STRATFORD, Conn. — Friday would have been Vicki Soto’s 31st birthday, and a record 3,500 revelers came out Saturday to commemorate the Sandy Hook School teacher at the Vicki Soto 5K.
“It’s a celebration of Vicki’s life,” said Matt Soto, brother of the Stratford resident and Newtown teacher who was among the 26 killed at Sandy Hook School in 2012. “Today is our way of celebrating the only way we know how.”
Hundreds of runners stood in long lines at the race day registration tent, and organizers ran out of commemorative T-shirts for the last-minute surge. Many were dressed in bright pink in memory of Soto’s beloved flamingos, which were emblazoned on the shirts.
“This is definitely the biggest and best year we’ve had with the weather and participants,” said Jim Wiltsie, Soto’s cousin, who helps organize the annual event.
Sponsors for the race had already raised $35,000 for the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, which offers scholarships and supports educational and literacy efforts in Stratford and across the country. The 2015 race raised about $100,000 toward the fund’s many projects.
Runners come from around the United States to participate in the event, which, despite its origins, is filled with fun and laughter.
“I never expected it to be like this,” said Soto’s mother Donna Soto of Stratford. “People don’t realize it’s all family that does this — family and close friends. We’re blown away by the amount of people who are here.”
Emmanuel D'Agostino of Brookline, Mass., was first to cross the finish line in 16:01 minutes. One of several members of the Harvard University Running Club to participate, he said he was honored to take part.
“It’s a gorgeous day to support a great cause,” said the college sophomore.
Lauren O’Neill of Southport was the first woman across the line, with a time of 20:01 minutes.
While some were in it to win, many simply wanted to make a statement about hope.
Scott Bauer of East Haddam and Jim Perno of West Haven, who work together at the Millstone power station, were decked out in flamingo hats, tutus and pink leggings.
“Obviously, that day was so full of tragedy and something good coming from it? It’s great,” said Perno.
Dana Cavallo, who lives just blocks from the Soto family, brought together members of the St. James School running club.
“It a beautiful, perfect day for this,” she said.
Stratford resident Bryan Ripley Crandall, a Fairfield University professor, said he hopes the race is a statement for all who mourned Soto and the other victims, 20 of whom were first-graders and six were educators.
“I’m running for teachers. I’m running against violence in the schools,” he said. “I’m running for hope for the future.”