Kelly Watt Memorial Race History
"Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew.
It was all joy and woe,
Ask anyone who was ever blessed with the opportunity to watch Kelly Watt run, and he or she will likely tell you that he embodied the essence of the quotation above, each and every time he laced up his shoes. Whether it was a long training run over the rolling hills of Hawkshill Lane, or the final laps of a championship race, Kelly ran with conviction; always eager to test his personal limits. Kelly understood at a very young age that success in any endeavor rarely occurs without hard work and sacrifice, but he thrived on the satisfaction that he derived from working to improve himself day in and day out in preparation for the big race. If anything, Kelly believed that a distance race was the perfect metaphor for life in general. When the time came to find a fitting way to pay tribute to Kelly, it was clear that a race would be involved. Out of this philosophy, the Kelly Watt Memorial Race was born.
The Kelly Watt Memorial Race, occasionally referred to as simply "The Wattey", was organized in 2005 as a way to honor the life and accomplishments of Kelly, and to continue the legacy that he left behind. The obvious choice for the location of the race was Panorama Farms, Kelly’s home away from home where he logged thousands of miles during his high school running career, and captured his first major individual running championship. The scenic and challenging 2-mile course for the Kelly Watt Memorial Race has remained unchanged since the first running in 2005, and it is identical to the course that was used for the 2004 Ragged Mountain Cup where Kelly captured his first individual title, and emerged as the preeminent high school cross country runner in Central Virginia during his senior year. The race is held annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and it is quickly becoming one of the most popular fall races in Central Virginia.
The first running of the Kelly Watt Memorial Race was held on November 19th, 2005 on a cold and sunny Saturday morning with temperatures barely approaching 40. The open race was won by Alec Lorenzoni in a time of 10:21, with Tyler Kirk and Chris Samley rounding out the top three. Beth Brown led the way overall for the women, with a time of 13:10. In a demonstration of brotherhood and appreciation for their captain, all six of the runners who toed the line with Kelly during his final team cross country race at Albemarle, returned to race in honor of their teammate. Kelly’s father Paul Watt made a special guest appearance in the traditional team strider, and brought the same energy and emotion into the pre-race huddle as his son had done for the Patriots so many times before. In total, 10 of Kelly’s teammates from the 2004 season showed up to race, and over 20 former and current AHS harriers returned to their home course to pay tribute to Kelly. The inaugural event also featured both a boys and girls individual race for current high school cross country athletes looking to benchmark the progress that they had made throughout the course of the fall season. Matt Satterwhite of Western Albemarle High School captured the Boy’s individual title with the fastest time of the day of 10:15, and Robin Vanneman captured the Girl’s individual title by cracking the 13 minute barrier with a time of 12:59. Altogether, 141 runners competed in the three races, and the solid turnout helped this annual race earn a prominent place on the Charlottesville racing calendar.
George Michael Heeschen
Another great crowd turned out in 2006 for the second running of the Kelly Watt Memorial Race, and Chris Samley emerged as the victor in the open heat with a time of 11:41. Andrea Wright and Nicola Ratcliffe battled down to the wire to compete for the honor of top female, with both runners cracking the 13 minute barrier. Wright eventually opened up a three second gap over Ratcliffe to become the first female to cross the line in a swift time of 12:56. Individual races for high school boys and girls were also held that morning for the second year in a row. In the boys section, Thomas Baker finished first with a time of 10:32, and Hannah Best captured the girl’s title with a time of 13:12.
George Michael Heeschen
Support for the race continued to grow throughout 2007, and the third installment of the memorial run featured a record number of participants. Another chilly morning began with the first annual ½ mile race for children. In total, 28 children ranging in ages from five to twelve got their first taste of the thrill of a cross country race that Kelly grew to love so much. In the open race, former William and Mary cross country runner Charlie Hurt crossed the line first in a meet record time of 10:08. Kelly’s former teammate George Heeschen took 2nd overall, and was followed closely by current Albemarle cross country runner Nathan Rouse. A special point in the race came when Robin Vanneman and Kelly McElroy crossed the finish line together in a time of 13:20 to share the honor of top female. Vanneman and McElroy are both students at William and Mary, and run cross country and track for the Tribe. As members of the class of 2010, both girls would have been teammates with Kelly during his college career, and their presence at the race demonstrated the love and admiration that Kelly’s future teammates had for him even before he set foot on campus. 2007 was also a special year, as the Watts decided to make the race a family affair. Members of Kelly’s family traveled from all across the country to compete, and the final results show eight Watts completing the course that morning.
George Michael Heeschen
Another huge crowd showed up in 2008 for the fourth annual race. Although it was another cold November morning, the sun was shining and runners were able to keep warm with Starbucks coffee, Bodos Bagels and other refreshments that were generously donated by local vendors. Participation was strong yet again in the children’s ½ mile race, and the dynamic duo of Mitchell and Tyler Waters raced to the line to finish with times just above three minutes to lead the field. In the open race, first time participant Andrew Schroeder crossed the line first in a time of 10:53, and George Heeschen and Alec Lorenzoni rounded out the top three. Albemarle High School standout and current William and Mary cross country athlete Liz Barclay captured the women’s title with a time of 13:17. By this time, the classmates Kelly graduated from high school with had reached their senior year in college, yet over 15 members of the AHS class of 2005 returned home during a busy time in the year, to race in honor of their friend.
The Kelly Watt Memorial Race continues to grow every year, as first time participants discover just how special it is when runners and walkers gather to remember someone special. Some of these runners never knew Kelly, while others had the opportunity to watch him grow up into an outstanding young man. However, they all leave the race knowing why Kelly was so special to so many people, and why it is so important to never forget the lessons that he taught us all. Approximately 1.5 miles into the race, runners pass a single red maple tree that overlooks an open field at Panorama Farms. Beneath that tree is a small plaque in green and gold (William and Mary’s colors), engraved with the simple, yet profound phrase: "Run Fast and Never Look Back". That’s Kelly’s Tree. That is the way Kelly lived his life. That is why we run this race.
George Michael Heeschen
Over 170 people toed the line for the fifth annual Kelly Watt Memorial Race on a crisp November morning at Panorama Farms. The "under twelve" set started the event with the third annual half mile run. Brandon Seagreaves and future Patriot Kathleen McPhillips were victorious. Kathleen, one of five McPhillips’ family members participated in the race with her older brothers Austin, Tyler, and Sean and her father Pat . In the open race, current Albemarle assistant coach Alec Lorenzoni got the win in 10:24 over Andrew Golden and former Louisa standout Thomas Baker, while Monticello sophomore Madeline Hermsmeier won the women’s title in 13:23.
All in all, it was another great edition of a race that brings together many different people for one special morning. The participants of this race, the fast and slow, young and old, intimate friends of Kelly or young children who never even met him, are hard to pigeonhole. They do, however, share one thing, and that is a mutual desire to honor Kelly’s memory by running over the hills of Panorama Farms that he called home. It is a testament to his legacy and the work of the race organizers that this event continues to grow, and that there were more participants in 2009 than there were in 2005!
I was lucky enough to know Kelly and to run against him for two years in high school, and looking back now, I’m sure he was an absolute dream to coach because he possessed the two qualities essential to a great cross country runner: a strong work ethic and guts. Kelly was successful because he squeezed every ounce of ability out of his body, and because, when he raced, he left everything on the course. Cross country was a perfect sport for him because it rewards hard work and dedication, attributes that he had in abundance. I have run this race several times over the past five years, and I will continue to do so every year that I am able, not only thinking of him with every step, but racing as he would: fast, tough, and with nothing held back.
-Alec Lorenzoni (WAHS class of 2003)
An unseasonably warm November morning greeted runners participating in the 2010 edition of the Kelly Watt Memorial run, as hundreds of race participants, spectators, and volunteers gathered at the scenic Panorama Farms for the 6th annual race. As the sun emerged over the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and burned away the morning dew covering the pristine 2-mile race course, runners paid their respects to the young runner who was known for his insistence on wearing running shorts even in the coldest of temperatures by peeling away their sweats and hoodies and exchanging them for shorts and singlets. The competition that morning heated up just as quickly as the temperatures did, and the action began once again, with the “Under 12” ½ mile race. A young Averi Witt sprinted away from the field at the gun, and stopped the clock in a remarkable time of 2:49 on a difficult course, putting over a minute on the rest of the field in the process.
In the open 2 mile race, Albemarle’s Assistant Cross Country, coach Alec Lorenzoni used a strong finishing kick to defend his 2009 title, and emerge victorious in yet another Kelly Watt Memorial Run, as he crossed the line first in a time of 10:23. With his 2010 victory, Lorenzoni has now placed 1st overall in 3 of the 6 memorial races that have been held. 2nd place finisher Barry Rodgers also dipped under the 10:30 mark with a time of 10:27, and George Heeschen rounded out the top 3, finishing in a time of 10:36. Although the top 2 men were separated at the finish by a mere 5 seconds, the race for the individual female title was even tighter, as Annie Taylor and Mattie Webb battled each other down to the wire. Annie Taylor eventually opened up a 2 second gap over Webb, to cross the line as the first female, in a swift time of 13:50, to Webb’s 13:52.
The 2010 edition of the race was a milestone year as the open race featured over 200 total finishers for the first time in history. The efforts of an incredibly dedicated race committee allow for this race to continue to grow in size, and race veterans always strive to make sure that the first time participants leave Panorama Farms with a strong sense of the incredible character and remarkable attitude that defined Kelly Watt during his life. It is my opinion that this race distinguishes itself from any other footrace that I run over the course of the calendar year, because the emphasis is not so much upon the finish line, but upon the journey that one takes in order to get there. I always admired Kelly because even though he ran every race to win, he would always walk away with his head held high if he fell short, because he found satisfaction in knowing that he had run as hard as he could, and had laid it on the line. The way he raced was the exact same way that he lived his life- with nothing held back and with no regrets. Kelly was courageous, driven, and relentless in his pursuit of greatness, and for one day in November, we gather to try to live up to the lofty example that he set for each and every one of us. It’s our day to lay it on the line.
George Michael Heeschen
2011 marked the 7th annual running of The Wattey, and once again the race featured a record number of finishers, as hundreds made their way out to Panorama Farms to enjoy a beautiful fall morning in Central Virginia, to run in honor of Kelly.
The morning began with the increasingly popular Children’s half-mile race, as 25 youngsters had the opportunity to get their first taste of real cross country, and enjoy the rolling hills on an abbreviated course. Young speedster Lawrence Dupont took the overall win by finishing in just over 3 minutes.
240 people covered the 2 mile course in the Open Race, and former Western Albemarle runner and current Albemarle assistant cross country coach Alec Lorenzoni was victorious once again, in a race record time of 10:19. With his victory, Lorenzoni claimed his 4th individual title at this race, with three of those victories coming in the past three years. George Heeschen claimed 2nd place yet again, and local runner Jason Buczyna rounded out the top 3. On the female side, Madeline Hermsmeier crossed the finish line in a swift time of 12:48, making her the fastest female champion, ever for this race. Hermsmeier also became the first female to repeat as champion, as she also crossed the line first in 2009. Alexandra Stokes and Nicole Ratcliffe rounded out the top 3 on the female side. Kelly’s competitive spirit clearly lives on through this race, as both male and female winners posted the fastest winning times in race history.
George Michael Heeschen
The Wattey celebrated its 8th running in 2012 on another pristine fall morning at Panorama Farms, as record numbers turned out once again to celebrate Kelly’s life, and honor his passion for running.
A smaller field assembled this year for the children’s half-mile race, however the competition remained equally as fierce at the front of the pack, as Stuart Terrill crossed the line first. He was followed closely by Matt Haworth and Grant Williams, while Lillian Peskova led the way for the girls, with a strong 5th place finish overall.
In the open 2-mile race, Albemarle assistant cross country coach Alec Lorenzoni kept his winning streak alive at The Wattey, with his fourth consecutive overall victory, as he crossed the line in a swift time of 10:35. Former Madison County High School standout Chuck Love made his return to The Wattey for the first time since 2005, and recorded a strong second place finish in a time of 10:48. During his high school career, Love frequently shared a spot in the Top-10 Central Virginia Cross Country Poll alongside Kelly. George Heeschen rounded out the top 3 overall with a finishing time of 10:55.
On the female side, fifteen year old Annie Taylor crossed the finish line first in a blazing time of 12:42. The current Western Albemarle High School standout improved upon Madeline Hermsmeier’s time of 12:48 last year, to establish a new race record on the female side. Megan Pritchard and Kelsey Pittman turned in solid times just over 14 minutes, to finish 2nd and 3rd overall respectively for the females.
The race continues to grow incrementally as the 2012 running featured over 250 finishers for the first time in the its 8 year history. The race also continues to evolve, as this year’s award ceremony recognized the top seven overall finishers as the “All-Wattey” team in true cross country fashion. Additionally, professional photographer Tyler Corvin was on hand to capture all of the action, and race photographs were available for purchase, with all proceeds from the sales being generously donated to the Kelly Watt Memorial Scholarship Fund. Generous donations such as these, coupled with and a yearly increase in the total number of overall finishers, continues to guarantee that the Kelly Hansen Watt Scholarship Memorial Fund will continue to provide this significant annual scholarship to a deserving high school student athlete who best embodies the qualities that Kelly was most admired for by his peers, teammates, coaches and competitors.
As the years go by, and the race continues to grow, more and more of the participants never had the opportunity to know Kelly, however through this event, they quickly realize that he represented the best of what this sport we love is all about. Kelly’s spirit lives on inside each and every one of us, and this race guarantees that the valuable life lessons which Kelly taught us during his short time on earth, will not soon be forgotten.
George Michael Heeschen