Thousands of people swarmed the parking lot across from the Weehawken Lincoln Tunnel entrance on the morning of April 29 in preparation for their walks and runs through the eastbound tube to benefit the Special Olympics of New Jersey (SONJ). The day marked the 26th annual Lincoln Tunnel Challenge and the highest registration numbers on record, according to SONJ Event Manager Beth Conover.
This year, with a record number of around 4,000 registered participants, they had raised nearly $200,000, according to the website’s still-running tally on May 2. In fact, each year for the past four years, the fundraiser has broken its own records.
“I live for sports, and my brother has an intellectual disability, so both are in my blood,” Conover explained. “Working the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge allows me to bring the best of both worlds together.”
“I can say I ran through the Lincoln Tunnel!” – Peyton Kennedy
“It’s such an incredible way to give to a good cause,” Conover added. “It brings people together in a healthy way.”
Braving the run
Nearly all of the 28 members of Team Weehawken for the 3.1 mile walk across and back through the tunnel opted to walk it, but the Kennedy father-daughter team, consisting of 14-year-old Peyton and marathon-running father Bart were there to run for the cause.
“We live so close, and it’s for a really good cause,” Peyton said. “Then I can say I ran through the Lincoln Tunnel!” Peyton had hoped to complete the run in fewer than 36 minutes.
“This is my first time running through the tunnel,” Bart explained. “It will be a thrill because I commute through it every day. It will be interesting to see what it looks like on the inside.”
This marked the second race the pair has run together. The last one was the town’s Turkey Trot when Peyton was five. Thanks to a happy genetic congruity, she won for her age group.
And thanks to the technologically savvy electronic tracking number badges the two wore, the Reporter was able to look up Peyton’s time online and discover that she achieved her goal. Coming in with a time of 32:37, she placed 1,177th just behind her father, who placed 1,175th out of around 2,800 runners.
The night before, teamsters bulked up their carbohydrate reserves for the big event with a pasta dinner, manned by young members of the Weehawken Peer Leadership team.
The students then arrived at the Lincoln Tunnel Challenge at 5:30 a.m. Sunday to help register participants and get things running smoothly, and were overseen by Peer Leader teacher Laura Sciortino. They buzzed busily behind the registration desk handing out t-shirts and number badges.
Maritza Valencia, 14, didn’t seem to mind the early morning call to duty. In 2010, her cousin helped out and inspired her to do so too. “I love volunteering,” she said, “and this is for such a great cause.”
Weehawken High School Principal Dr. Peter Olivieri walked alongside Mayor Richard Turner in support of the cause. Olivieri has been walking since 2007 to set a good example for his students.
“It’s a great charity, and it’s a nice thing for students to do,” he said. “If I show up, I think they’ll be more inclined to get involved.”
Team Weehawken second-year veteran Vicky Minervini loves to walk, and her participation in the event allows her to do what she loves for a good cause. “What surprised me the most the first time is how nice and clean the tunnel was,” she said.
In fact, that seemed to be the consensus among the walkers.
When one thinks Lincoln Tunnel, one thinks bumper-to-bumper traffic and oil leaks and exhaust fumes. But, according to teamster Jennifer Miller, the air was downright refreshing.
“I thought it would be more stuffy,” Miller said. “But it was almost like it was air conditioned, and last year it was so hot.” Temperatures pushed the 90-degree mark during last year’s challenge, some explained. In fact, on the New York City side, organizers had set up sprinklers and water stations to help with those who had worked up a sweat.
Team Weehawken proudly raised $1,100, according to Kate McMahon from the Weehawken Recreation Department, who also walked that day. For more information on the event, visit lincolntunnelchallenge.sonj.org.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org