ROCHESTER — For a few hours on Saturday, the Rochester Fairgrounds sprung to life as more than 1,000 runners converged on the starting line of a 5K race to honor the life of one of New Hampshire’s own.
The James W. Foley Freedom Run brought together runners from throughout the area–and across the world, thanks to its virtual component–to pay tribute to the late conflict journalist, who dedicated his life to finding and telling the stories of people living in war torn regions.
“In a time when people are so divided, this is a great unifying experience,” his father, John Foley, said as he walked with his arms wrapped around a large box of supplies before the start of the race. “Jim would have been so proud to be here. He’s like his mother, they bring people together.”
This year’s race injected new life into the Rochester Fair building that had until then been quiet, as racers arrived to register and volunteers offered mugs, shirts and other memorabilia for sale to benefit the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. Proceeds from the race and the foundation help provide freelance journalists–like Foley–essential safety training that helps them protect themselves when going to work in conflict zones.
Mayor Caroline McCarley repeatedly stopped to greet friends and fellow city leaders that had come to support the 5K, and noted the truly unified effort that made it all come together.
“A lot of city departments got involved and dedicated a tremendous amount of energy to this, ” she said. “The Fair Association also really stepped up to help bring this to life, and I’m so grateful for their support.”
The race ultimately netted approximately $85,000 for the Legacy Foundation, which came from support from runners in Rochester, as well as from around the U.S., and as far away as Beirut, who participated through the race’s virtual component.
“James Foley was a part of our community in New Hampshire, and when he came home to visit his family, he came to Rochester,” race organizer Walter Hoerman said. “I’m honored to pay tribute to his legacy while helping to support the work that he cherished so dearly.”
Foley died in 2014, two years after being kidnapped by ISIS gunmen while working as a freelance journalist in Syria. Foley’s life is the subject of the HBO documentary, “Jim,” by filmmaker and Foley’s childhood friend, Brian Oakes.