22nd annual Laurel Run is first ‘Laurel Memorial Run’

The tradition continues

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino A crowd cheered on individuals with disabilities participating in Laurel’s Legacy Lap on Saturday at the 22nd annual Laurel Run.

Friday and Saturday marked the 22nd annual Laurel Run, but as the first as the “Laurel Memorial Run.”

The run began in 1997 with Laurel’s parents, Wayne and Elaine Hotelling. From the time she was born and diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Laurel was an inspiration to her family and others. As an individual, the Hotellings saw how Laurel was the same as any other child in all ways that were important. Her family wished to share that message with others, and so Laurel Run was born. Although the format has changed over time, the mission has remained the same – to promote the achievements of people with disabilities.

Laurel passed away at the age of 54 last November. The event’s website, laurel-run.com opens to a picture of Laurel with her parents and the words “In Loving Memory of Laurel Hotelling, Forever in Our Hearts.”

“It’s different this year,” Elaine Hotelling told the OBSERVER. “We feel her loss, but everyone is so supportive. How can we feel sad when we know everyone is behind us?”

This year Laurel Run was issued two proclamations – by Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas and by County Executive George Borrello.The 22nd annual event began on Friday with the traditional flag relay from Jamestown to Dunkirk, ending with the kickoff ceremony in Washington Park.

Wayne Hotelling said he was impressed and pleased by the larger than usual turnout of students for the relay, despite the heat.

“The basic purpose of the relay is to reach the youth and inform them that people with disabilities are citizens just as they are,” he said.

Saturday began with registration for the 5K run, 1K walk and the 8K race at 7 a.m. Just after 9 a.m. the first runners were back in Silver Creek’s village square where a celebration awaited them.

Medals were given to the top three male and female runners in each age group by residents in The Resource Center’s programs. The medals were made by individuals with disabilities and this year featured at picture of Laurel. Results of the race are on buffalorunners.com.

That was not the only place Laurel’s image was present. This year, a rendering of Laurel on her traditional tricycle with the addition of wings on a heart background adorned the front of the official Laurel Run T-shirts and her portrait was also placed on the back.

“It’s funny because even though Laurel isn’t with us, she was present. I saw her face each time someone passed me this morning,” said Wayne, who placed first in the 80+ Men’s 5K category. “We have been putting on the Laurel Run for 22 years and she has never been with me to run the race until this year.”

Laurel’s Lap has always been a time when the event lives up to its mission and really lets the accomplishments of individuals with disabilities shine. This year the Lap took place without Laurel on her tricycle, but it did not detract from the inspirational nature of the event.

TRC Board Member Rebecca Hamlet Kapple kicked off the first “Laurel’s Legacy Lap” by quoting Laurel’s friend and Laurel Run committee member Thomas Proper, “Let’s do it for Laurel!”

Laurel’s friends led the charge around the Silver Creek ballpark track to the sound of cheers and the sights of encouraging signs.

“Laurel’s Lap is the most beautiful thing about the whole event,” Kapple said. “It is an opportunity to celebrate everyone and a unique chance for people with disabilities to participate. It is always very inspirational and if you’ve ever been, you know people cheer louder for this than they do at sporting events.”

Wayne Hotelling shook hands with participants he knew from his time teaching, coaching and from the Laurel Run year after year. He thanked Ron Brennan and his family for help setting up, police agencies that assisted with security and Mayor Rosas, who sponsored PSAs on the radio before Friday’s relay.

As the event was winding down, he said this by no means will be the last Laurel Run, but the name will change going forward.

“This is about people with disabilities. Laurel and her friends started this to spread that awareness to everyone, but as long as we are here to do it, it will continue. Going forward it will be known as the Laurel Memorial Run and Laurel’s Legacy Lap. I couldn’t have asked for a better daughter, she taught me more than anyone else in my life. We are going to continue spreading those lessons she taught us for years to come,” he said.

Proceeds of Laurel Run go to Filling the Gap Inc. to raise awareness, provide employment opportunities and enable participation in Laurel’s Lap. Check out laurel-run.com for more information.