Labor Day weekend is not a typical weekend for the women’s cross country team at Ithaca College. This holiday weekend is one of the most special times for the team, as past, present and even some future Bombers come together to celebrate the cross country program and the life of one legendary Bomber whose life was cut short.
At 11:15 a.m. Saturday, the Blue and Gold will toe the line for the annual Jannette Bonrouhi-Zakaim Memorial Run, named for the late Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame member and seven-time All-American who collapsed following a workout routine and passed away in 2001.
As co-captain of this year’s squad, senior Danielle Sisti said its a great opportunity to be able to take part in this race.
“It’s great to be able to honor someone who was such a great runner, let alone a fellow Bomber,” Sisti said. “It’s really cool because everyone gets to come together, and all the little kids run and just have fun.”
As a freshman in 1986, Bonrouhi-Zakaim made an immediate impact, finishing 10th at the NCAA Championships. Bonrouhi-Zakaim helped the Bombers finish second — the highest finish the school has ever placed as a team in its 26-year history. Bonrouhi-Zakaim was inducted into the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
After Bonrouhi-Zakaim’s sudden death, Head Coach Bill Ware and many of Bonrouhi-Zakaim’s former teammates chose to rename the annual alumni run in her honor. A kids’ run was added to the alumni 5-kilometer race in 1999, which allows all of the alumni’s children to participate. Current runner and junior Molly Quinn ran in the first kids’ run in 1999.
Ware said it’s an honor to have the race in memory of Bonrouhi-Zakaim every season.
“It keeps her name alive, year after year,” Ware said. “As long as we have cross country here at Ithaca College, her name will be associated with the alumni run, as well as with the whole program.”
The event also gives the team a stage on which to perform, on campus, as the race is the only competition they will run at home all year. With several generations of Bombers competing, this year’s team always views the event as a time to jumpstart it’s season, senior co-captain Catherine Ortiz said.
“It’s the same every year,” Ortiz said. “We try to beat the alumni. … We use [the race] to get used to the racing atmosphere.”
The race is scored like a regular meet, with the winning team, be it the Bombers or alumni, taking home bragging rights for the whole year. Amanda Boccio ’09 said the race is something that she’ll look forward to taking part in every year.
“It’s a really nice way to reconnect with former teammates, and to meet the new set of athletes coming in,” Boccio said. “Coach Ware and [James Nichols, men’s cross country head coach] get so excited to see everyone.”
The race is also the first chance for the team to put on the blue and gold singlet, tie up the racing spikes and get down to business with what hopes to be another campaign destined for the NCAA Championships.
Last year, the first Bomber to finish was sophomore Jenn Randall, who placed fourth overall. Randall hopes to kick start the season with a win Saturday.
“We are all pretty excited to start racing and this is always a good weekend for us to see where we are,” Randall said. “This race is basically a starting point for our season.”