Saturday was a first for John DeLissio -- a runner from West Babylon who participates in local races and running clubs -- as he approached the starting line wearing a red-and-white suit.
Dressed as Santa Claus for the 25th annual Ho Ho Ho Holiday 5K Run in Bethpage, DeLissio, 54, handed out medals and candy canes to kids after the fun run, took pictures with runners – young and old – and blew the whistle at the starting line of the 5k race.
“The best part for me was everyone that wanted to take pictures,” he said. “Especially after all the tragedy this year, with Sandy and everything, I’m just happy to spread a little joy.”
DeLissio wasn’t the only one dressed up for the occasion. The family-friendly race, hosted by the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC), included a costume parade and had many people racing in their festive gear.
Tracy Robinson, 39, of Smithtown, and Katie Joos, 31, of Shoreham, have made the race an annual tradition, each year trying to get more creative with their costumes.
“We get a little crazier each year,” said Robinson, who dressed as an elf.
But despite the jolly atmosphere, the mass shooting that happened just 24 hours before at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. was not far from people’s minds.
“After what happened yesterday people are really just bummed out about it all,” said GLIRC President Mike Polansky as he gestured toward the crowd gathered for the race. “But this is all about the kids, about family, about the joy of the holidays.”
Clare Cashell, of Bethpage, said while the costumes make the race unique, she most enjoys the way it brings people together.
“I like the fact that it is so close to Christmas and people are out here running together,” she said.
Peter Hawkins, 48, of Malverne, who competed in his racing wheelchair, crossed the finish line first, placing in a separate category from the runners on foot.
The first-place male runner was Mark Valentino, 19, of Smithtown. Lauren Dorsky, 17, of Huntington, finished first in the female category.
Nassau County District Court Judge Scott Fairgrieve and his wife, Linda, were among the runners. This year, they were decked out in clown wigs, face paint and red and green suits. Joining them were their dogs – Sprint, Morgan and Bruce – who ran the race with them donning festive coats and collars.
“It makes everyone smile,” Fairgrieve said about dressing up for the race each year. “It’s the Christmas spirit of it.”