The event that inspired it was a tragedy like nothing the state had seen before, but the mood at the first Sandy Hook Run for the Families Saturday morning was one of celebration, triumph and hope.
A record-breaking 15,000 runners took part in the race — making it the largest inaugural run in the state. Race organizers estimated that an additional 30,000 spectators gathered along the route, which followed 3.1 miles through downtown, ending in Bushnell Park.
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Teams and individual runners from all over the state came to join the race.
Pat Sniffin ran with his sister, Mary Beth Finnerty, and his daughter, Emily. Sniffin said he recently retired from the fire department in Danbury, where the run was originally set to take place before the influx of participants.
"It just gets deep into your heart, the spirit of the whole thing," he said.
When the air horn sounded, thousands of runners made their way down Main Street to the cheers of supporters lining the road. The OAKE National Children's Choir began singing "America the Beautiful" as participants passed beneath an American flag held high by a Hartford Fire Department ladder truck.
The opening ceremonies included words from Hartford Marathon Foundation executive director Beth Shluger, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Newtown First Selectwoman E. Patricia Llodra and Gov. Dannel Malloy, who also ran in the event.
"This is an amazing and healing experience," Malloy said.
Segarra said the day, although dedicated to a terrible event, was not about defeat.
"Love, compassion and understanding can triumph anything," he said.
Shluger presented a check for more than $420,000 — a combination of entry fees and donations — to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund administered by the United Way of Western Connecticut.
"As a runner, as a mother and as a resident of the state of Connecticut, I have never been prouder to be part of an event," Shluger said.
Llodra thanked the crowd on behalf of Newtown, surrounded by guests and officials from the community that was rocked by tragedy just three months ago.
"Our hurt is very deep, but we are now on the path of recovery," she said.
A moment of silence preceding the official start of the race, the single somber note of the day, as a solitary bell tolled 26 times for those killed in the school on Dec. 14.
"We run today to remind ourselves that sometimes putting one foot in front of the other can make all the difference," said Rev. Matthew Crebbin of the Newtown Congregational Church, in his convocation to the crowd.
Morning snow flurries gave way to sunshine as the race began around 10:30 a.m. Llodra blew kisses from the stage, and she and the other officials waved to those crossing the starting line.
Just over 16 minutes later, the first runners crossed the finish line. Stephen Pretak and Scott Mindel of New London were the official race winners, but those watching the final leg near the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch cheered every single participant.
"It was actually overwhelming," said Bill Hochsprung, of Middletown, after finishing the run. "I mean everyone has a connection here," he said, referring to Sandy Hook.
For Finnerty, who said she and her brother, Sniffin, are veteran runners, it was great seeing so many first-time runners involved.
"It's great that Hartford could host this," Sniffin said.