Friday, August 17, 2012

Fireball Run Contestants Plot Strategies for Upcoming Race

Leanne Cusimano and Robert Levinstein with their 2006 PT Cruiser, dubbed Ogunquit-a-GoGo

Story and photo by Timothy Gillis
Staff Columnist

The team of Leanne Cusimano and Robert Levinstein have jumped in the Fireball Run race, joining Bill and Valerie Sowles of Yarmouth, and Timber Tina Scheer and Carolann Ouellette of central Maine. Cusimano, who owns Café Amore and Amore Breakfast, and Levinstein, executive producer of 22Q Entertainment in New York City, are trying to raise awareness for missing teen Ajariana Ouftt, from Brockton, Massachusetts.
The new team invited their Maine competitors to dinner last week to share strategies and prepare for the epic, eight-day race.
The Sowles, who will be trying to increase awareness for the search for Aydriana Tetu of Lewiston, joined Cusimano and Levinstein at Amore Breakfast in Ogunquit for some fresh Maine lobster and to share a heaping helping of strategic advice. (Bill Sowles owns Morong Brunswick and Morong Falmouth with his brother, Peter.)
Scheer, a world champion lumberjill, and Ouelette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, could not make the dinner. Scheer’s nightly lumberjill show and Ouellette’s busy Monday precluded traveling south for the evening. Their team will be raising awareness for the search for Ayla Reynolds, of Waterville.
The new team of Cusimano and Levinstein has had some success already. The first child they were linked with was considered a “cold case.” Levinstein plugged her name into facebook and found her profile. He made a friend request, and was pretty startled to have it accepted a few days later.
“Her page said things like ‘Where are you?’ and ‘What happened?’ so I was pretty sure it was the right child,” Levinstein said. He alerted the organizers of Fireball Run of the discovery, and they connected the team with Ouftt, hoping to help create a greater awareness of her absence.
Levinstein, who was associate producer at Ogunquit Playhouse for six years and stage manager before that, was back in New England for a wedding, so he took the opportunity to link up with his racemate. Even though the Sowles are technically competitors in the race, the four participants shared strategies during the meal, with a constant eye on the real purpose of the contest – to help locate missing and endangered children from all over the country.
The Sowles have also made progress on their search. They talked to Tetu’s mother and discovered that the girl is a runaway and doesn’t want to be found.
“She had leukemia as a child,” Bill Sowles said. “She ran away, they found her and brought her back. She ran away again. Her mother just wants her to go to the hospital for a blood test to find out how she’s doing.”
The teams will begin in Independence, Ohio, and travel more than 2,000 miles in eight days, through fourteen cities. The trip stops in Ogunquit and Sanford on Friday, September 28, and ends in Bangor the next day. They will complete hundreds of missions, locating items of local, historic nature or something from pop culture. The teams race to collect points for achieving a mission, and then find out what the next mission is.
The four talked about using the internet and a network of pre-established friends to help with each task. “We wake up each morning with a CD with our next tasks slipped under our door,” Bill Sowles said.
The first stop on the trip in Jamestown, New York, Cusimano’s birthplace and the hometown of funny lady Lucille Ball. Cusimano’s café and breakfast place are filled with visual references to the comedienne.
The race is also filled with feel-good stories. Thirty-eight children have been located because of Fireball Run’s efforts since its inception in 2007, thirty-nine when you count the recent facebook find.
Last year, the event helped locate twins at a homeless shelter.
“The father of those two children is doing the run this year,” Valerie Sowles said.
Next year, no new racers will be able to join, as the popularity has caused participation to swell to capacity.
“Next year, it will only be for alumni,” Cusimano said. Asked whether or not they will compete in 2013, the two teams seemed focused on making it through this year’s epic road rally first.