NICK DANLAG – STAFF WRITER
There are a lot of people with interesting stories doing the Old First Night Run/Walk Saturday morning: The Webbs, who have around 16 family members ages 1 to 92 participating; David Peckinpah, who coordinated the first OFN 45 years ago when he was 18 and will walk in his first today; seven members of The Chautauquan Daily; a handful of dogs and around 300 other people.
Lifelong Chautauquan Alexandra Bradstreet and her guide dog Wasabi are among those people. Bradstreet is the first visually impaired person to participate in the run. She and Wasabi have trekked other races together, three 5Ks, one 10K and one 15K, and Wasabi was specifically trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind to enable blind and visually impaired people to run with only their guide’s support.
“I just love running with him because I’m actually running by myself,” Bradstreet said. “So it’s very freeing.”
Bradstreet wanted to stress to other racers not to call out to Wasabi or touch him during the race. This can distract him from guiding Bradstreet.
When Bradstreet first got Wasabi, his name was Walton. After the dog kept eating Bradstreet’s wasabi, she named him after the food.
As a child, she and her sister used to come to Chautauqua for concerts and for music lessons. Bradstreet played the violin and piano, her sister the cello and piano, and her father still plays “every instrument under the sun.”
“I can listen to a piece three times and get it down, no problem,” Bradstreet said. “And so I used to skip the lessons or skip the practice and go to the Sports Club. And they wouldn’t know.”
This elicited a laugh from Sports Club Directors Deb and Dana Lyons, who were sitting with Bradstreet.
“See, you liked us even back then,” Deb said.
The Lyons got married at Chautauqua, and Dana is the OFN Run/Walk coordinator. He has organized triathlons, marathons and many other kinds of races, as well as participated in them. The OFN Run/Walk will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday — Chautauquans can still register starting at 7 a.m.
The race has evolved a lot since Peckinpah created it 45 years ago.
“It started as a little race,” Deb said. “He was telling me, ‘We didn’t really know what we were doing back then. We just had some stopwatches in our hands, like pretty old-school.’”
Since then, they have added a virtual race and racing bibs with chips that track a person’s time once they cross the starting line.
Participants can choose to run or walk the race. Before the race, competitors guess how long it will take them to complete the race, and whoever has the closest prediction wins a prize.
“A few years ago, we had a 6- or 7-year-old who won that because she just happened to guess within a second of what she was gonna do,” Dana said. “We turn off the chimes, we asked for them to be turned off, and then we tell the people, ‘Don’t wear a watch.’ ”
In years past, the OFN Run/Walk had as many as 800 participants, and last year’s all-virtual race had 393 people, according to Deb.
“Obviously some of them just wanted the T-shirt,” Deb said. “It’s OK; still counts.”
Dan Wintermantel has designed the T-shirts for years. Each year, Sports Club asks Wintermantel to highlight a different aspect of Chautauqua. Last year, it was planned to be the Chautauqua Women’s Club, for the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment. Due to COVID-19, the design was changed to six previous designs laid out like a Zoom call.
This year’s shirt is a redone version of the previous design, only without the woman with a white gown and yellow sash.
Proceeds from the OFN Run/Walk go to the Chautauqua Foundation.