Mae Austin crushed the quarter mile.
After an abortive attempt last year in which she fell just five feet short of the finish line, the sprightly runner triumphantly charged across it Sunday to the delight of her father, Dave Austin of Saratoga Springs. Afterward, he credited his daughter’s devotion to training over the past year for giving her the strength to succeed.
“Yeah, she’s been training for weeks,” said the beaming father. “Doing the staircase at home, wind sprints at Home Depot and lots of Triscuits.”
Such is the training regimen and plight of a 3-year-old athlete. Mae was among more than 500 youngsters participating in the Cantina Kids Fun Run in downtown Saratoga Springs.
Now in its sixth year, the run gives children up to the age of 12 a chance to dash either quarter-mile or mile with hundreds of their peers. Organized by Jeff and Heath Ames, the owners of the Cantina restaurant on Broadway, the event is aimed at raising money for pediatric care at Saratoga Hospital’s Emergency Department.
Since its inception, the run has raised more than $166,000 for the emergency pediatric care. This year, the run raised roughly $40,000 and drew more runners than ever before.
“This is a record for us,’ said Rachel Wheatley, an event manager for Saratoga Hospital, as she looked out over a sea of youngsters and their parents gathered in a parking lot off Caroline Street.
The Ameses founded the run as a way to show their appreciation for the work done by the hospital’s emergency pediatric unit. Their daughter Tessa was born with Dravet syndrome, a rare and extremely hard-to-control form of epilepsy that has caused the family to rely on the hospital frequently.
Heath Ames said emergency pediatric care is a cause parents readily support because almost all of them have needed to rely on it in the past — whether for stitches and broken bones or something more severe like Tessa’s condition. She said the run offers them a chance to give back to the department that has always been there for them.
“This is something everybody can really do,” she said. “They know that Saratoga Hospital is a good cause to support.”
And it also gives young runners a chance to test their mettle. Though not a competitive race, some of the runners go all out.
Runners like 10-year-old Victor Ferrando of Clifton Park, who finished the quarter mile in under two minutes. The youngster won second place last year and was determined to take the lead in this year’s run.
“Pretty much I ran a lot,” he said of his training over the past year.
Then there was 9-year-old Ryan Bush, who wasn’t even breathing heavily after finishing the mile in 5:45 to take first place. It was his best time ever in the mile, which he achieved without a lot of training.
“I didn’t really train that much,” he shrugged. “Maybe once a week.”
Others were content just to finish. Mae Austin collapsed into her father’s arms after finishing the quarter mile, tuckered out after her big race.
Dave Austin smiled broadly at her finish. The daughter who was almost running before she could walk notched her first complete run without falling down once — something that just barely eluded her last year.
“She’s definitely a runner,” he said.