Road race honors athlete's memory
Tragedy can have two effects on a family, it can tear them apart or it can make them stronger. In the case of Maureen Dunn Packer, her husband Rob, and her daughter Caroline it has not only made them stronger, they have used it to enhance the lives of countless others.
This Sunday marks the sixth running of the Ali Dunn Packer Memorial Road Race, known to most people as Ali's Run. The race is run annually on the first Sunday in June as a memorial to their daughter Ali, who, as a 15-yearold freshman at LaSalle Academy died as a result of a tragic car accident.
Ali's love for sports, particularly soccer and track, inspired the idea for the race. She finished second in the 4x100 and 4x400 relay events at the Freshman State Championships, so the race is a natural reflection of Ali.
"A race just seemed to fit her character," the Packers said. "We wanted a family-oriented day that honored Ali's memory."
As she lays a sketch of the race day plans on the counter, it is evident that a lot of thought is put into the whole day, and not just the race itself. There will be a DJ, face painting, food, prizes and awards and even a few surprises along the way, including New England Revolution players who will be on hand to sign autographs. Children are encouraged to bring something for the players to sign.
The half-mile Kids Race will start at noon, and children participating will receive a bib number, goody bag and an award. There is no cost for the children's race.
"We hope it encourages a love for sports and a healthy lifestyle for the kids," she said. "We have children who ran in the fun run for a few years who are now over 10 and back running in the 5K."
The 5K race will start and end at Fort Getty Park, and follow a course that takes runners past Mackerel Cove, through town and back around to Beavertail Road. While there is no separate division for walkers, they are welcome.
"We have had a lot of people ask about a walker's division and we are considering adding one for next year," Maureen said.
Currently, there are over 200 participants are registered for the race, however, the majority of the registrations come on race day.
Scheduling conflicts and weather conditions have brought the race numbers down slightly in the last few years, but Maureen is hopeful this year will bring a record number of racers to the course.
This is the first year since the race's inception that it will be held on June 3, the anniversary of Ali's death.
"I have to really focus on the race, but it will be the first time we won't be able to attend memorial mass," Maureen said.
Their solace comes in knowing the funds from the race do so much good in the community, and it is amazing how their acts of kindness have made others want to give back.
The fund has donated over $60,000 over five years, and those in the community willingly shared what the donations have meant to them.
"Her donation made it possible for us to make the bowls for the Empty Bowls fund raiser for the Rhode Island Food Bank," said chairwoman Julia Montminy. "I am doing face-painting at the race on Sunday, because I really want to do something in return."
North Kingstown High School cross country coach Keven O'Neil encourages his runners to participate in and volunteer their time in support of the race.
Ali's Fund provided the moneyfor the NK cross country team to travel to the Great American Race in Alabama last fall, and has also given money for the teams to purchase new uniforms.
"The money really came at a good time for us. The school does not provide money for invitationals, but they are important to the success of our team. We do fund raising, but the donation helped us bridge the gap and be able to go to the race," O'Neil said.
Paul Tetreault, boys' crosscountry coach at NK, shared how the donation toward the teams' uniform fund made a difference to his team.
"We take everyone on our team who is willing to work hard. Some of these kids have never played a sport before and it is amazing what having a uniform means to them," he said. "It is just wonderful to see a smile on their face when we give them one."
For some, Maureen has even been a secret blessing. After reading a letter to the editor written by a student in the Newport Daily News about how the Rogers High School band did not even have music stands to hold their music, she called and offered to buy the stands. Ali's Fund made a similar donation this year to the Lawn Avenue School music department for the purchase of new band chairs.
The Jamestown Soccer Association also benefited this year from the fund, which donated jackets for the competitive soccer players to wear, an especially nice thing to have during the chilly spring season.
Two Lawn Avenue School students, who are strong academically and athletically, receive scholarships annually.
"The only stipulation is that the students use the money for something academic or sports related," Maureen said. "I once had a student ask me if he could use it to buy new track shoes." Her answer was a resounding, "Yes."
The fund also sponsors a Newport Babe Ruth league baseball team from Jamestown every year.
Even as she sits with a folder overflowing with evidence of the generosity of the Ali's Fund and the people who it has touched, Maureen is worried about not thanking someone for their support.
"There are just so many people who are supportive that I don't want to forget anyone," she said. If it were possible, she would thank all 150 volunteers and 500 sponsors, but that is for another story. For now, she has a race to organize and more people to help.
The 5K race is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. Race registration opens at 10 a.m. and the race will be held rain or shine.
For more information about Ali's Run, visit www.alisrun.com.