Eight-year-old Jack Casey, of Cumberland, sprints toward the finish line as spectators applaud his effort as Smithfieldâs Kayla DiBlasi (598) follows. Casey placed 119th overall with a time of 29:29.
CUMBERLAND â He only weighs 39 pounds and stands about 47 inches tall.
When he was lined up at the start of the Arnold Mills Road Race on Monday, it was easy to overlook the fact that Jack Casey was among the field of more than 500 runners.
Once the race opened up near the mile mark on Abbott Run Valley Road, the eight-year-old Cumberland tyke certainly became noticeable, making more than a few heads turn in the four-mile event.
Casey, an elementary student at Community School, finished the race with an eye-popping time of 29 minutes, 29 seconds â a 7:22 per-mile pace!
âI felt good,â said the nearly four-foot Casey, âbut I had some cramps.â
The talented youth is the son of John and Sharon Casey, who both starred in athletics during their high school years. John, a 1991 graduate of Cumberland High, was a former all-stater in tennis and cross country. Sharon [McNulty], a town resident, excelled in cross country and track and field at Bishop Feehan.
âHe just loves sports,â said John, about his fleet-footed son. âHis favorite sports are basketball and tennis, but he always likes to run. Every now and then heâll go for a run with us.â
Itâs not too often that an eight-year-old wants to run four miles, but little Jack urged his parents to allow him to compete at Arnold Mills. After passing an âendurance testâ early last week, he was good to go.
âWe ran one day to make sure that he could run four miles and he did. He ran 35 minutes with the heat so we told him that he could run,â John said. âWe knew he could do it and he wanted to run on his own without Sharon or I, so we let him. We just lined up with him to make sure he didnât get trampled on. We all lined up with my brother and we boxed him in.â
âHe went the first couple of 100 yards with us,â he continued. âWhen he was in the clear, we let him go. I guess he went through the first mile in just under seven minutes.â
John, now age 38, was first among Team Casey, taking 38th overall in 25:21. Sharon also fared well, placing 73rd at 28:04.
The smallest of the Casey clan beat nearly 75 percent of the field by finishing 119th overall.
âHeâs a good kid and when he sets his mind to something, he does it,â Sharon said. âI thought within 30 to 35 minutes [today]. I knew heâd probably run faster come race day. To run 29 [minutes], that blows my mind.â
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When Bobby Harnett won Mondayâs race he ended a 12-year drought of winners from Cumberland High. The last former CHS runner to take the top prize, Jim Dandeneau, was among the spectators witnessing the feat.
In 1998, Dandeneau won his second title at Arnold Mills with a time of 19:41 on the old course, a challenging, four-mile route that traversed over Nate Whipple Highway, Paine Road, Rawson Road and Abbott Run Valley Road.
âIt was just one of those races,â said Dandeneau, a multiple all-stater at Cumberland in the mid-1980s. âI had my best track season in 1998. I ran a lot of my PRs. I ran 14:21 [for 5K]. I was second in the New England road 10K. I came in with a lot of confidence and was ready that day. It was a long time ago. I was 30 years old.â
Dandeneau was at several of the checkpoints in Mondayâs race and was impressed with how relaxed Hartnett looked. The 23-year-old champion starred at Cumberland and later at Columbia University, where he graduated in May of 2010.
âHe came back fit and obviously he was ready to go,â Dandeneau said. âYou could tell just looking at him at the mile. He looked so smooth. If anybody challenged him, I donât think there would be any question that he would have still won this race.â
Speaking of Harnett, there could be some longer races in his future.
âI am training with two guys that made the Olympic Trials in the marathon,â he said. âI might want to like start training for a marathon, but I donât know. Right now I am just working hard.â