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Bellmore community runs for fallen 'Captain America'

Team Strides for Stephen before running in the

Team Strides for Stephen before running in the annual Fourth of July 4-mile race in Bellmore. The team ran in memory of Bellmore native Stephen Clifford, 24, who was killed days before running in his first half-marathon. (July 4, 2013) Credit: Jackie Salo

Stephen Clifford had planned to run in his first half-marathon last April.

The Bellmore native, 24, was two days away from the race when he was struck and killed by an off-duty New Jersey police officer while walking home to his Jersey City apartment.

On Thursday, his family and friends set out to achieve that goal for Clifford by signing up for the annual Independence Day 4-mile run hosted by Bellmore Striders running club in his hometown.

Though many of the friends and family members who participated for Clifford were not seasoned runners, they began training and showed up on Thursday morning enthusiastic to participate.

“Everyone has picked up the running bug in honor of him,” said Clifford’s mother, Tracey Clifford, 56.

Sporting Living for Steve wristbands, more than 100 runners laced up for Stephen Clifford, who loved the Fourth of July, his mother said. Some wore shirts with Clifford’s favorite superhero growing up, Captain America.

“We call him Captain America because he has always been a protector to his three sisters,” said Tracey Clifford of her son, at one time a Jones Beach lifeguard and the third of her four children. “The only thing that ever stressed him out was if he was not able to be there for anyone who needed help. Now he has been given the gift of being in heaven and being able to help anyone without being limited.”

Tracey Clifford said team members sold Strides for Stephen bracelets and raised a least $100, which would be donated to the Stephen Clifford Memorial Scholarship Fund at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Regional School, where Clifford was a student before going on to attend Kellenberg Memorial High School and Rutgers University.

Organizers said a total of 787 runners participated in the 31st annual race, which included the 1-mile youth run for ages 12 and younger and the 4-mile run for adults. Both races stepped off at Pettit Avenue and ended at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Bedford avenues.

The winners of the kids' 1-mile race were Jillian Conlon, 11, of Bellmore, finishing at 6:22 and Paolo Primavera, 10, of Rockville Centre, with a time of 6:41. Winners of the 4-mile race were Javier Barajas, 26, of Brooklyn, who finished in 20:29, and Joanna Johnson, 24, of California, who finished in 23:37.

Some runners, such as Northport resident Juan Oliveras, 61, make the race part of their Fourth of July tradition. Oliveras ran in the race for his 14th time dressed head-to-toe in star-spangled attire, including a bow-tie and helmet.

“Everyone gets a kick out of it,” Oliveras said. “They expect it from me. I do it every year.”

Sue and Rich Arcuri, of Bay Shore, have started their Fourth of July at the race -- running alongside their three children -- for five years now.

“It gives us good energy for the rest of the day,” said Rich Arcuri Sr., 49, who added that the family of runners would celebrate with a barbecue.

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