Calandriello to lead Fairfield Road Races, scheduled for September
Like most Fairfield Firefighters, John Calandriello has volunteered an early June morning every year — 5 a.m. to be exact — at Jennings Beach helping set up the annual Faxon Law Fairfield Road Races. Calandriello has done a little bit of everything at the races since joining the town’s fire department, which hosts the event.
In particular Calandriello, a Fire Lieutenant, enjoys answering runners’ questions at the finish line of the races’ signature Sunday Half Marathon.
“When someone comes to me I give them an answer,” Calandriello said earlier this week by phone. “Then we have a conversation or how we can make (the race) better. People love it. People are so happy to be there.”
The Fairfield Road Races were to celebrate their 40th anniversary in June and with Calandriello set to oversee his first event as the Race Director after taking over for Steve Lobdell, the event’s longtime architect.
In March, however, Calandriello postponed the event to September 19 and 20 due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, which among other things closed Fairfield’s parks and beaches.
“The safest thing to do was postpone,” said Calandriello, who’d previously spent 20 years on the Races’ Board of Directors. “I’m hoping the race in September is a way to bring back normalcy to people’s lives.”
Although there’s no way to know what the future holds, Calandriello thinks that his background made him well-suited to manage this unprecedented situation.
“That’s the job of a firefighter,” he said. “Nobody plans to have a fire or a car accident. Our job is we show up and when something is going wrong, we deal with spontaneous emergencies.”
Calandriello followed the lead of the Boston Marathon which postponed its April race to September. Fairfield Road Races, which attract close to 4,000 runners between the 5K and Half Marathon, is a week after the rescheduled Boston Marathon.
Both the Fairfield and Westport governments, where a portion of the half marathon takes place, accommodated the September dates making the decision to postpone the event for the first time easier.
“That’s a fire department thing … hope for the best, plan for the worst,” Calandriello said. “Luckily the stars aligned. Fairfield and Westport have both been great.”
If anything, postponing the races allowed Calandriello a second opportunity to file the proper paperwork — the one element of the event he’d been unfamiliar with before becoming Race Director this year. In recent years, Calandriello ran the race’s water stations with his wife Amy and children Madison and Daniel.
Calandriello, 47, grew up in Westport and began volunteering with the Fairfield Fire Department in the early 1990s. Eventually friends persuaded him take the department’s test, which coincidentally was administered by Lobdell. Calandriello hopes he can keep the quality of the race high, along with its charitable contributions thus continuing Lobdell’s vision that began in 1981.
“Family and community are important to me,” Calandriello said. “The race is just great. It gives back to the community and local charities. It’s sort of like a big party. Everyone has a great time.”
And that great time for runners, volunteers and the Fire Department is on hold until September this year.
“For the Fire Department this is rich in tradition,” Calandriello said. “This is something that’s ours. The Fire Department has always hosted it. The guys say our name is on it, so it’s going to be good. When firefighters put our mind to it, we’re going to make it cool.”