Walsh Remembered

From Rod’s Valley the field set out Sunday morning on an off-road race that its women’s winner, Sinead FitzGibbon, called “the toughest and prettiest.” Jack Graves

    A beautiful day, some of the best trails out here, and the recent untimely death of Andrew Walsh, a 45-year-old Irish-born outdoorsman and gifted landscape designer known to many of them, brought some 70 mountain-bikers and runners to the Edward V. Ecker Preserve in Montauk Sunday to contest, following silent moments of remembrance, the Serpent’s Back Duathlon overseen by Mike Bahel, the 12-mile mountain-bike leg bracketed by two-and-a-half-mile trail runs.
    The field ran across Rod’s Valley, past the fishing pier, to the bluff jutting out into Fort Pond Bay, and disappeared up into the woods. Within 20 minutes most of the runners had reappeared in the valley, having run down a trail bordering Navy Road, and had set out up Navy Road on the tough bike leg capped by another run.
    Sinead FitzGibbon, 41, who was the women’s winner (and fifth over all, in 1 hour, 33 minutes, and 30 seconds) said, “Andrew used to say to the other mountain-bikers, ‘Look out for her — she’s got lungs in her legs!’ He loved these coastal trails. This was his favorite race. . . . We’re lucky to have it and we’re lucky to have each other’s companionship.”
    “Next August 1st,” she continued, “on his birthday, we’re going to have a duathlon with a kids’ race in Northwest Woods [where he died while mountain-biking on Sept. 13] to celebrate him. His family’s coming over from County Mayo. They’re all athletes. Simon, his brother, was here a couple of years ago. Simon’s son, David, will put a lot of pressure on the locals.”
    FitzGibbon, when asked before the race began if she was going to do all of it or compete as part of a relay team, replied, “I’ll suffer through the whole thing. But it’s okay — I loaded up on champagne last night.”
    She added that “Mike does such a great job with this race. It’s one of the toughest and one of the prettiest.”
    Among the contestants that day was Colm Kennedy, a boyhood friend of Walsh’s from Ballina, who now lives in San Francisco. “I went to college with him and we apprenticed with a tool and die maker in 1986. . . . He was a great man. He’ll be sorely missed.”
    Bahel said in a separate conversation that Kennedy had made plans to do the Serpent’s Back with Walsh, but learned just before making the trip east that his friend had died of a heart attack. “Rikki [Furman, Walsh’s life partner, who was also there that day] said he should come. He’s doing the whole race today.”
    It was no surprise that the duathlon was won, in 1:25:58, by Brian Wolff, who had won it in 2006, ’07, ’09, and ’10 as well. The string was broken by Ed Cashin in 2008, “though I made a couple of wrong turns that year, in the run and on the bike,” said Wolff, 31, who works for and is sponsored by Carl Hart Bicycles of Middle Island.
    Chris Daily, a very fit 52-year-old from Farmingdale, was the runner-up in 1:28:52. Dan Farnham, also 52, a Montauker who, along with Bahel, Brian Monahan, Ed and Caroline Cashin, Pat Wetzel, and FitzGibbon, has competed in endurance races all over the country under Walsh’s Team HOPS banner, was third, in 1:29:32.
    Later, Farnham marveled at how light Daily’s mountain bike was. You could lift it with two fingers. He would have to get one too, a spectator advised.
    “It was a good race,” said Wolff. “He’s a very strong racer — running and biking,” he said of the runner-up.
    “I used to win these things a long time ago — until he came on the scene,” said Daily. “He beats me on the bike, I beat him on the run.”
    It was nice, he added, that this was “not a super, super competitive race, but there’s a lot of spirit.”
    The fourth place finisher that day was Joe Amato, 46, of East Quogue. Caroline Cashin, 35, of Amagansett, was the women’s runner-up (and 14th over all) in 1:48:05.
    Cashin won this race in 2005, ’06, and ’09. Fitzgibbon won it in ’08. When her former wins were mentioned, Cashin said, acknowledging FitzGibbon, “Those were years she wasn’t here.”
     When Daily said he was a photographer and videographer, this writer said it was a pity he hadn’t been able to take photos that day. “My wife, Linda, clicked away,” Daily said, “but there was no card in the camera.”