GILFORD — The runners came from all corners of New Hampshire. Some came from places as far away as Tennessee and Ohio.
Others came from nearer places New London and Sutton, which had 31 staff members from the Kearsarge Regional School District taking part, and Amherst, which sent 21 runners from Souhegan High School. There were 16 runners from Winnacunett High School in Hampton, three teams of runners from the Deerfield Elementary School and dozens of runner from Lisbon. In all some 78 school districts from across New England sent runners.
In all, more than 1,500 runners participated in Sunday's 26.4.26 Foundation relay Marathon between Gilford Elementary School and the three elementary schools in Laconia. Organized locally by GES Principal Danielle Bolduc and school Resource Officer Holly Harris, the event was dedicated to the memory of the 26 people — 20 children and six adults — who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012.
And participants were in Gilford Sunday for a number of reasons, from showing support for the surving Newtown families to speaking out against violence and gun deaths across the country.
Sam Brown of Easton, a small town just west of Franconia, was there along with his wife, Jenny Johnson, because they know Amy Lawton, an English teacher at Lisbon High School whose stepmother Dawn Hochspung, Sandy Hook Elementary School principal, was among those shot to death.
''She's a good friend,'' said Johnson, who said that she and Sam were both running in the relay and taking different laps so that one of them could be with their 18-month-old son, Thatcher, while the other was running.
Lawton, who lives in Bethlehem, told the hundreds who gathered at the Gilford Village bandstand before the start of the event that she misses Hochsprung's wide smile and cheering morning text messages and that she was overwhelmed with her initial response to the December 14 tragedy which claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six school teachers and administrators.
''The first thing I pictured in my mind was what would have happened if that had been my son's kindergarten class,'' noting that Sunday marked the sixth birthday of her son, Wyatt.
She said that image still stuck in her mind and brought tears to her eyes in January when the Lisbon school held an intruder drill in which classroom teachers had to react along with their students to an imminent threat of violence within the school.
Lawton said facing tragedy like that which took place at Newtown is the only way to deal with it. ''Facing tragedy and not looking away, not running away from pain, is important. We're hard-wired for empathy, compassion and connections. Something like this should make us more kind and more considerate,'' said Lawton.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Robbie Bruce of Nashville, Tennessee, founder of the 26.4.26 Foundation, who organized a relay marathon in Nashville only eight days after the shootings which drew 1,000 runners and raised $30,000 for the Newtown Youth Academy.
He said that although there are many evil people in the world capable of creating tragedies such as school massacres ''the more we do that shows there are good people in the world, the more the world will change, for the better. We must protect what is beautiful and what is happening here today shows all that it takes is a spark to get something good going.''
The 26.4.26 Facebook page on Monday reported that $31,000 was raised in Sunday's event.
Principal Bolduc said ''we proved today that the world is going to get better'' and thanked all of those who had worked with her to make Sunday's relay race a success.
She said hundreds of volunteers helped out Sunday and that she had been inspired by the example of Bruce in organizing the Nashville event.
All of the school districts which took part were presented with a Blue Spruce seedling, courtesy of Belknap Landscaping, which they will plant at their schools in memory of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Amy Lawton of Bethlehem, a teacher at Lisbon High School, speaks Sunday at the Gilford Village Field bandstand before the start of a marathon relay honoring the victims of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Her stepmother, Dawn Hochsprung. principal at Sandy Hook, was among those killed. Behind her are Robbie Bruce of Nashville, Tennessee, founder of the 26.4.26 Foundation, and Danielle Bolduc, principal of Gilford Elementary School. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)
Thatcher Brown, 16 months old, of Easton, watches from behind the Gilford Village Field bandstand, as his father, Sam, who ran in Sunday's relay marathon honoring the victims of the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn keeps his eye on him. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)