STRATFORD, Conn. — Just after he was the first to cross the finish line in the third annual Vicki Soto 5K race on Saturday, Tim Milenkevich of Ansonia paused to consider why he had won.
“Just honoring the memory of Vicki Soto inspires you to run harder,” Milenkevich said, bending over to catch his breath.
Nearly 3,000 runners took their mark to honor Soto, a Stratford resident and Newtown teacher who was killed in the Sandy Hook School tragedy. Organized by her cousin, Stratford resident and Fairfield police officer James Wiltsie, with longtime race director Marty Schaivone, the race raised an estimated $100,000 for the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund.
All proceeds will go toward scholarships for students pursuing careers in education, Wiltsie said.
About 10 teachers from Stratford’s Victoria Soto School, which opened this fall, took part in the race. Donning neon pink wigs — in memory of Soto’s love for pink flamingos — they joined hundreds of others who wore flamingo headbands and pink and purple tutus, lending a festive air to what could have been a somber event.
“We need to support this because it’s an honor to teach at that school,” said second-grade teacher Kim Perillo of Stratford.
“We tell the kids the school was named after a teacher who loved children very much,” said Alycia Sabrowski of West Haven. “If they ask if she died, we say, ‘Yes, she did and this is a great way to remember her.’”
Jimmy Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter Ana Márquez-Greene was killed in the massacre, ran in Saturday’s race, along with a large group of friends. Many wore purple “Love Wins” T-shirts, Ana’s favorite color.
“It’s wonderful to be able to support the Soto family,” said the Newtown jazz saxophonist said. “I’m very happy to support this event.” He is also a professor at Danbury's Western Connecticut State University.
Soto’s mother, Donna Soto of Stratford, said she was touched by the goodwill from across the country.
“It’s heartwarming,” she said. “It’s something good that came out of this.”
Soto would have turned 30 on Nov. 14.
The day began with a children’s fun run and then the 5K around the picturesque Lordship neighborhood. After a moment of silence, runners stepped off to the sounds of bagpipes and were met by town cheerleaders and a marching band along the way, said Bryan Ripley Crandall.
“There was even a guy and his kids handing out leftover Halloween candy,” the Stratford resident said. “They were going, ‘Chocolate! Who wants chocolate?’”
Although the day had a positive tone, many said they kept the tragedy in mind as they ran.
“For me, I do it so the family knows we haven’t forgotten,” said Marni Baggett of Southbury. “It’s mostly to show support and love.”
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