24th Hook & Ladder 10K
California State RRCA Championship
August 18, 2002
By Jim Gallagher
The San Francisco firefighters’ 24th annual Hook and Ladder 10K Championship race was held in near perfect weather conditions. The morning was overcast in the low 60’s with no apparent wind velocity. Runners readied themselves in a relaxed setting beginning at 7:30 am while course preparations were completed. At 9 am, 400 runners gathered near the start area to first hear race requirements and directions, and then San Francisco Fire Chief Mario Trevino, gave commands to “ready” and “go”.

Hoy’s Excelsior team members crowded to the lead, joined by Robert Eap of City College of San Francisco and Dave Halferty of Topeka, Kansas. Prior to the mile mark, Halferty and Steve Donahoe had moved a few yards ahead of a pack of twelve runners. As the runners past Bowling Green, Halferty continued to extend his lead over Donahoe while the secondary pack had thinned to six runners led by Robert Eap and closely followed by Chris Phipps, Tim O’Rourke and Jeff Merkowitz.

At the two-mile mark, Halferty’s lead extended to about 50 yards over second place, Donahoe, who lead third place Eap by approximately 30 yards. A continuous stream of runners trailed about 60 yards behind Eap. This distribution was maintained through the next 3 miles, when Eap began to encroach on Steve Donahoe reaching him just beyond mile 5. The two raced up the hills on Middle Drive during the final three quarters of a miles to the finish.

Halferty maintained his early lead over the pair to win in 31:24.1, a 43.1 margin over runner-up, Robert Eap who finished in 32:07.2 achieving a personal record (PR). Donahoe followed Eap in 6.2 seconds in 32:13.4. Tim O’Rourke finished fourth overall and was the first Master in 33:07.4 claiming the California State Men’s Master 10k Championship. Tim finished just ahead of his Hoy’s teammate, Chris Phipps (33:08.6). Chris was followed by Jeff Merkowitz placing 5th in the 30-39 age division.

Matt McCarron (34:46.8) finished eleventh overall to capture 15-18 State Championship in the junior division. Don Paul, first Senior (50-59), finished twelfth overall in 34:52.1. Don adds the 2002 California State 10k Championship to his many prestigious accomplishments, in addition during the twenty-four year history of the Hook & Ladder 10K his time is second only to Sal Vasquez in the 50-59 year old division.

The 2002 Hook & Ladder 10k was marked by the highest percentage of women runners in the race’s history. Pre-registration statistics were essentially equal numbers between men and women. Within this highly competitive field, Christine Brighton (Hoys-Excelsior) triumphed over teammate, Lauren Wiener to claim the California State 10k Championship. Christine’s victory earned her a dinner for two at the Acme Chop House, the highly acclaimed restaurant located at PacBell Park.

Meghan Kelly claimed third place in the woman’s open division by a 3.4 second margin over Christine Stavolone. Michaela Lowe displayed a strong finish to edge out Hoys-Excelsior teammate Patti Bershers to take fifth place.

DSE Running Club claimed two titles at the Hook & Ladder California State 10k Championships. First, Jane Bretthaller, won the Woman’s Master title. Jane was followed to the winner’s circle by teammate, Wendy Newman who captured the Woman’s Senior Championship.

Course Records

Three new course records were established at the 2002 Hook & Ladder 10k. Two records in the 60-69 year old division were significant, stop the presses times. First, Robert Gormley’s 39:01.8 broke Ray Piva’s 19-year-old record for the 60-69 year old division. Shirley Matson’s 41:42.3 broke Barbara Miller’s two-year-old record. Both Robert and Shirley are indeed robust California State 10K Champions.

Ed Mooney was the victor in the 70+ division and in addition to winning the California State Championship, Ed broke DSE runner, Bobby Marty’s course record.

Fire-Police Division

The men’s Fire-Police division promised a fierce contest among three San Francisco firefighters. Larry McDonnell (Stn 16) five time winner of the Hook & Ladder ‘Fire-Police’ division, Mars Rivera (Stn 16) in his first Hook & Ladder competition, and Andy Sobozinsky two time winner and defending champion (Stn 3). The three had trained hard together and were prepared for an exceptional race.

Early race strategy difference emerged as Sobozinsky opted to let Rivera and McDonnell push the pace and look for an opportunity to overtake the speedy pair on the final mile, an uphill segment of the race.

Rivera elected to force the pace early and McDonnell shadowed him as they raced through the first 5k and then down the long stretch of JFK drive. Reaching Bernice Rogers (about 4.5 miles) both men were still together. As Mars rounded the sharp corner he increased his effort and began to inch away from the tenacious, but trailing McDonnell.

By the time Rivera reached the turn onto Middle Drive leading up the hill toward the Polo Fields, he had established a 30-meter lead and was determined not to be overtaken.

Rivera maintained his position during the last half-mile, finishing 19th overall to win the open Fire-Police division California State Championship in 36:41.8. A second year San Francisco firefighter, Mars claimed his first victory in the Hook & Ladder 10k and is the reigning California State Champion. Teammate and training partner, Larry McDonnell finished second 13 seconds later.

Veteran San Francisco Firefighter and last year’s California State Champion, Andy Sobozinsky (Station 3) was victorious over station mate, Andy Assereto to claim the Master’s division California State Championship.

Katherine Alba-Swanson (SFFD) was a repeat winner in the 2002 Hook & Ladder 10K. For a second consecutive year, Katherine will wear the title of California State 10K Champion with her victory in the woman’s open division.

Veteran San Francisco firefighter, Joe Hallisy (Stn 10) fought off a strong challenge by a previous Hook & Ladder champion, San Francisco firefighter, Greg Barron (Ap 1) to win the Senior division (50-59) by 28 seconds.

Two firefighters ran their best races on the Hook & Ladder 10k course. Harry Higgins lowered his previous time 44.8 seconds from 40:48.0 to 40:03.2 and Steve Finnegan (stn 5), shaved 27.5 seconds from 46:26.1 to 45:58.6. Congratulations to both for the significant accomplishment.


The Hoys-Excelsior teams dominated all non Fire-Police divisions. Eleven of the top fourteen finishers were Hoys-Excelsior members. The open men’s five member team was victorious with a total of 32 points. The Master’s team won with a total of 69 points. The woman’s open team was victorious with 21 points. Hats off to California State Champions Hoy’s Excelsior teams.

Fire-Police Teams

San Francisco firefighters claimed both the men’s open and Master State Championship. The men’s open team kept their record perfect having won the championship 24 straight years. Mars Rivera was joined by Larry McDonnell, Harry Higgins, Chris Murphy, and Dustin Novo to round out the championship team.

The Master’s (40+) team kept its winning streak having won the championship in 23 of the 24 four years. Team leader, Andy Sobozinsky, was joined by Andy Assereto, Joe Hallisy, Greg Barron, and Gil Moreno.


No event can be successful without many less visible individuals whose work allows the process to blossom. During the twenty-four years that I have been race director, I have witnessed many selfless firefighters, their friends and family who have stepped forward and provided a major contribution to assist the Hook & Ladder 10k achieve a successful conclusion. Thank you all, you made us look good.


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