Run for Neil draws more than 350 participants
More than 350 competitors ran and walked in the Run for Neil at Scappoose's 100-year celebration last weekend.
The run was organized in memory of Neil Hoffmann, a Scappoose High School student and avid runner who died in 2020.
Proceeds from the run went to the Neil Hoffmann Memorial Track Fund, which Hoffmann's family members created to fund facility improvements and programs for runners at Scappoose High School.
Hoffmann's former teammates took the top three spots in the 6k race. Rowen and Luke Suchoski, 17-year-old twins, took first and second place. Gage Ekstrom, a 2021 Scappoose High School graduate, took third.
"It was tough losing Neil in the fall, and he was on my mind while running it," Luke Suchoski said. "He was the nicest kid on the team. … We ran it for him, that race."
Sarah Waud-Elrod, Neil's aunt, said the family was "pretty overwhelmed with gratitude" at the race.
"It was bittersweet the day of," Waud-Elrod said.
The Suchoskis, Ekstrom and Hoffmann were all on the cross-country and track and field teams.
"It felt really good doing a run for a purpose," Ekstrom said. "Doing it for a buddy, raising awareness… you felt like you were running for something, and that felt really nice." Ekstrom said he started out the race wanting to take it easy and just have fun running with his friends, but he found motivation to run harder as the race went on.
Luke said the two opted for the 6k race instead of the 10k, because the 10k route went "straight up a hill."
"It's downhill that's the hard part," he added.
The 6k route "was pretty flat and kind of scenic in parts," Ekstrom said.
Olivia Katbi Smith, a coach in Parkrose High School's track and field program and the second-place finisher in the women's 10k, said the run was "probably the most challenging race I've ever done."
Two locals were among the fastest in the 10k.
John Kavulich, 21, took first place. Kavulich earned the 4A boys' cross country state championship in 2017 as a Scappoose High School senior, before joining the University of Portland Vikings.
Godffrey Rihe Mbihia, 41, took second and Eamon Whitten, 15, from Lincoln High School in Portland, took third.
Among women, local Abby Kessi, 25, took third place in the 10k. Kendall York, 17, from Portland, took first.
Ekstrom said the run had "a really cool sense of community."
"It was nice to see some familiar faces," after more than a year without many community events, he added.
Luke said having a crowd cheering in support makes him run a lot faster.
Luke said he and Rowen "felt like mini-celebrities" at the run, because people would recognize them as the red-headed twins often running around town.
"There were a lot of people there. Hopefully it will grow next year," Rowen said.
Organizers, including Paul Fidyrch, hope to make the Run for Neil an annual event.
Waud-Elrod said that the school district was able to find other funding for some track improvements already, freeing up the memorial funding for other track-related projects.
"We've been working closely with the school district to continue to provide resources and also opened it up to the middle school as well," Waud-Elrod said. They plan to create a mentorship program between middle school and high school students on the track teams "to bridge the gap because it's such a tough transition," Waud-Elrod said.
Programs for Scappoose runners have already been funded in honor of Hoffmann's legacy.
The cross country team returned from summer camp at the coast last week, paid for by the memorial fund.
"Neil was the consummate teammate, and that was reflected this week in how we faced challenge together, how we all pitched in to help each other, and the laughs we shared," a post on the team's Instagram account stated.
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