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Spisak, Martinelli win festive Brentwood Firecracker 5K event

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
randy jarosz | for the south hills record
Sarah Martinelli
randy jarosz | for the south hills record
Jimmy Spisak

Similar to a year ago, the 2014 Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run was held under ideal weather conditions.

The temperature was lower than usual, and the sun did not emerge until halfway through the event.

“We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day,” said Kira Kellner, who serves as co-race director with Maureen Cunningham. “We again had a record-breaking number of runners with 2,380 registered participants.”

A pair of 23-year-old runners set the pace in this year's holiday race, held on July 4 on Brownsville Road.

Jim Spisak of Pittsburgh crossed the finish line first overall with a 14-minute, 51-second time, and Sarah Martinelli of Morgantown, W.Va., took first among the female contestants in 17:22.

Spisak, a Bishop McCort graduate who recently was lauded as a Capital One Academic All-American at Duquesne University, and Martinelli finished comfortably ahead of runners-up Jed Christian, 27, who posted a 15:06 time; and Jamie Morgenstern, 26, with an 18:08 mark.

Adam Smith, 17, and Kara McCarfrey, 25, placed third in 16:07 and 18:42.

“I think the race went well and was a great show of local talent,” said Rich Wright, race committee member and race starter/public address announcer. “To have an event of this caliber in our hometown speaks volumes of Brentwood and its people.”

Rounding out the top eight in the male division were Cody Wolf, 19, (16:12); Brent Leber, 17, (16:24); Craig Woshner, 44, (16:32), Matthew Drabick, 21, (16:38); and James Gordish, 33, (16:41).

Sarah Olesky, 24, (18:54); Jessica May, 26, (19:02); Jennifer Haffner, 22, (19:05); Morgan Kiebler, 18, (20:07); and Brittany Fagan, 20, (20:49); rounded out the top eight in the female division.

The Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run has been held annually on July 4 for 31 years. It attracts local and regional participants as well as people from all parts of the United States.

For the fourth consecutive year, there was a record number of registrants in the local event.

The previous record was 2,209, which was set last summer. There were 1,950 registrants in 2012, including more than 500 on the day of the race, and 1,670 in 2011.

Kellner and Cunningham have served as co-race directors for two years. They were joined on the 5K planning committee in 2014 by Jeanne Berk, Steve Evans, Mary Lou Nees, Lish Reese and Wright.

“I would like to thank our volunteer committee (members), who have given so much time to help organize this annual tradition,” Kellner said. “We have had big shoes to fill, and the hard work and effort of the committee is truly invaluable.”

Wright, who along with Bonita “Bunny” Schmidt coaches the cross country program at Baldwin, is a longtime volunteer and consultant of area road races.

“The planning committee improves the race each year,” Wright said. “This year, we used disposal chips and mat start and finish timing.”

Woshner, from Winchester, Va., repeated as the men's masters division champion with his 16:32 performance.

Kelly Annapolen, a North Hills resident, took first place in the women's masters division with a 20:55 showing.

The winning times in last year's Brentwood Firecracker race were 14:52, set by Josh Simpson, from Morgantown, W.Va., and 17:09 by Estaferahu Temesgen, from Silver Spring, Md.


A total of 2,188 registrants — up from last year's 2,026 total — crossed this year's finish line, including 1,178 males and 1,010 females. It is believed to be the largest number of female participants in the race.

Age divisions with the most participants were the female 30-34, with 156, and male 25-29, with 140.

There also were more than 100 competitors among the female 25-29 (144), 35-39 (114) and 20-24 (102); and the male 30-34 (128), 35-39 (111) and 40-44 (101).


Local residents Alexis and Dave Watterson, 56, rounded out the list of finishers in this year's record-breaking field.

Alexis, 52, suffered a massive stroke in September of 2011 and lingered in a coma for a month at UPMC Mercy.

After a remarkable recovery, Alexis, with her husband at her side, participated in the race for the first time last year in what was a physically and emotionally heroic effort.

“It was quite an inspirational story,” Kellner said.

The Wattersons were longtime Brentwood Borough residents until Alexis' stroke required a move to a more accessible house in Baldwin.

Alexis and Dave ended up shaving close to 50 minutes off their time this year.

Not that that fact was important.


The 5K course records were established in 1997 by Carl Leonard (14:26) and Carole Zajac (16:24). Leonard was 24 years old that summer; Zajac was 25 years old.

“The records were set in 1997 when it was a cool 62 degrees,” Kellner said.


Spisak, a Duquesne University graduate student, was a first-team selection on the 2013-14 Capital One Academic All-America track and field/cross country squad.

Spisak posted an undergraduate cumulative grade point average of 3.76 in secondary education-social studies and has a perfect 4.0 GPA through one year of graduate school.

Duquesne's 2013-14 student athlete of the year, Spisak was a 2014 NCAA championship qualifier in the 10,000-meter run after finishing second at the NCAA regional.

Spisak is a two-time academic all-conference honoree, and was the Atlantic 10 titlist in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs. He set the school record in the 10,000 with a 29:02.09 time at the 2014 Bennie Benson Invitational, and also holds school records in the 1,500 (3:48.01) and 5,000 (13:50.44).


Greta Shepardson, lead singer in the local band Shades of June, sang the national anthem prior to the start of the race.

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or

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