Monadnock Profiles: Rindge man’s long-running tradition

  • Kevin McCusker Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Kevin McCusker of Rindge runs during a summer running camp with then-JRMS runners Kylie Aho and Amarah Lapinsky in 2018. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/19/2020 5:03:07 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 5:02:57 PM

Kevin McCusker plans to go for a run on Thursday morning. He could save the almost two-hour drive to Manchester, Connecticut and just take to the roads around his Lake Monomonac home in Rindge to get his 4.748 miles in. But McCusker doesn’t mind making his way to south for a Thursday morning run in November – he has done it for the last 49 years, after all.

Typically, that run through the streets of Manchester is done on Thanksgiving morning, as part of the Manchester Road Race which dates back to 1927. But this year, given the coronavirus pandemic, the Manchester Road Race will be held virtually for the first time,  meaning that participants can run the course of their choosing.

Yet McCusker found it hard to envision his 50th consecutive year running in the event that drew close to 10,000 people in 2019 happening anywhere but the Manchester course.

In an effort to deter people from running the course on Thanksgiving day, race officials purposely ended the official time to take part in the race the day before. So McCusker decided to do it one week prior.

Along the way there have been challenges to McCusker’s streak. In fact it actually almost didn’t start in 1971 when a Thanksgiving snowstorm made the family late after stopping along the way to help others get their cars unstuck.

“We finally arrived and were driving down Main Street, in Manchester, and could see that the race had not yet started. The gun went off as we were pulling our sweats off. We had to run to catch the field. I remember tucking my $2 entry fee under my watch band, and we ended up registering after the race was over,” McCusker said.

There were the four years when he was living in California that could have easily brought his streak to an end, but it was a tradition and so he made his way home each Thanksgiving and ran.

“Once I got past the California years, I had to keep going,” McCusker said. “I had this little streak going and by then I had some momentum.”

In 2002, he had foot surgery and was told he may not be able to run again. So McCusker walked the course and resumed his running ways the following year.

“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come back,” he said.

This year, there won’t be the roar of the crowd and thousands of other people to enjoy the nearly five-mile run with. He won’t have throngs of friends and family running in the race too like they did for his 40th consecutive start. But he will have his brother Mike out there with him, who said he would start running six or seven minutes before so McCusker can have someone to chase down. His cousin Rob Cook will run with him and his brother Bob will join for the very end.

“That helps, having someone out there you’re trying to catch,” McCusker said. Having already competed in two virtual races this summer, McCusker knows he has to create that artificial sense of competition for himself.

“Since it’s Manchester, I will have that in me anyway,” he said. “Just for myself, I’d like to get a pretty good time in.”

McCusker has run since he was in middle school, following in the footsteps of his older brothers, Mike and Bob. He set the record for the mile at his middle school with a time of 5:09 when in 8th grade (his personal best for the mile is 4:12).

“Running is a trend that runs through my life,” McCusker said.

Over the last five years, McCusker has passed along all he’s learned in the sport as the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School cross country and track coach. He loves working with the kids, seeing them show up for practice every day looking to take part in a sport that he constantly stresses is one they can do for their whole lives.

There’s a reward factor that comes along with it none more then when he hears about the impact he’s had on them.

At Farmington High School (Connecticut), he was a member of four straight state championship cross-country teams and actually, by fluke, ended up running the 3,000 meter steeplechase – 1.86 miles, over barriers and water jumps – in a large invitational track meet, and set the Connecticut high school record at the time.

McCusker went on to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and as a member of the track team, set the freshman record for the steeplechase, and went on to become the 1977 collegiate New England Champion. In 1979, his senior year, the cross-country team qualified for the NCAA Nationals.

But while running has been such a big part of his life, it certainly wasn’t going to pay the bills. That happened thanks to a 35-year career with IBM, starting out as a programmer (and then a member of IBM’s running team) after college in White Plains, New York. From there he went to California for four years, where he ran his first marathon among the redwoods. He also ran Boston in 1982 and competed in the Lowell Marathon at the age of 52.

Then he decided to come back to New England and switched to a sales rep position out of Waltham, Massachusetts. He learned a lot about a number of sectors on the business world, something he welcomed. He enjoyed the work and found no reason to leave the company.

“That doesn’t happen much anymore,” McCusker said of his longevity with IBM.

Before he moved to Rindge five years ago, even though he owned the property on Lake Monomonac since 2000, McCusker lived on a farm in Ashby, Massachusetts and it’s where his son Ian grew up.

His parents Andy and Skip used the property for some time, and McCusker was spending a lot of time there caring for his dad. Around the time he retired from IBM is when he moved to the lake full time. And how does McCusker describe living with a view of the lake?

“The lake is like a canvas and every time you look out, it’s got a different painting on it,” he said.

He is the proud owner of a wood-paneled 1956 Philbrick speedboat that during the boating season can be seen cruising around Monomonac. He bought it 25 years ago and has not regretted the decision one bit. It goes 40 miles per hour thanks to its V8 dual exhaust setup and it brings McCusker back to the days of when he was a kid going to Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Bristol, Connecticut.

His dad’s company would host a family outing there and he always remembered those boat trips around the lake.

“The water spraying up, the exhaust gurgling, the wind blowing through your hair, that was something that stayed in my head,” McCusker said. So when he had the means to do it, he bought one of his own.

Two of his brothers own property on Monomonac, making it three out of the eight McCusker siblings on the lake, although neither of his brothers are full-time residents. McCusker comes from a close family, typically all eight get together for Fourth of July and there isn’t a day that goes by without a text to the long-running group chat they have.

Along the way, McCusker was married, then got divorced; following that breakup, he was admittedly “sliding along at a low point for a while.” Then he thought of Donna Olivieri. The two had dated for about eight months during McCusker’s first year out of college. But then he moved to California and the long-distance relationship just wasn’t going to work.

“She and I had this connection,” he said. A Google search provided an email address and the two reconnected. They spent two years together before taking a break, but after another four years apart, they rekindled their relationship in May, giving it a third try.

“We both felt a magic and it’s still there,” he said.

And while McCusker has a lot of interests, running has been that constant theme. It’s   a time when he can organize his life, and merely be alone and enjoy nature.

“It’s such a nice equalizer in life,” McCusker said.

In his first Manchester Road Race, McCusker finished 54th. His best finish was 8th overall in 1977, when he ran the course in 23:30.

He doesn’t have the longest streak in the race’s history, but he’s in the top 10.

“For a while I didn’t really count how many years, I just ran it every year,” he said.

But now McCusker is fully aware of his streak and plans to keep it going as long as he can, because if a snowstorm, bum foot and a pandemic can’t stand in the way, there doesn’t appear to be anything that will.


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