NEWFANE -- Talk about a team talented enough to take the competition to school.
Until going global last month, educators Henri Kursten, Michael Heitzenrater, Joelle Mann and Diane Frost had limited their road racing dominance to the Buffalo area.
Turns out, that the Newfane Central Schools running team also was good enough to more than hold its own against competition from Australia, England, Germany, Singapore and the United States.
The four placed ninth in the mixed open division at the New York City Corporate Challenge, an event that is similar to the Buffalo JP Chase Morgan version, except the New York City event includes the top five finishers from other corporate challenges from 13 cities in five countries.
Teams that qualified by winning had half of their travel costs covered to New York. The rest of the qualifiers had to pay their own way.
Newfane qualified by winning the mixed open division at the JP Chase Morgan Challenge in June in Delaware Park in Buffalo.
"That's one of the things that's pretty amazing about our district," said Heitzenrater, a physical education teacher who also coaches the district's cross country and track teams. "We've very small compared to the different companies we're competing against, like M&T, Google and Kodak. For our school district in Newfane, New York, to be able to compete on the international level is a big accomplishment."
The New York version attracts fewer runners than the Buffalo one because it is an elite field of teams. The Buffalo race serves as a qualifier, but Buffalo's 3.5-mile race also attracts those who are just running for fun.
"It was very exciting," Frost, a secretary for the school district, said of the New York City race. "I didn't really know how good of a chance we had at the time. I knew we could be competitive, but I didn't know we would do as well as we did. The experience was incredible in New York, running against people from all over the world."
Kursten teaches technology and Mann teaches English at the high school, and both are former scholastic athletes, like Heitzenrater. Frost is a Newfane graduate who picked up running recreationally 13 years ago because her husband and brother are both runners.
Mann was technically "the rookie" on this year's team. She took the place of former team member Karen Adams, who took another job in a different school district. She helped Newfane's crew win the Buffalo title in 2004 to qualify for the New York event. Mann used to play softball and field hockey at Williamsville East and coached cross country for two years at Lewiston-Porter before taking a position with Newfane. She is Heitzenrater's assistant coach.
"We always felt we could compete," said Heitzenrater, a former Lockport High School standout who has won more than 100 individual race championships, including two Buffalo Corporate Challenge titles, and is a four-time Buffalo News Runner of the Year selection. "We all have room for improvement because we're all still getting healthy and back in shape.
"Although we ran our best times of the season [but not careers] in New York, we're looking to improve next year."
Newfane posted a time of one hour, 26 minutes, 19 seconds in New York, about three minutes faster than its winning time in Buffalo.
Beth Gaskill served as team captain, handled prerace preparation and was the fifth member of the team. She ran in the Buffalo event, but only the runners with the top four times on the teams that qualify for New York get to run in that race.
While Kursten, Heitzenrater and Frost were returnees from the 2004 New York City Corporate Challenge qualifying team, Kursten didn't run that year because he developed stress fractures in his legs before the race. Former school district Superintendent Jim Mills served as Kursten's substitute.
Kursten almost missed this year's event, too, straining a hamstring about a month before the race. But a little rest and relaxation, and a lot of determination, enabled him to be a part of the party this year.
"I wanted to go because the last time I couldn't, but at the same time I figured I could nurse it along enough to get through three-and-a-half miles," said Kursten, a former track and cross country coach at Newfane who ran in high school at Niagara-Wheatfield and played volleyball in college at Vermont Technical and Buffalo State.
"I was thrilled to be able to go this time and actually be able to take part in it," he said. "I'm just happy my leg held up to help the team place."
"It was good, it was fun," Mann said of the race in New York. "It was a beautiful day. It was sunny. I think it was in the 60s or 70s. We did a lot better than we thought we would. We improved our time. That was pretty big."