Friday, August 17, 2012

Run for the Fallen this Weekend in Ogunquit

Tributes and flags from last year’s Run for the Fallen (courtesy photo)
By C. Ayn Douglass
Staff Columnist

On Flag Day, June 14, 2008, a group of runners made it their goal to run from Fort Irwin, California, to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the lost lives of servicemen and women who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since then, the Run for the Fallen has been an annual event in many states and is locally supported by many towns.
On August 19 in Ogunquit, the fifth annual Run for the Fallen will take place with an expected 200 runners covering the forty-two miles between the town square and the end point in Portland.
While the energy and excitement of the event is spectacle enough, the run is a staging point for a  more sobering and deeply felt commitment held by organizer John Mixon and his dedicated group of volunteers and supporters. Their mission doesn't begin or end with the Run for the Fallen. It is a year-round labor of love.
Mixon, a military veteran himself, realized that the pain from the sudden loss of a family member on foreign soil doesn't end with the funeral. It goes on and takes the form of emotional and financial upheaval. In Maine, the lives of the families of eighty-one servicemen and women have been changed forever as a result of that loss.
“The biggest thing we do is raise awareness and make a great day for them,” Mixon said. “Not only a great day; a no red-tape lifeline when they have a need.” Those needs are quite basic such as fuel oil, medicine, funeral expenses or vehicle repair. “Throughout the year, we know they are legitimate (needs) because they're sent to us by Survivor Outreach, a program run by the National Guard.”
The project also set up a scholarship fund for surviving children of veterans. This year, five $1,000 scholarships were awarded to family members. “All who applied got one. Same as last year,” Mixon said.
In addition to helping with financial needs, Mixon has helped to create an emotional support network within the Maine families, many of whom will be at the event on August 19 either at the start or the end of the run. He calls the families the 'silent sufferers.' “We, who haven't experienced that, can't understand. It's real-life stuff and you're touched by it.”
He sees the difference between the Vietnam-era culture and that of today.
“The country has done a 180-degree turn from the 60's and 70's. I can't turn back the hands of time, but we can make it better for this generation of soldiers,” he said.
Mixon said he expects a good turnout for this year's run and doesn't ask or encourage anyone to attempt to run all sixty-five kilometers. “We have no expectation that everyone will finish.”
It's enough, he said, that the soldier's family will see the runner and recognize the tribute that he or she is paying to the fallen soldier. There is no one-size-fits-all description of a participant. Mixon said many families, military people, or people who just want to walk have taken part on event day.
Mixon relies on a dedicated team of volunteers who assist him throughout the year including more than 100 on event day alone, as well as a core group of individuals who assist him the rest of the year.
Though 2012 is the final year Mixon and his volunteers will organize the Run for the Fallen, memorializing the servicemen and women and honoring their families in the future may take a new form, perhaps as a 5K run, Mixon said. Also, he is working with Governor Paul LePage to create a non-profit acquisition of land in Kittery to build a memorial to all Maine veterans.
“It's the start of the Gold Star Highway,” he said. It would tie it all in and permanently honor Gold Star Families and Maine veterans.

Ogunquit Playhouse & Maine Children’s Cancer Program Team Up

Jillian Dumais with Damn Yankees cast member Justin Flexen

Kids get chance to play ball with Damn Yankees cast

Story and Photo by Timothy Gillis
Staff Columnist

OGUNQUIT – The Maine Children’s Cancer Program visited the Ogunquit Playhouse this past Sunday, August 12, to catch a matinee edition of “Damn Yankees” and then play ball with the cast. It was a special day for several children as they got to meet the actors and actresses, team up with them in the field, and take their cracks at the bat.
The event, which took place on the field beside the playhouse, provided young cancer patients and their families a day’s respite from the ongoing battles.
“It was a fantastic day,” said Timothy Boynton, development manager for MCCP. “The families had a great time.” Also taking part in the festivities were physicians, board members, and staff members.
“The kids liked the play so much,” he said. “It’s all they’ve been talking about.” Part of the purpose of the event was to “keep cancer from getting in the way of kids being kids,” according to Boynton. “It’s great for them to be able to take a day off from thinking about being sick.”
The event is one of more than thirty that MCCP plans each year. Their big, annual walk is September 15, and they participate in the Maine Marathon, held on September 30.
Boynton was quick to point out that, contrary to most of their other functions, Sunday’s play and ballgame were not fundraising events, but the start of an important partnership.
“It’s the beginning of a relationship with the Playhouse,” he said. “We are a comprehensive cancer research center. We see fifty to sixty new children a year. We are currently treating 275 children with cancer right now, mostly from Maine. What’s unique about MCCP is that we focus on the whole family. Once someone is diagnosed with cancer, the whole family is diagnosed with cancer. So we try to see the whole picture.

Lead Role on Injured Reserve for Ballgame
Sam Prince, who plays the lead role in Damn Yankees, had hurt his back during a scene in the performance when he jumps into a crash pad.
“It’s very safe. I just tweaked my back. I wish I could play, but I’m taking it easy.”
The minor injury was enough to keep him out off of the baseball game with the kids, but he could be seen cheering from the sidelines.
Prince, a 25-year-old actor from Garden of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is in his first production at Ogunquit Playhouse, and is visiting Maine for the first time as well. The scenic surroundings have certainly made an impression on him, though.
“I love Maine,” he said. “It reminds me of the north shore in Minnesota.” Prince received his musical theater degree from Oklahoma City University, where he studied opera.
Speaking about the baseball game with the children, Prince said this was one of the very reasons he got into acting.
“I wish we could do more of this, where we have theater and then talk to the kids after. It’s how I got started. Kids get starry-eyed,” he said. “It was cool to see myself in them.
Next up for Prince, he will head to New York where he’s got some leads on some acting contracts. Prince said national celebrity Carson Kressley, who plays the devil, has been fun to work with.
“He’s a great person, a very nice man. We’d had good times on stage and off.”
Prince said he has eaten lobster every other day since he’s been here for the play’s run.

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.