105 times around the block to help first responders finish their race

Street Stories

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) ─ There’s nothing extraordinary about the random block in Oakland Beach that runs up Suburban Parkway, around a corner near the bay and then down Strand Avenue.

Unless you run around it about 100 times.

“Aloha” Joe Sullivan, who picked up the nickname for frequently wearing Hawaiian shirts, did just that.

The 26 miles was nothing new for Sullivan since he’s run the Boston Marathon eight years in a row, and a total of 24 marathons over the past decade.

“Running around in circles by myself was a different mental game than Boston where there’s 30-thousand other people and a million fans cheering you on, trying to push you along,” Sullivan said.

Back in 2013, Sullivan was a sprint from the finish line at Copley Square – at the wrong time.

“I was about a quarter of a mile away,” Sullivan said. “And we heard the two explosions go off and police stopped the race.”

Three people were killed in the explosion and hundreds of others were injured.

“I always say if I didn’t cramp in mile 24, I would’ve been right there,” Sullivan said. “It slowed me down a little, but I’m glad it did.”

When COVID-19 postponed the 124th Boston Marathon, Sullivan decided to aim his training at another finish line.

With a makeshift starting gate and a spirited countdown from a small group of friends, Sullivan was off on the “Non-Annual Aloha Joe Marathon” to raise money for first responders.

“One hundred and four to go,” Sullivan said after the first block.

Sullivan not only set the pace, he was the pace as the only runner for most of the day.

“I was surprised,” Sullivan said. “But before I knew it, I was half-way through.”

As Sullivan circled, the crowd on Suburban Parkway grew and included Sullivan’s beaming father, Tom.

“I love my son,” he said. “I’m proud of everything he does.”

His fiance, Jennifer Ofstein, rang in each completed block with a small yellow bell.

“I thought it was amazing,” Ofstein said. “I was thrilled. A little bit of crazy, but I’ll support him.”

A dozen or so laps in and Sullivan was no longer alone as a cousin and some friends ran a few blocks with him. A few others also joined the run for a lap or two as Sullivan pushed toward the finish.

After about three hours, 105 blocks and 26.2 miles, Sullivan’s crew raised the finish line for the first and last runner.

But Sullivan wasn’t really alone. Nearly 50 others had contributed about $3,000 to help local first responders finish their own grueling race with COVID-19.

“Those folks have to go to work everyday and see some of the worst that’s going on right now,” Sullivan said.

“It’s just a great contribution for the people who need to get relief,” his father said after giving his son a high-five at the finish line.

The plan is to team up with Dave’s Bar & Grill and the Newport Stop & Shop for a special meal set for June.

“I feel if we can make them smile for a few minutes and take them out of their normal workspace, it’s the least we can do,” Sullivan said.

Plans for the event are still being finalized, but will eventually be posted here.

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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