Jim Doyle was among the several hundred runners, walkers and family members at the Bryant University campus on Saturday at the Shawn M. Nassaney Memorial Cross Country Race/Walk. He was there to remember his former runner, who died tragically in the 9/11 terrorist attacks along with his girlfriend Lynn Goodchild.
Before moving on to Bishop Hendricken, Doyle was the head coach at St. Raphael Academy where he produced a stable of all-state runners and his teams manufactured a dominate run in cross country, winning five state titles between 1987-93. Although he wasn’t one of those superstars, Nassaney was certainly one of those key varsity members of his SRA squads.
While he may not have been his most talented, the one that stole the headlines in the newspapers, Doyle does recall the vocal leadership and team loyalty that the late runner displayed on a daily basis, either at practice or a crucial meet.
It was something that was often just as important.
“I remember him coming up that great hill and he would be shouting, ‘St. Ray’s, St. Ray’s, St. Ray’s!’” said Doyle, referring to the quarter-mile incline that greeted runners after the two-mile mark of the old state championship course at Bryant. “I still have a picture that I carry of him in my wallet. He is someone I will never forget.”
Neither has a good portion of the field that made their yearly homage to Bryant for the annual event in honor of the former Saints and Bryant runner with the contagious smile. The Nassaney Race, formed just a month after 9/11, was celebrating its 11th year on Saturday, coming just a day before the 10th anniversary of the fateful day when Nassaney and Goodchild were aboard United Flight 175, the second plane to hit the World Trade Center Towers.
It’s not an easy time of year for the families of Nassaney, Goodchild and all those that lost a loved one on Sept. 11, 2001. But this event, one that this year also featured a pair of college races, has eased the pain somewhat for Shawn’s parents, Patrick and Margaret, and his two brothers, Ryan and Patrick Jr.
“We are here with our friends and families,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t get better than this.”
Added his son Patrick Jr., “It’s great to see so many people out here paying tribute to Shawn. It’s a lot of fun and a good time. It makes you feel good.”
Doyle, who showed up for Sunday’s event just a short time after his Bishop Hendricken team competed in the annual Injury Fund Cross-Country Carnival at Burrillville Middle School, indicated that each year is a special time for him.
“I think it’s important that nobody ever forgets what happened that day; the tragic circumstances of the whole event,” he said. “God willing, I’ll be here as long as I can. I’ll always remember Shawn.”
Steve Habershaw, an all-stater for Bishop Hendricken in mid 1990s when Shawn ran for Saints, never misses the memorial race. He was not only a competitor of Nassaney, but a good friend and former co-worker at American Power Conversions.
“It’s an event that goes on the calendar very early once the day is set,” said Habershaw, who now lives in Pittsburgh and is a regional sales manager for Cintas Corporation. “I always make sure that this is a priority. My family is every determined to make sure that I come back here and celebrate the legacy of Shawn and his family and also Lynn and be back with the old co-workers as well.”
“We were high school competitors and close friends throughout college,” he added. “Shawn became more of a mentor to me in addition to being a good friend. He mentored me and he was the reason I left grad school to go to work for American Power Conversion and start a career in sales.”
Current St. Ray’s cross-country coach Al Vanasse assisted Doyle during his stay at the Pawtucket school. He’s been a regular fixture at an event for a runner he will also never forget.
“It’s tough, it really is,” he said. “Even now, it still sends goose bumps down you. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. It’s gone by so fast. I never had the opportunity to meet Lynn but I’m sure she was a good person too. Shawn always hung around with the good guys.”
Former Smithfield High standout and Bryant runner Eric Narcisi, a onetime college teammate of Nassaney at Bryant, won Saturday’s men’s race for the third time. Cumberland native and ex-St. Raphael harrier Kerri (Buco) Ramos captured the women’s race for her first-ever title.
Just like the sun that seems to creep out every year, Ramos is a perfect 11-for-11 in making sure that she gets to the starting line for her good friend.
“What I remember about Shawn is his outgoing personality, his charm, his funniness,” she said. “I think the list goes on and on. He was definitely one of those standout guys, who took the time to know everyone.”
Indeed, it was a special day for the 600-plus that made their way to the Bryant campus to remember the popular runner.
“Obviously this type of event makes you reflect back on where you were and how you were affected at that time. Obviously, it brings back a lot of memories,” Habershaw said. “I try to focus on the positive memories of why we’re here and celebrating the impact that Shawn had on us all as individuals and also on us all as a large group of friends and family that we are.
“I’ll tell you what. We are 11-for-11. The sun is shining. We almost had a cloudless day. The sun has always shone very brightly on us. Every year it definitely feels like there’s divine impact from Shawn and Lynn, making sure that this day is everything we hoped it would be.”