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Diver tragedy inspires 'Take Back the Path' race in Clarence

The idea for a road race usually starts with the need for competition, or with the goal of helping a worthy cause. The story of this week's "Take Back the Path" race begins with a tragedy.

Joan Diver of Clarence was attacked and killed last September on a bike path that runs through Clarence. It was a shock to everyone in the community, but in particular to Clarence's Kevin Patterson and his family.

"We have three girls. We watched the bike path used every single day," he said. "Nobody was on it immediately after the Joan Diver incident. In the past, when you wanted to go past someone on the bike path, they'd say something. After that day, they'd say something and then it would be heads down, like New York City. No one wanted to look at you.

"I was running with a couple of friends of mine after that, and I said, 'We need to throw a 5K race to build up awareness and make this more secure.' "

He's doing that. "Take Back the Path" will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Clarence Center. The race will start and end at the Fire Hall at 9415 Clarence Center Road, and the course is partly on the town's bike path.

"Clarence is a rural community," he said. "We have a bike path, but few sidewalks. Everyone should feel comfortable when they go out. You shouldn't lose that feeling of security."

Patterson was working on the details of the race when a dramatic development on the case took place: Altemio C. Sanchez of Cheektowaga was arrested in January for the Diver murder and several other attacks throughout the area. He later pleaded guilty to three charges. In fact, evidence recently linked Sanchez with other crimes. The arrest made Western New York a safer place, but way down on its list of effects was how people reacted to the idea of a summer race.

"Some of the enthusiasm did go away," Patterson said. "I have no issues with that. The purpose of this race was not to catch Sanchez.

"It was to rebuild awareness of the bike path, and to inform people on the do's and don'ts of using it. You don't go as a single woman alone with an iPod, blasting it. You have to notice your surroundings."

When runner Barb Calhoun of Clarence heard about the race, she was quick to sign on to help out.

"It happens that our neighbors are close friends [of the Divers]," she said. "I was running that very day on the upper path when she [Diver] was running. That could have been me [who was attacked]. I was doing marathon training at the time."

Patterson, much more used to filling out race forms than collecting them, has been working on this race throughout the year.

"There's nothing more difficult than the first year," he said. "You have an agenda you want to be able to create. You have to make the race as good as possible. You have to make upfront commitments. It's difficult to make money. We're giving the typical race shirts. We have a band, 'Hit and Run,' voted Buffalo's No. 1 party band for the last seven years. . . . We've got Mercy Flight coming. It will land behind the fire hall. The mounted police will be out there.

"Walkers are welcome. In our original discussion, we talked about awarding prize money. But, in the first year of a 5K race, we made the decision not to do that. We want anybody who might use the bike path to come out."

More than 200 runners have signed up, and the number is expected to grow as the date approaches.

"It's amazing how many people have embraced this," said Calhoun, who is much more careful when she goes for a run now. "It hits home. I'm excited about this. The community will show its support."

Patterson would like to see this become an annual event. The money raised could go toward video equipment and/or a series of emergency phones on the route. Patterson would love to be able to present a good-sized check to the town every year to help keep such a system in operation. And a yearly race would certainly be a nice tribute to Diver.

"We actually will have one of the pastors from her church do a prayer before the race," Calhoun said. "We're trying to keep it positive to make sure this never happens again, but we wanted her to be a part of it."


Race calendar

Runnin' with Jesus 5K, Grace Lutheran Church, 6220 McKinley Parkway, Hamburg, 10 a.m. today, 649-6581.

Take Back the Path 5K, Clarence Center Fire Hall, 9415 Clarence Center Road, Clarence Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday, 741-3322.

Buffalo Police Chase (The Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), Knights of Columbus, 261 Legion Drive, 7 p.m. Friday, 851-4529.

Lake View Field Day 5K, Center Street and Lake View Road, Lakeview, 8 a.m. Saturday, 627-4593.

Coach Capuani Cross Country Kickoff Run, 5K, Frontier High School, 4432 Bayview Road, Hamburg, 9 a.m. Saturday, 926-1720.

Fair Days 5K, Niagara County Fair, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport, 9:30 a.m. Saturday, 795-9257.

Italian Festival 5K, 15th Street at Pine Avenue, Niagara Falls, 10 a.m. Sunday, 285-0377.


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