It wasn’t necessarily a Mother’s Day event, calendar-wise, but Jen Oertel of Albany recalls a tradition of attending the ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center with her mom Molly years ago.
Now Jen has a daughter, 14-year-old Emma, and they’ve established a little bit of a tradition of their own that spans all three generations — running as a team trio in the Freihofer’s Run for Women in Albany.
Although dancing your way through the crowded Freihofer’s field requires some nifty footwork, especially at the start, Emma’s first experience at the race four years ago fell a little short of what you would consider balletic.
“She doesn’t really love to run,” Jen admitted. “But she did it just to be part of the team and do something with the three of us.”
That tradition will take a detour this year, since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced race organizers to offer a virtual alternative in which runners register and then submit performances on courses of their own choosing.
Now that Mother’s Day has arrived, Jen Oertel is looking forward to plotting a 5k run with her mom and daughter in a few weeks that will keep their Freihofer’s tradition going as best they can. Despite the circumstances, her goal is to reinforce some of the signature elements of the race — one of which, for them, is the bond between mother and daughter.
“We’re signed up,” Jen said on Friday. “My daughter and I can run on one side of the road and my mom can run on the other side of the road. We’ll do it around the neighborhood. I’ll have to talk my mom into doing that. I’ll have to talk my daughter into that. But my mom will be like, ‘Sure, whenever, let’s pick a date, let’s go.'”
The Freihofer’s Run had been scheduled for Saturday, May 30, but on April 3 the race announced that it would cancel, while offering a virtual option in which runners could register and a complete a 5k pretty much anywhere between 6 a.m. on May 23 to 11 p.m. May 31.
While submitted times will be compiled for a “results” list, the virtual Freihofer’s Run, for which official registration has closed, was created primarily as a charitable platform, but also serves as a way for runners who love the race to stay connected to the experience.
Jen Oertel and her mom and daughter have run the race together most of the years since Emma first tried it in 2016. Molly has missed Freihofer’s once in the last 20 years, and Jen has run it sporadically, but firmed up her commitment once they shifted the start and finish of the course from Madison Avenue over to Washington Avenue, and her daughter became old enough and interested enough (sort of) to run.
That 2016 debut race was an adventure for Emma, but Jen still marvels at the communal spirit that helped her daughter get through it.
“So she was running with me, and I’m trying to encourage her,” Jen said. “There’s thousands of people there … and don’t we run into one of her friend’s moms, who just putts along and runs and said, ‘I got her, go ahead, Jen.’
“So she motivated her, she’s like, ‘Put some water on your wrist, just pick a spot and now run to that spot, then pick another spot.’ Which totally embodies what the whole thing is about, right? Women encouraging each other, and it was just amazing, and she finished. And every year she’s like, ‘I hate running, I’m not doing this again.’
“But she was a trooper, and that mom really helped her out.”
Even if distance running isn’t Emma Oertel’s thing, she is actually quite an interesting multi-faceted athlete. How many high school kids compete in both gymnastics and lacrosse?
Now a freshman at Guilderland High School who has been a varsity gymnast since she was in seventh grade, Emma missed the 2018 Freihofer’s Run because she had a foot injury from modified lacrosse. Plus, Jen was sick that year, so the team standard bearer was Molly alone.
“That was when she [Emma] was doing gymnastics year-round,” Jen said. “So she hurt it in lacrosse and never really said a lot, and then she kept hurting it more and finally said, ‘I think I have to go to the doctor.’ So then’s she’s in a boot on one foot and a walking thing on the other, because she hurt both feet. She was a mess.”
Emma, who has two older brothers, doesn’t have any such impediment this time.
While home-schooling online, she’s been doing what she can athletically, as a handmade wall hanging that says “Give me back my friends in lacrosse” covers part of her bedroom wall.
Jen is at the other side of that dynamic, as a teacher at the Albany School of Humanities.
“I’m literally slammed all day long. The day flies by,” she said.
Her parents still live in Altamont, where she grew up, and her in-laws live in Colonie, but they’ll celebrate Mother’s Day “from afar,” she said.
The Freihofer’s Run, even in its virtual form, will offer an opportunity for grandmother-mom-daughter to be a team again.
“She’s [Emma] like, ‘Uggghh … running.’ But she usually does it because it’s something the three generations can do together,” Jen said. “And when she’s down there, with all the signs, and it’s so encouraging, and people just coming together, people who have only run for two weeks and people who have been running their whole lives … there’s just no judgment, and it’s a time for women to come together and be supportive of each other. It always makes me cry, when we’re lining up to do everything. It’s an emotional kind of experience.
“I think she [Molly] loves it, because it’s something she and I have done together, and she can bring in a third generation, which makes it a special time, because my mom values the family time and being together and sharing those memories.”
Official registration for the Freihofer’s Run has closed, but anyone interested in participating through a donation can still do so. Funds collected by the Freihofer’s Run will benefit the Community Foundation For the Greater Capital Region, the United Way of the Greater Capital Region’s COVID-19 Response Fund and Girls on the Run Capital Region.
Visit freihofersrun.com to donate.