By Ellen Oliver
For years Nashoba graduates met up on Thanksgiving morning on the bleachers surrounding a football field as Nashoba and North Middlesex took to the gridiron. But the Sixth Annual Stow Gobbler 5K officially wins the reunion race, bringing together former Chieftains and Stow community members two hours before football kick off.
“My favorite part is seeing old high school friends and checking in on the high school team,” said Miles Hodge, a 2012 Nashoba graduate and Gobbler runner.
The Gobbler was founded by avid runners Nick and Alex Papanastassiou when they were in high school as a way to help their mom participate in a Thanksgiving race closer to home. Now college seniors, the brothers proved they haven’t lost a step, crossing the line at 9th (Nick, 18:45.9) and 11th (Alex, 18:47.0), along with former event organizers Abby Hurd at 12th overall and the top female finisher (18:50.14) and Allie Allaire crossing at 59th (21:37.8).
Among the almost 1000 runners, there were plenty of representatives of past and present Nashoba/Hale runners. The top overall male finisher was 2010 Nashoba grad Coby Horowitz, now a three time All-American as a junior at Bowdoin College (16:46.2). Close on his heels was Hodge (16:47.1), a freshman on UMass Amherst’s cross country squad. “I got 2nd by a second behind Coby who snagged first place,” said Hodge. Nashoba cross country stand-out freshman Rylee Gillen was 26th (19:59.4), coming in next to her former Hale coach Ben Langelo 27th (20:02.4), and current Hale speedster Sarah Gillooly, 28th (20:04.0).
Nick and Alex were juniors at Nashoba when they started the race, then passed the baton to Hurd and Allaire, who graduated in 2012. As Hurd headed to University of Vermont and Allaire to James Madison University, the girls transferred responsibility to a trio of Nashoba sophomores: Nick Piccioli, Zach Honig and Jacob Hangen. “The race is so nice because it attracts a lot of young people since its run by high schoolers,” said Peggy Papanastassiou, mother to the founding fathers.
Piccioli was approached to take over the race after last years’ Gobbler. “I wanted to do it, but didn’t want to do it alone, so I asked Zach and Jacob,” he said. Nick’s mother, Ellen, added, “Last years organizers, Abby and Allie, were a great help, along with their families.”
With assistance from their own families, the boys began working through the binder bequeathed to them by Hurd and Allaire. “At the beginning of the year, the to-do list was daunting,” said Hangen. “It went a lot quicker and easier than I thought. It was very rewarding to see it pay off.”
For Honig the biggest change was peeking behind the curtain and seeing the work involved in pulling off the event. “I had run last year and the year before and just showed up, picked up my bib and didn’t think about behind the scenes,” he said. “One second you’re drawing the starting line, and then next second there are 900 people on it.”
Ticking off a list of action items beginning at 4:30 am made for a busy morning, but during the race, the boys had a chance to breathe. “It was like an eye of the storm,” described Honig. “There was a rush of people, then they were gone and it was peaceful. Then the first runners came back and there was a rush again.”
Six years ago, 350 participated; this year 908 crossed the finish line. “The first year we were hoping for 100 people and we ran out of numbers,” reminisced Peggy Papanastassiou, who says they were rescued by the Stow Conservation Trust, who had numbers left over from their race. “It turned out we could have gotten more numbers from the timing people, but we didn’t know that,” laughed Peggy.
While the numbers of runners has grown and the event runs like a well-oiled machine, the beneficiaries of the event remain the same. Once the final numbers are tallied and the bills are paid, proceeds will be split between Habitat for Humanity and the Stow Community Chest. “We had great support from the police, both from Stow and Bolton, and the EMTs and firefighters,” said Nick Piccioli. “Also Bose was great and all the sponsors were a huge help.”
The early morning Gobbler tradition has secured a role on Thanksgiving Day right beside, or before, pumpkin pie and pigskin. And now Piccioli, Honig and Hangen are part of that tradition. “It went really well. You do so much preparation, but then things run themselves the day of the race,” said Hangen. Added Ellen Piccioli, “It’s such a blast to see so many people from the community having a good time.”
To see the race in action, check out a video posted on You Tube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2gTQw-1UFs.