Running the torch, upholding a Rowan University tradition

Running the torch, upholding a Rowan University tradition

Alumni, employees and students get set to kick off the Centennial Torch Run from the Camden Academic Building. Joining Rowan-Virtua Rita & Larry Salva School of Nursing & Health Professions Dean Peter Rattigan (holding the torch) are (from left) Sandra Wilson, Ernie Holtzheimer, Juan Sanchez, Amy Hoch, Jeanine Dowd, Jon Ratcliffe, Daniel Cardona, Quinn Cardona, Collin Cardona and Tobi Bruhn. The team ran Rowan's torch 26.6 miles from Camden to Glassboro to honor one of the University's longest-standing traditions.

His pink and orange Nikes pounding the pavement under an early-morning red autumnal sky, Peter Rattigan set the pace, leaving a golden blur as he carried Rowan University’s iconic Torch of Knowledge through the still-sleepy streets of Camden.

Three hours and nine minutes later, Rattigan and 10 of his fellow running Profs triumphantly delivered the torch to the institution’s Centennial Homecoming celebration on Oct. 14. In doing so, they completed a 26.6-mile Torch Run that upheld one of the University’s longest, most prideful—and most challenging—traditions.

Setting off from the historic academic building on Rowan’s Camden campus at 7:22 a.m., “Team Torch” —Rowan alumni, employees and students—took two miles at a time as they ran the torch through the streets of South Jersey.

Dodging potholes, raindrops, and an occasional tough hill, they carried the torch past Rowan’s campuses, including Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine campuses in Stratford and Sewell and the West Campus Farm in Mantua, before turning onto North Campus Drive in Glassboro.

They ran as a group to deliver the torch, again carried by Rattigan, to the Homecoming celebration. Shaking cow bells, Profs cheered and waved pennants and pompoms as the Pride of the Profs Marching Band welcomed them back to campus.

The University’s torches, including the original Torch of Knowledge, were displayed at a special Torch Tent at Homecoming. During halftime of the football game, Rowan track-and-field athletes Nana Agyemang and Jasmine Broadway carried the lit torch to the football field at Coach Richard Wackar Stadium, where it was ceremoniously passed off to Torch Run alumnus Peter Oteri ’62, President Ali A. Houshmand, and Student Government Association President Brianna Reagan.

Storied history

Started in 1958 with a 56-mile run by 40 runners from Trenton to Glassboro for Homecoming, the Torch Run continued annually in the 1960s. In 1962, 26 runners carried a seven-pound lighted brass torch from the Statehouse to Glassboro, completing the entire journey in 5 hours, 35 minutes.

In 1998, the Trenton-to-Glassboro Torch Run was revived for the University’s 75th anniversary. Then-President Donald Farish ran the final leg of the run and used the torch to light a pep rally bonfire.

But the torch’s history is much longer. Beginning in 1931, it was used at the institution’s Lantern Night to welcome the new classes to campus. Even today, at the beginning of each academic year, the torch is carried through campus and transferred from the Student Government Association president to a representative of the new class at the annual President’s Welcome & Picnic.

The torch symbolizes the passion for education students must have to succeed at the University.

A special day for Rowan runners

Centennial Torch Run athletes carried a lightweight, unlit replica torch as they wound their way through South Jersey. Rowan Public Safety and Emergency Medical Services personnel accompanied the runners throughout their route. The team rode in a 20-passenger bus as the runners each completed their two miles.

The bus doubled as an area for stretching, hydrating, recovering…and demonstrating Rowan pride.

While Rattigan, the 64-year-old dean of the Rowan-Virtua Rita & Larry Salva School of Nursing & Health Professions, quipped of his time—“14:03…have some of that,” he said. “I haven’t run at this time of day since the Reagan administration” —Jeanine Dowd ’00 ’03, academic adviser in the Salva School, began stretching.

“Ooh…my heart is pounding,” Dowd said, feeling nervousness about Rattigan’s strong time. “I need to mentally prepare myself.”

Fueled by music by Pink, Dowd, who said she gripped the torch so hard she felt the strain, finished her leg in 16 minutes flat, garnering oohs and aahs from her fellow runners.

Meanwhile, Amy Hoch, associate director of The Wellness Center and a 13-year Rowan employee, took a tough stretch on the route, navigating the busiest intersection of the day at the White Horse Pike and Haddon Avenue in Collingswood.

With country music—Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood—inspiring her, Hoch finished in 16:14 despite having to stop at one point due to an aggressive driver.

“I tried to smile at everyone I passed,” said Hoch. “I’m a Rowan representative. It was an honor to participate.”

‘That’s what they teach you at Rowan…initiative’

With three Rowan degrees—a bachelor’s in 1998, a master’s in 1999 and a doctorate in 2016—Tobi Bruhn said he absolutely felt University pride as he carried the torch. He pumped his fist and acknowledged cheers, particularly from those getting their morning Wawa fixes.

“I wasn’t sure if they were cheering me or Wawa pizza,” laughed Bruhn, former president of Rowan’s alumni board. “It was a really cool experience.”

As rain began to fall, Juan Sanchez '08, who ran cross country for the Profs and now serves as an alumni board member, demonstrated Rowan resilience to avoid a slowdown on his route, running up on a sidewalk when a car darted in front of the police escort, slowing down the procession.

“That’s what they teach you at Rowan…initiative,” Bruhn said as he watched Sanchez maintain his stride, finishing in 12:52.

Second-year medical student Sandra Wilson, who hails from Rockland County, N.Y., had the honor of passing Rowan-Virtua SOM in Stratford, finishing her leg in 13:32 while navigating a challenging incline on Laurel Road.

“I don’t know why I said yes to this, but why not?” chuckled Wilson, admitting that runners have a different mentality. “We’ll get up at 4:30 in the morning to do things like this. There’s a real sense of accomplishment. And you always do it for the merch.”

Each runner, recruited by Vice President for University Relations and run organizer Joe Cardona ’89 M’96 Ed.D. ’07, wore a specially-designed, limited edition gold Torch Run shirt.

Despite steady rain, accomplished runners Ernie Holtzheimer ’11 ’M12 and Jon Ratcliffe ’18, handled their legs of the run with ease.

Holtzheimer, who manages the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund, has run courses around the globe—many in bad weather. Ratcliffe, a music teacher, also is an accomplished runner who is currently training for a marathon. Ratcliffe finished in 12:38 for the best time of the day, while Holtzheimer clocked in at 13:21.

Later in the run, the pair teamed up for an extra two miles in Pitman, together conquering the toughest hill on the course at Lambs Road.

Honoring a legacy

Fittingly, the final three individual runners all boast deep Rowan/Glassboro State College roots. The Cardona brothers—Daniel ’17 M’20, Collin ’20 and Quinn, a first-year student—are the grandsons of former State Assembly Speaker Jack Collins ’64 M’67, who was an administrator and coach at GSC.

Collins, himself, ran the torch as a student. When he was two, Daniel posed for a photo with the torch at the 75th anniversary Torch Run. As SGA president in 2017, he carried the torch again at the President’s Welcome & Picnic.

“What will be my pace? Whatever my hamstrings can handle,” Daniel, a school counselor, joked early in the day. “We have some serious runners in here.”

Daniel finished in 13:25, relinquishing the course to Collin, who played men’s soccer at Rowan and now teaches and coaches at Pennsauken Tech. Collin posted a 14:19 time, setting the stage for the final individual leg, fittingly run by Quinn, a history and education major and the day’s youngest runner.

“I’ve been at Rowan two months,” Quinn laughed of his Rowan tenure so far. Despite characteristically sleeping most of the bus ride, Quinn woke up to finish his leg in 13:14, earning some Cardona family bragging rights as the University embarks on its second century. Between them, the Collins/Cardona family has earned 14 Rowan/GSC degrees—and counting.

The runners all joined together for the final two miles from the West Campus to North Campus Drive, arriving at 10:31 a.m. —a nostalgic kickoff to the spirited Centennial Homecoming celebration.