Oak Tree Races cross an ocean, bring community together

On Sunday Aug. 31, the Genesee Valley Conservancy held its ninth annual  Oak Tree Half Marathon & 5K run and walk. This year, the Oak Tree occurred simultaneously in Geneseo and in  northern Afghanistan at Camp Mike Spann.

According to GVC Executive Director Ben Gajewski, the race was planned  after Andrew Kless, who is currently stationed at the Afghan NATO station,  could not be a part of the race that he had participated in during previous  years.

“He was going to miss the race this year,” Gajewski said. “Early  on in the summer, he contacted me and wanted to know if there was any  way we could coordinate the run with the soldiers.”

The race in Geneseo began at 8 a.m. on Sunday while simultaneously  starting at 4:30 p.m. in Afghanistan.

“Over at the base, it was really a team bonding experience,”  Gajewski said.

While Kless was running the race at the NATO base, his wife Megan  competed in the half marathon in Geneseo.

Jeff Cavallaro of Rochester won the half-marathon in one hour, 21  minutes and 46 seconds. For the 5K, Bobby Henchen '11 of Rochester came  in first at 16:36.

Geneseo freshman Ash Dean was the fastest student competing in the  half-marathon, finishing in 1:31:44. Freshman Timothy Burger, Dean's  roommate, came in close behind with a time of 1:31:59. Despite the roommates'  success, the two were about four minutes late because they overslept,  Dean said.

Upon finishing the race, the GVC presented runners with medals and  assorted prizes like Once Again Nut Butter and offered a bountiful breakfast.

“It's a huge community event,” senior Dan Matthews said.  “I ran with my family … A lot of people come to the event - not  just people [in] Geneseo and the surrounding communities. There were  some people from St. John Fisher [College] who were on the cross-country  team.”

All race proceeds go to restoring the GVC. According to GVC's events  page, the Oak Tree races raised a record of $20,000, which helps to  protect 14,300 acres of land. Since 2005, the races have raised over  $65,000.