SMITHFIELD — Save for the inaugural event in 2001, the Shawn M. Nassaney Memorial Cross-Country Race/Walk has consistently drawn an average of 500 participants each year.
The potential is there for possibly double that amount on Sept. 10 when the 11th annual event takes place at the Bryant University campus.
Besides the popular memorial race, held in honor of the former St. Raphael Academy and Bryant standout who lost his life along with his girlfriend Lynn Goodchild in the 9/11 attacks, this year's event will also feature the Shawn M. Nassaney College Invitational, a men's and women's race that has already attracted nationally-ranked Providence College, URI and host Bryant.
Traditionally, the Nassaney 5K coincided with Homecoming Weekend at Bryant. It was moved to its own separate day this year and that allowed race director Patrick Nassaney and Bryant to seek other ways to attract more participants to the already-successful event, which raises money for several educational scholarships.
“This year [Bryant] decided that the race will be on the second Saturday of September each year,” said Nassaney, who is the father of the late runner. “Once they locked into a date, I started to look at a high school invitational, but there was too much going on during that time. Bryant said, 'Why not a college invitational.’ I said, 'Great, let's go with it.'”
The college races, which begin at 9 a.m., will showcase a couple of R.I. schoolboy stars, including former Woonsocket High standout and PC senior Corey Brunelle and recent Smithfield grad and incoming freshman Liam Hillery. In addition, there will be some national-caliber talent, particularly from Providence College. Under head coach Ray Treacy, the Friars have built a reputation as one of the country's top cross-country programs, producing a plethora of All-Americans and a few national champions such as Kim Smith and Keith Kelly.
In the recent U.S. Track and Field Cross-Country Coaches poll released on Tuesday, the Lady Friars were ranked No. 3 nationally and the PC men were No. 18.
“It's going to be a great event; very competitive,” Nassaney said. “Obviously, just to have PC and URI it's going to put us right in the spotlight. We are really excited about it.”
The cross-country trails for the collegians will be different from the one used in the memorial race and for the men it will be slightly longer at eight kilometers. Next year, the memorial race will switch to the same as the women's course.
In terms of the memorial event, which begins at 1 p.m., the elder Nassaney indicated that nearly 400 have already pre-registered with a little more than a week remaining until race day. A good portion of the participants in the Nassaney race, which had a record 1,000-plus at its inaugural event a month after the terrorist attacks, are family and friends of the popular runner.
“Every year we are busy with the race, but I think the 10th anniversary [of 9/11] has a special meaning for a lot of people for whatever reason,” Patrick Nassaney said. “We are happy that they are all still remembering Shawn and Lynn.”
For additional information on the race and to register on-line, go to shawnmnassaney.org.