“Perseverance” marks Laurel Memorial Run & Walk

“Perseverance” has always been a word associated with the Laurel Memorial Run and Walk. This year is no exception.

Nearly 40 years ago, perseverance is what planted in Wayne Hotelling’s mind the idea of having Laurel Run. While driving through Canada on a family vacation in the early 1980s, Wayne noticed a man with a prosthetic leg, running along the highway. The Hotellings soon came upon the man’s support team and stopped to chat. They learned the runner was Terry Fox, and that after losing a leg to cancer he had set a goal of running across Canada in a “Marathon of Hope” to raise money for cancer research.

Terry’s determination and perseverance inspired Wayne, and he decided that one day he would do something similar to Terry’s Marathon of Hope.” Wayne’s goal would be to raise awareness about people with developmental disabilities in honor of his oldest daughter, Laurel, who had Down syndrome.

In 1997, Wayne set out to jog over 400 miles across New York State in an endeavor he called “Laurel Run.” After covering 100 miles in the first five days, Wayne sustained a leg injury that made it too painful to continue running. Undaunted, he gave his leg a little time to heal and then picked up where he had left off, trading his running shoes for a borrowed bicycle. When Wayne came to steep inclines, he got off the bike and had his wife, Elaine, walk up the hills to officially log the miles. They ended up finishing on time, with Wayne and a group of supporters jogging the last few miles.

A leg injury couldn’t stop Wayne from completing Laurel Run. He persevered because Laurel Run wasn’t about him — it was about Laurel, her friends at The Resource Center, and all of the people with disabilities, their families and caregivers who cheered for him as he crossed the state.

Perseverance has remained a part of the Laurel Run/Walk over the years as it has evolved into an annual, two-day event:

  • It is demonstrated by the many runners who have conquered our challenging 8-kilometer course, dubbed “The Toughest Race You’ll Love to Run” because of the hills, heat and humidity.
  • It is exemplified by the hardy souls who run or bike from Jamestown to Dunkirk in an event we call “The Laurel-thon.”
  • It is personified by the dozens of people with disabilities who turn out each year in Silver Creek to tackle “Laurel’s Legacy Lap,” an event created just for them.

The Hotellings have persevered in their personal lives as well. Some 30 years ago, Laurel acquired a serious infection and was hospitalized for 100 days. But she pulled

through and went on to enjoy a full, rich life.

In her final year, Laurel again spent a lot of time in hospitals in Buffalo and Erie, PA, with her parents visiting her every day. And Wayne, Elaine and their entire family persevered after the sad day in November 2017 when Laurel died at the age of 54.

Having persevered through so much over the years, Wayne and Elaine weren’t about to let the coronavirus cancel the 24th annual Laurel Memorial Run and Walk. Out of safety concerns, we will not hold our usual Silver Creek events. Instead, we’re asking people to sign up to complete a Laurel Run or Walk on their own. Learn more and register at www.laurel-run.com.

But not everything has changed! We’re still going to conduct our Jamestown-to-Dunkirk relay run Friday, July 17. We can’t hold our usual kickoff and victory celebrations, but by conducting the relay we can maintain a sense of normalcy this year.

The Laurel Run/Walk experienced a major change in 2018, which was our first event after Laurel passed away. This year will be different, too, but we hope many area residents will tap into Laurel’s persevering spirit and sign up to do a virtual run or walk. And we’re optimistic that by offering the virtual options, we’ll also attract people from faraway locations who want to be part of the Laurel Run/Walk tradition.

Pictured, Wayne, Elaine and Laurel pose outside Dunkirk City Hall during the victory celebration after the 2006 flag relay. Laurel is holding a proclamation declaring it “Laurel Run Day” in the City. She enjoyed her role as grand marshal of the Laurel Run/Walk.