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January 23, 2020
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Teacher, sailor, and runner Kathryn Ryan will be there with bells on (literally) for the annual Jingle Bell Run to benefit Region 4 Education Foundation on Saturday, Dec. 14. 

Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Teacher, sailor, and runner Kathryn Ryan will be there with bells on (literally) for the annual Jingle Bell Run to benefit Region 4 Education Foundation on Saturday, Dec. 14. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Kathryn Ryan: The Bells are Ringing

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Rudolph wears jingling bells when he draws Santa’s sleigh. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen do, too, as well as the rest of Santa’s team. On Saturday, Dec. 14, participants in the Jingle Bell Run, a fundraiser for the Region 4 Educational Foundation, will do just what the reindeers do: wear bells.

Kathryn Ryan is busy making jingle bell pin clusters for runners to wear. Many add to the Christmas theme with holiday hats, sweatshirts, and, according to Kathryn, even a few in ballet tutus to celebrate the occasion. Runners, Kathryn says, come in all ages from the occasional six or seven year old to senior citizens.

“Super inspiring, still running strong,” she says.

The course starts at the Tri-town Youth Center in Deep River to High Street, loops around downtown Deep River, then passes down by the Connecticut River and steam train station before returning up the final hill to the youth center.

The Regional 4 Education Foundation provides funds for teachers for classroom projects and materials beyond the regular school budget. In the past it has provided seed money for both a 3D printer used at Valley Regional High School (VRHS) in its career and technical education programs and also for equipment John Winthrop Middle School (JWMS) and VRHS use in their student-run television studios. The foundation also provided baseball and softball pitching machines for JWMS and funded a model rocket club at the middle school.

The idea for the run originated with JWMS science teacher Robb White, who, like Kathryn, is a runner.

“Robb came up with the original idea to do a road race and I contributed the Jingle Bell idea,” she says.

She recalled a Jingle Bell Run organized by Olympic marathoner Bill Rodgers in the Boston area that she ran in during the l990s.

“We were inspired by that run,” she says. “It seems like a really healthy way for families to be together and help support our schools.”

According to Kathryn, former JWMS secretary Donna Nelson is also a key race organizer.

Kathryn will be organizing rather than participating this year, but she plans to bring her running shoes.

“Just in case I can sneak out of work and run on the course,” she explains.

She began to run herself in middle school at same time her father took up running.

“It was nice to run with him” she recalls. “I loved doing it together.”

These days she runs three or four times a week, but not on consecutive days, and she still races—though for shorter distance than the New York Marathon, which she did in 1992, finishing in the top 40 percent of women racers. Still, she tried to do one or two half marathons every year. This year she did a 16-mile race in Redding.

When she taught mathematics at JWMS, Kathryn coached cross-country runners. Now, as well as teaching math at VRHS, she coaches distance runners.

Kathryn and her husband John, a special education teacher at Vinal Technical High School in Middletown, both grew up in Greenwich and, though they went to high school together, they didn’t connect as a couple until after college. One of the reasons they moved to Essex, Kathryn says, is it reminded them of what Greenwich was like when they grew up there.

“We had a connection, a very positive one,” she says.

The Ryans have three children—their daughter Megan is in a graduate engineering program and their two sons, Michael and Danny, are college students.

In January, after two years, Kathryn will step down as the commodore of the Pettipaug Yacht Club. She started her involvement wit the yacht club as a volunteer.

“Everything is done by volunteers, putting in the dock, maintaining the club house. I got involved and had a lot of fun. It’s a great place. I like being down there,” she says.

She has enjoyed serving as commodore, but she admits after the administrative work and responsibilities that go with the job, she is looking forward to having more time to sail.

Sailing, like running, dates back to her youth in Greenwich. She started sailing when she was eight or nine years old in small craft like Blue Jays. What’s more, she still has the Blue Jay in which she learned to sail.

“My parents bought my sisters and I the boat when we were learning to sail in the 1970s. After we all grew up, the boat sat in my parents’ back yard until I joined Pettipaug and had a place where she would fit right in,” she notes. “My children and I have been sailing her for the last 10 years. She is really special to me and my family, both the one I grew up with and the one I raised.”

According to Kathryn, over the years a dozen middle school staff and faculty have taken part in the Jingle Bell Run. This year, JWMS Principal Matt Espinosa plans to run.

VRHS math teacher Gusti Ferretti, who coaches a running group at Deep River Elementary School to emphasize health and fitness, has encouraged the elementary school students in past years to run and Kathryn says they will likely run again this year.

Some of her own students have also participated in the race. Kathryn is proud of their efforts but still has to draw the line: no extra credit for running.

Jingle Bell Run

The Jingle Bell Run to benefit Region 4 Education Foundation is on Saturday, Dec. 14 starting at the Tri-town Youth Center, 56 High Street, Deep River. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m.; the 5K run starts at 10 a.m. Online registration and information is available atrunsignup.com/Race/CT/DeepRiver/R4EFJingleBellRun. Parking is at Deep River Elementary School. The first 100 registrants will receive custom long sleeve T-shirts.


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