PEDERSEN BREAKS RECORD AT THE 60TH ASBURY PARKPOLAR BEAR 2023 5K.MATEESCU WINS THE WOMEN’S DIVISION. NOLAN STARS FOR 60TH STRAIGHT YEAR!
Robert Pedersen Jr. of Santa Rosa, California ran off with the 2023 installment of the 60th annual Asbury Park Polar Bear 5K Road Race in brilliant fashion on Saturday, Dec. 30th. First staged in 1964 by Shore Athletic Club, the 60th edition proved one of the best in the long series.
A graduate of Brick Township High School and the University of Oregon and home for the holidays, Pedersen won by a wide margin and broke the tape in a fast 14:49 time, besting his own Polar Bear record of 15:15 which he set in 2021.Never a top finisher in Shore Conference races in his days at Brick, or collegiate events at Oregon, where he ran on the U. of O. club team, Pedersen, representing the McMillan Running Company, where he is a team coach, has burst into stardom at 25. The five-foot-eight, 125-pounder is on the brink of national-caliber status and has a a 29:46 10K and 2:26 marathon to his credit.
“I love coming back to the Jersey Shore,” he said. “It always brings back so many memories.”
In a hot race for second and third, Michael Zurzolo (15:26) edged Michael Bond (15:28), with fourth going to Brian Hill Jr. with a fine 15:30. All three are teammates with Shore AC and with top college credentials, Zurzolo and Bond with The College of New Jersey and Hill Jr. at Michigan. Zurzolo, Bond and Hill all moved into the top ten best Polar Bear times ever in 5th, 6th and 7th place all-time over a revised and fast one lap course on the Asbury Park Boardwalk, into Ocean Grove and Bradley Beach, out back and return.. Among those knocked out of the all time top ten was former four time winner and 1968 U.S. Olympian Bill Reilly, the Long Branch High School graduate from Oceanport.. .
In the women’s race, Nicolette Mateescu of Kendall Park, the former Rider University star and Olympic Trials marathoner, finished first with a wide lead, clocking in at 18:34, placing her in the sixth spot of the top ten all
time best times for women. Shore AC member Emma Cary, former Sacred Heart University star (19:22) and Katie Deslere (19:50) were second and third place finishers.
For Emma and her mother, Nora Cary, the famed National Masters champion for Shore AC, this was definitely a family affair. Nora Cary was a notable 22:26 winner in the women’s over-all Masters and 65-69 categories and placed eighth over-all..
But the day’s loudest cheers were saved for the greatest Polar Bear of all.
Running in the race for the 60th time, having never missed a Polar Bear race, was Dr.Harry Nolan, of Shore AC and Middletown. A nine time winner of the race over the years – no one is even close to that distinction – he won the 75-79 age division race in 28:29.
“This is just a very special race,” said Nolan, who also serves as official Polar Bear historian. “Nothing will ever keep me away.”
Honoring the race’s grand history, four other past men’s winners were in the field, too.
Justin Scheid (the 2016-2018 winner and 2017-2019-2022 runner-up), ran sixth this time. Joseph Amoresano (2012 champion) placed 14th, Nolan Kus (2020 winner) was 17th and Jeremy Stratton (1994 winner) 108th..
“Great to be invited back,” said Stratton, a former top runner in Great Britain. “Glad to be back. This race has such tremendous history.”
Men’s over-all Masters (40-up) champion was Marc Blanco, new Shore AC member from West Long Branch, ninth in 17:24.
In the companion 5k racewalk, Shore AC star Rich Luettchau of Bridgewater, former USA 10K racewalk titlist and twice previous Polar Bear champion, returned to the winner’s circle in 24:11. Walker-up to him was Emesh Fernando of Clementon ( 31:11). Maria Paul of Shore AC and Long Branch, led the way in the women’s 5K, taking her eighth all-time Polar Bear win with a 35:14 clocking. Twenty –six walkers crossed the line.
The day‘s program opened with the 1-mile run and saw Michael Rivera of Chatham (5:20) lead the boys and C. Thieme of Manasquan (6:38) the girls.
The race drew a best-ever 548 entrants, runners and walkers, taking part in the event considered to be the oldest road race in the Jersey Shore and one of the
oldest in New Jersey and the nation. The race was began by then-Asbury Park Press sportswriter Elliott Denman in 1964, with the assistance of Asbury Park recreation chairman William “Butch” Bruno, and the city’s famed publicist, George Zuckerman.
Denman, a 1956 and a 1956 U.S. Olympian in the 50-kilometer racewalk, will mark his 90th birthday on Jan. 23. “I had health issues last year and had to miss the Polar Bear Race,” said Denman. “So it was great to be back and able to cheer everybody on.”
. The race was conducted by the Shore Athletic Club, under the direction of Erin O’Neill and Coach Joe Compagni, and their team of enthusiastic volunteers.
“Absolutely awesome that Harry (Nolan) finished his 60th in a row,” said Compagni. “ I don’t know where one would go to find out who might have a similar streak, but it has to be one the longest/best such accomplishments, especially since Harry also has so many wins and top ten finishes and age group wins in that streak.
“And a big ‘Thank You’ to everyone who helped out to make the race a big success! “
“Santa Claus” – alias noted ex-Rutgers distance star Dave DeMonico, a frequent winner on the Shore Area racing circuit over the years – was on hand for the event, too. After leading the 5K runners with his trumpet rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner” at the start, DeMonico encouraged them with trumpet salutes along the way.
And when that was done, he peeled off his Santa suit and led a small group of runners in the traditional Atlantic Ocean dip. “Sure it was cold, and I got knocked over by a rogue wave, but that’s all part of the Polar Bear event, too. Never want to miss it.”
Serving as official starter was Shore AC trustee Wayne Baker, assisted by the
honorary starter, City of Asbury Park councilwoman Eileen Chapman.
With its slate of 2023 events in the books – all successes in participation and enthusiasm – Shore AC now looks ahead to a big 2024 calendar.
The club’s annual Awards Banquet is set for March 10 at The English Manor, Ocean Township. Its first competitive event will be the 59th annual Capt Ronald Zinn Memorial Races, April 14 at Dorbrook Park, Colts Neck Township.
For details on all Shore AC events: www.ShoreAC.org. For full Polar Bear results: Runsignup.com. For the official Polar Bear video.
(With story assistance of Elliott Denman.)