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Five-Person Relay Drew All Types

Stories Still Told of Amazing Athleticism... and Everyone Else

It's been more than 12 years since the Ledyard Five-Person Relay Race ended its 20-year run. But for those who like to wax nostalgic about the event, the stories never get old. 

Like the one about the guy who bought a canoe specifically to participate in the race, only to jump into the boat and crash right through the bottom.

Wayne Chiapperini became a regular in the annual relay after he and four other friends decided on a lark one year to sign up.  He remembers being so out of shape that he was the designated swimmer in the group.

"It was only a half-mile swim but I was hurting," he said. "After about 200 feet I flipped over on my back and did the back crawl. I made it even though I couldn't see where I was going."

The race, which drew both the serious and not-so-serious competitor, is no more, but the memories linger.

"We were just a bunch of guys who didn't have a lot of talent competing against some of the strongest competition in the country," said Chiapperini. "It was a time of fun and great camaraderie."

Don Grise, Ledyard's long-time Parks and Recreation director, said the race, which ran from 1978 to 1998, attracted quality athletes from across the country and other groups, such a Chiaipperini and friends, that did it for sheer enjoyment.

Grew to 150 teams

It started with about 20 teams, but by the late 1980s and early '90s there were more than 150 five-person teams. The event included a 6K run, half-mile swim, 20-mile bicycle leg and canoe competition on Long Pond.

Some top talent was attracted to Ledyard, making it the second most popular event in town, following only the Ledyard Fair, according to Grise. Competitors flew in from others states, as far away as Florida.

"I remember that one corporation brought in a dozen teams," Grise said. "And Fairfield University brought in four or five teams a year."

Grise said that once two competitors met inside a Texas bar and enjoyed a drink together, both wearing their Ledyard Five-Person Relay T-shirts distributed at the race.

He recalled one race day when the temperature was in the 90s, and homeowners along the route cooled runners by spraying water on them with garden hoses. Another time, organizers discovered at the last minute that one of the roads in the 6K race had just been sanded. They successfully managed to alter the route.

The beginning of the end came in the mid-1990s. In the earlier years there hadn't been all that many relay races around the country, but that would change as relays started cropping up everywhere.

Grise said at the end there were only 40 to 45 teams, and many of them competed in the seniors' division.

He sees no chance the race will be revived.

Still, people like Chiapperini enjoy telling the stories.  Like the time he and one of his teammates were in the canoe competition.

"Now those canoes can be heavy," he said. "And we had to run with them about 50 yards to the water. He's about six-foot-six and skinny and I'm five-foot-seven and pudgy. I can't tell you how out of breath I was by the time we reached the water."

He said the canoe tipped over not once, but twice. He and his buddy still made it to the finish line.

Michael Dreimiller December 07, 2010 at 03:48 PM
The best part of the day was always the big party at Highlands Lake after the race was over.
Kerri Tashea May 09, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Although one year I did the swim leg of the race with friends from high school, my best memories are setting up the beach for the end of the race, marking numbers on the swimmers arms, and lifeguarding out in the middle of Highland Lake sitting in a row boat. And, I think I did that for 10 years. Thanks for the memories, Don.

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