They’re a small but sturdy group; a dying but very proud breed, and still kickin’ for 9.3 miles.
The Boilermaker 15K perennials are a small group of runners who have participated in every single Boilermaker 15K race since its inception in 1978.
Training for this grueling race is a big commitment. A lot can get in the way in the course of a year – births, deaths, weddings, injuries and more. When you consider all of the factors that can get involved, these 10 people are nothing short of amazing.
Joe Wilczynski is a well-known local runner and president of the Mohawk Valley Hill Striders running club. The training part is a given, as Joe runs throughout the entire year so that he’s ready each July – but life almost got in the way a few times.
“I had three back surgeries in early 2000 that the doctor released me six weeks before the Boilermaker,” Joe said. “I had my father pass away four days before the Boilermaker July 3, 2003. On a positive note, my daughter was born 1992 July 3 before the Boilermaker.”
Running isn’t just in Joe’s feet – it’s in his soul. Only such a love affair could keep you running for 42 years.
Butch Custodero is another Boilermaker perennial who has been running along for the last 39 races.
“It’s an honor,” he said. “It also comes with a great deal of luck, because I haven’t been injured or hurt or sick when this event went on.”
When tragedy struck in Butch’s life, it had the decency to happen right after the Boilermaker and he was good to go by the time the next one came around.
“I got hit by a car a couple days after the Boilermaker and had a broken leg,” said Butch, “but that was healed and everything was good after that.”
Both men are proud and grateful, yet realistic about their Boilermaker 15K perennial status.
“As far as the future – I cannot predict the future,” Joe said. “But I will keep going as long as the man upstairs tells me and keeps me going.”
"I'm older now and whatever happens, happens,” Butch said. “We're in a whole different mode now – grandkids and good things. This is, I'll take it as long as it comes. If it gets too difficult or endangers anything, I'm done.”
This group of runners knows that the day is inevitable when perennials simply are no more. But when the race ends for them, life – and running – will go on.
“It will be a sad day, but that’s life,” Joe said. “That is part of life. We can’t keep going forever. But then there are other people that are creating more traditions of running 30, 35, 36, 37 of them. It will be a sad day when this ends.”
The full list of Boilermaker perennials includes:
Sheila Burth – New Hartford
Robert Bluey – Yorkville
Gordon (Butch) Custodero – New Hartford
Daniel DeFrees – Chittenango
Lawrence DiCesare – Sauquoit
Donald Harvey – Utica
Paul Huening – Utica
Edward Newman – Ontario
Richard Watkajtys – New Hartford
Joseph Wilczynski – Marcy
Bill Gazitano and Thomas Pasek, both of Utica, have both also participated in Boilermaker events every single year. Bill will participate in the Boilermaker 3-mile Walk and Thomas will run in the Boilermaker 5K.