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Another Voice: Area’s runners are thankful for Tom Donnelly

By Julie Berrigan

Buffalo lost a wonderful friend less than two weeks ago, and today we must celebrate the man who turned the Turkey Trot into the largest trot in the country. I am so thankful to have known Tom Donnelly. He was a major driving force behind this traditional run. To grow the Turkey Trot from 5,000 to capacity at 14,000, not to mention the thousands of spirited spectators, is a task indeed and he always did it with a smile on his face.

In addition to directing several big races (including the Buffalo Marathon) and managing marketing for the NFTA, Tom also found time to design a limited-edition running shirt for his son’s wedding this past summer. I imagine Tom also mapped out the run the entire family took the morning of the wedding.

Tom was a planner. At his memorial service, Tom’s daughter Alison spoke of a time when Tom spent weeks choreographing a grand entry and dance routine for the Nardin Father/Daughter Dance – a tradition for Tom and both his daughters. Guess who won the Father/Daughter Dance two years in a row? Tom Donnelly.

Tom was excited about the course he redesigned for the Buffalo Marathon. I remember seeing Tom around mile 9 this past May, and of course he had a classic grin on his face. Despite race day pressures and logistical challenges, Tom was out there, in his glory, cheering on his friends and always maintaining one of the most amazing smiles we will ever see.

I saw Tom a few days after the marathon at the gym. He looked a bit tired and he admitted the race and weeks leading up to it had kicked his butt, yet Tom was already at work designing the shirts for the 2015 marathon.

Yes, we are One Buffalo and Buffalo Strong and, therefore, we will march on despite the deep sadness and shock still surrounding the running community. No matter what your pace is, runners are a family of their own. There are few people in life who make you smile at 5:30 a.m. when you are working out at the gym or, better yet, running. Tom Donnelly was one of those very, very special people – he always had that genuine smile on his face and he was a tireless champion.

I’m thankful for the conversations each morning and the enthusiastic high fives Tom gave as we crossed paths in Delaware Park at 6:30 a.m. on the dot. The entire running community and so many others have benefited over the years as Tom’s footprints and dedication to the sport are seen all over our growing city. So many people, near and far, are thankful for Tom Donnelly.

Of course the Turkey Trot and Buffalo Marathon will go on. The good news is that even if the next leaders possess just a tenth of Tom’s energy, thoughtfulness and compassion, then we will all be in great company.

Julie Berrigan is a runner and personal stylist.