The Peguin Run in Amherst has been around since 1995. It is always held for an important cause, but Sunday's annual gathering - a tribute to Devin Waring, whose family helped found the race – added an element as aching and powerful as any moment in the event's 23-year history.
Tracy Waring, Devin's mother, fired the starting gun and ran the course with Devin's photo in her pocket. Her son Owen, 16, running in memory of his brother, finished third in his age group.
They were there afterward with Tracy's husband, Tim, a Town of Tonawanda police captain, when Dan O'Leary, a race coordinator involved since the beginning, led a crowd of about 700 in a moment of silence at Classics V, an Amherst banquet hall.
Yet Tracy said the dominant message was recalling the essence of her oldest son, remembered by his family as warm and joyous.
"Everybody loved the kid," Tracy said.
Video courtesy of Leesh Hertel
About 445 walkers or runners covered the 3.1-mile course on a gentle January morning. Sue Navarro, a spokesperson for Cradle Beach, said the race raised about $35,000 for the camp, which serves children with disabilities or those from lives of struggle.
"It was the nicest day we ever had," Tracy said.
The emotional core of the day involved "Team Devin," the 140 teenagers from area high schools who showed up to participate in honor of Devin, a Canisius High Senior who took his own life last month.
The Waring family decided to use the race as a means of raising awareness about the risks of teen suicide. Tracy said her son offered no sign of depression or distress. She hopes open discussion might save the lives of other young people going through a similar ordeal.
Anyone needing help can call a 24-hour Crisis Services hotline, at 716-834-3131.
As for Tracy, she refused to allow the race to be a day of mourning. Instead, she took solace in the joy and optimism of the teens who rallied around her. Many of Devin's friends have been regular visitors at the family home since the death of her son, and Tracy anticipates they will join together again as "Team Devin" when Canisius High holds its annual Chilly Challenge Run, in March.
After losing a friend in a way so difficult to comprehend, Tracy said the teens are remembering Devin – as they knew him for years – as a means of seeking healing.
"I think," she said, "they're finding comfort in being together."
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. You can find the results from the Penguin Run here.