some chatted with family and friends. Others sat silently, mentally preparing for the run.
One was Howard Kestenbaum, 88, of Plainview, who was among the oldest contestants. He sat in the school’s theater close to the stage, waiting for the announcement for racers to head to the start.
“I started walking more and more, and eventually running when I turned 60,” Kestenbaum said. His father, he said, was the reason. “When my father turned 60, he had a massive heart attack, so I knew I wanted to do something at that age.”
Since then, Kestenbaum has stayed active, participating in many 5 and 10K races.
“I did my first marathon when I was 77 years old,” Kestenbaum said. In fact, he has run multiple marathons, including New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix and Long Island.
Soon enough, runners were making their way to the start, and the horn sounded for the race to begin on Seaman’s Neck Road. Kestenbaum finished in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 9 seconds. The course was sectioned off and monitored by the Nassau County Police Department.
The overall first-place runner, 37-year-old David Putterman, of Rockville Centre, averaged 5:36 per mile to finish the course in 17:22.3 — a half-minute behind last year’s winning time of 16:51.6.
Putterman, a husband and father of two, doesn’t belong to a running club. He does, however, compete in vigorous tests of endurance multiple times a year, including triathlons.
“These [5K races] are worse,” Putterman said, “because in these races you’re just going hard the whole time.”
This first-place finish was Putterman’s best in 2019. “I’ve finished third and fourth in 5Ks this year,” he said. As he was warming up for the race, he also mentioned that he recognized a few friends whom he didn’t know would be running. “It’s cool to see all of these people come out and race,” he said.
Maria Marascia, 28, of Huntington, was the top female finisher and ninth overall, at 19:10. A former member of the University of Massachusetts track and field team, she kept up a 6:10 minute per mile pace throughout the race.
Peter Hawkins, 55, of Malverne, was the first person to complete the race. He’s a wheelchair athlete who finished at around the 17-minute mark. After a 15-second head start, he sped through the course at a steady pace.
“I felt really good out there today,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and it feels good today doing it with a great group of people.”
Hawkins, a paraplegic, was paralyzed from just above the waist down after a car accident in 1981. He refused to let his condition define him, and has taken part in numerous races, including marathons, for years.
“I feel the support out here,” Hawkins said. “Everyone knows each other and supports each other in a friendly way.”
Not all contestants are worried about their finish times, though. Many locals join the race as a community tradition. Some even dress up for it.
“We’re being elves today!” said Charles Wroblewski, 77, of the Seaford Lions Club and the chaplain of Seaford’s American Legion Post 1132.
The event, hosted by the Seaford Wellness Council, even had its own members running in the race. Frank DiGregorio, 61, of Seaford, finished 22nd in his division (Male 60-64), with a time of 37:06.3. DiGregorio is an officer in the Seaford Wellness Council and has run in all 16 hot chocolate races.
After, racers returned to the auditorium for the raffle announcement. Items included concert tickets to Mariah Carey and Andrea Boccelli, bottles of wine and gift baskets. However, the best prize was one that Seaford Wellness Council Secretary Peter Ruffner was eager to raffle off.
“The grand prize is two paid JetBlue plane tickets to the destination of your choice,” he said.
Ruffner and Seaford Wellness Council members aid they were pleased once again with the turnout — roughly 900 people — and the involvement from the community.