WILMINGTON — It's been an understandably difficult road for Donna Alonardo — along with her two daughters, Sara and Michelle – ever since her husband Tony passed away in April of 2015. But one day a year, a lot of that pain goes away, and that day will again come this Saturday.
The fifth and last Tony Alonardo 5K Memorial Road race will be held starting at the Town Common. It's a day, like the previous four, to remember a terrific husband, father, hockey coach and most importantly, a great friend to so many people here in the community.
"Looking back through some of the pictures from the previous four races, it always brings a smile to my face and heart," said Donna. "Seeing a lot of the same faces who come out to remember Tony year after year has helped not only myself and the girls to heal, but it has also helped his extended family and friends."
Many of the participants in the event every year are former hockey players, who were touched in some way by Tony's commitment and most of all generosity to help, guide and influence young adults as best as he possibly could.
"Tony was an ordinary guy who touched so many lives of the kids in Wilmington through his love for hockey as a coach in our youth hockey program," said Donna. "Seeing the kids and their parents come out year after year and hearing all the 'Coach Tony' stories helps me remember Tony with a smile, not just tears. The TonyA5K race isn’t just for those who knew Tony but has also attracted strangers from the Wilmington community and beyond. This race helps us to remember that we all have the ability to have a positive effect on others through simple acts of kindness."
Donna went on to explain that Tony was always the first one to take care of everyone else — his family, his friends, his players and even people he didn't know. Those who needed a hand, were always given one by Tony.
"Tony never did anything for the recognition and he never asked for anything in return, but was always the first to ask 'What can I do? How can I help'? And according to his good friend and co-founder of the TonyA5K John Foley, 'that was his whole life. Imagine if this whole world was like that'. This race shows us we all have the ability to change the world in a positive way by continuing Tony’s legacy."
Originally when the event started, the Foley Family wanted to help Donna and the girls with college expenses, while establishing a scholarship in Tony's honor.
"The five-year plan has accomplished both of those goals," said Donna. "We plan on continuing the scholarship for many years to come and all of the proceeds of this year's race will help us to support that goal."
Organizing a race such as this is never easy, and over the years there's been countless number of people who volunteer, a number of businesses who donate and this year is no different.
"One of the major sponsors of this event every year has been Cooke's Skate Shop in Wilmington, and they have donated 100 free t-shirts and a pair of skates," said Donna. "Carl Toto and Sons have provided the DJ Services and some of the other sponsors include Interlink One, Lily Management, Ray Lepore, to name a few.
“Another one, is Greg Potcner, a friend, and who is also the owner of Wilmington Trophy and he also donated 50 t-shirts.
“The community support year after year has been overwhelming and just reinforces why Tony and I chose to call Wilmington our home and raise our two girls here.
Tony was always the first to say What can I do? How can I help? That is how he lived his life and this legacy continued after his death."
With this being the last event, there will be a special guest (more on that next week) who will be walking with Donna and her family, crossing the finish line together.
Besides the "special guest", there will also be table set up with information on organ donation, which Donna said, "is to help raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and making your wishes known to your friends and family. Every ten minutes another person is added to the waiting list.
“Currently there are 113,000-plus people waiting for organ donation. Having this important discussion with our loved ones and registering either on the donor registry or indicating your wishes when you get or renew your license is so important."
For more information on organ donation, you may visit https://neds.org.
Besides the special guest, the organ donation information table, and the number of sponsors, Saturday will once again have hundreds of people lined up at the Town Common and they will all have something in common: paying tribute to a wonderful man, who left us all too soon.
"Tony loved this community," said Donna. "Our friends promised me that they would always be there for me and my girls and they have kept that promise not only with all they have done every year to make TonyA5K race so successful, but by being there for us through every important milestone in our lives since Tony’s death.
“We are so fortunate to live in such a wonderful, supportive community who are so willing to help each other. So many 'Wilmington' friends have been major sponsors of the Race for the past five years with donated goods and services to make this race a success year after year. I can’t think of a better way to show our gratitude to this town than to continue Tony’s legacy by always asking “What can I do? How can I help” myself."
Registration for the race is now open through the TonyA5K.com website or you can sign up before the race begins at 9 am.