Colleen and Allan Raney stepped up to the starting line that had been drawn in chalk on Fiero Avenue. Just past 9 a.m., Wade Abbott gave them the signal to go, and as they started their jog the rest of the Abbotts — mom Ellen and sons Tim and Daniel — cheered on their neighbors with cowbells and pool noodles as noisemakers as, perhaps fittingly, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” blared over the radio.
A half-hour later, Jess Smith toed the starting line and he, too, was sent on his way to a chorus of cheers from the Abbotts.
Under normal circumstances, the Abbotts would have spent Sunday morning at the University at Albany, taking part in the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run to benefit the American Heart Association — an event the family has supported enthusiastically since Ellen Abbott suffered a stroke just before Christmas in 2014.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down mass gatherings, this year’s Capital Region Heart Walk and Run — like many events of its kind — went virtual, with participants completing the five-kilometer event on their own.
But, wanting a way to keep up the communal spirit, the Abbotts organized a course of their own and invited friends and neighbors — as well as a few of Tim’s teammates from the Mohonasen cross country and track program — to wind their way around the neighborhood in staggered starts, with a new runner getting underway every 30 minutes.
“Usually, we run or walk in the event,” Wade Abbott said. “This year, with it being virtual, we decided to do it a little bit differently. We’ve got 11 runners coming out, spaced out through the morning and early afternoon, and we’re going to raise some money and raise some awareness.”
Virtual, socially distanced events have taken place throughout the region during the pandemic. The Freihofer’s Run for Women, which wrapped up last weekend, had more than 2,000 runners participate over a nine-day window.
Jennifer Chatt, co-chair of the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run, was thrilled to see the way the Abbotts got their community involved.
“It’s really, really creative,” Chatt said. “I’ve seen some really fabulous stories this morning of ways people got together safely with all sorts of activities you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do. It’s great to see that creativity.”
Ellen Abbott was the Stroke Ambassador for the Capital Region Heart Walk and Run in 2018, less than four years after suffering a stroke while at home one morning.
“I was getting ready to go to work, and I wasn’t able to open a tea bag, so I yelled out of the kitchen toward the bathroom to get my husband’s attention,” Ellen Abbott said. “He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I said, ‘My arm won’t work,’ and he said he couldn’t understand me. Then, I really got scared. He got me on the couch and called 911. This was really early, like 5 in the morning, and by 8 they discovered I had a tear in my carotid artery that caused blood to pool and sensory clots in my brain.”
Wade Abbott was able to recognize the signs of a stroke thanks to an American Heart Association sign he’d seen in the lobby where he worked at the Legislative Office Building in Albany that used the acronym FAST — face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
“Somehow or another, I knew that acronym and so I knew the signs of a stroke when my wife had a stroke,” Wade Abbott said.
The Abbotts have been involved with the American Heart Association and the Capital Regional Heart Walk and Run ever since.
This year has been the family’s best fundraising effort yet. Ellen Abbott, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February, put out a call for donations earlier this week on her birthday. As of Sunday morning, the Abbotts had raised more than $2,700.
“That’s a new record for us,” Ellen Abbott said.
Wade Abbott mapped out the course, which consisted of three loops of just more than a mile around the neighborhood. He both walked and drove the course to double-check the distance, which came in at just about 3.1 miles.
“It’s pretty flat, and we’ve got it set up safely so that people are going against traffic and they don’t have to cross any side streets,” he said. “It’s a nice neighborhood and a real safe neighborhood. Traffic doesn’t zip through here at a million miles an hour. It should be good for the runners.”
Personalized chalk messages for all of the runners were written on the course, and the Abbotts had a tent set up on their front lawn at the finish line with snacks, Gatorade and water for all the finishers — as well as red capes bearing the FAST acronym.
“We’re excited to get some of our neighbors and friends, get people out,” Wade Abbott said. “It’s been tough with everyone stuck at home because of the COVID situation, so this is a nice way to do it and still be socially distant. Running’s a pretty safe activity. You don’t have to worry about all the COVID concerns.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.