For The Love of Lucas: Hartwick Swimmers Run to Support Coach Dale

Hartwick College Coach Dale Rothenberger with group of students at 5k event

They ran for family members. For friends. For loved ones lost to addiction.

And for Dale.

“We love Coach Dale,” said Mike Shultz ‘24. “Hartwick’s swim teams have always been a community, and we show that by running to remember Lucas and raise awareness about substance abuse disorders.” 

Head Swimming and Diving Coach Dale Rothenberger and his wife, Cathy, founded the annual Rothenberger Road to Recovery Run after their son Lucas died as the result of a drug overdose on Sept. 6, 2017. He was 28.

“We were working diligently to try and help Lucas through these issues,” Rothenberger said. “But I can still remember that moment when the State Police knocked on our door. No parent ever expects that.”

The run started in 2018 and benefits Friends of Recovery of Otsego and Delaware County (FORD-DO), which assists people in recovery from substance abuse disorders. 

Community service is such a part of our team. We give free swim lessons and do adopt-a-highway cleanups. Giving back is so important, and it helps us all understand that there is more than just ourselves.

Dale Rothenberger

The race starts with a 1K “fun run” before the 5 and 10K races start. Swimmers ran and volunteered, getting racers checked in at the registration booth, staffing the water tables and tossing colored powder on the Color Run participants.

And that sense of belonging starts as early as their first year. Three weeks after joining the Hartwick community, Allison Neelands ‘27 and Danni Decaro ‘27 knew they were part of something bigger than just a team. 

“From the minute we arrived on campus, the team felt like a second family,” said Decaro. “The swim/dive captains told us about this race, and we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”

Stitch, a Guiding Eyes for the Blind dog, also got in on the action, running alongside trainer and swimmer Joelle Ocheltree ‘24. It was their first Rothenberger 10K race after volunteering for the event the last two years. “Stitch was not a fan,” they said. “He wanted to stop after the first mile, but we pushed through.”

Hawks from women’s lacrosse and women’s soccer, and SUNY Oneonta athletes, also joined in volunteering and racing.

Of the 183 runners registered, several were Hartwick faculty, staff members and alumni. Hartwick soccer goalkeeper Jodi Johnson ‘24 won the men’s 10K, and Heather Bailey, senior assistant director of career development and network engagement, took second in the women’s 10K. Cheryl Johnson, assistant professor of criminal justice, ran the 5K. 

Hartwick College Coach Dale Rothenberger with group of students at 5k event

The Rothenbergers’ daughters – Dana Rothenberger Faulconer ‘00, Tara Rothenberger McCoy ‘02 and Nicole Rothenberger Karabinis ‘05 – also swimmers under their father’s coaching – not only join their family for the run every year but bring their children to run alongside them.

And that bond between Hartwick swimmers and their coach remains strong, even after they graduate. 

“I try to come back every year,” said Colin Leonard ‘22, now a registered nurse at St. Peter’s Health Partners in Slingerlands, NY. “It’s important that we show up for Dale and Cathy and to promote a great cause.”

“I brought my husband to run,” said Abigail Blake ‘21, whose husband, Noah Blake, was joining her for the first time. “This team is a family, and we always show each other support.”

Dana’s former roommate, Kristin Leonard ‘99, returned once again. Chris Villa ‘99, drives up from Indiana, PA, where he is the head swimming and diving coach at Indiana University, to run in the race. And Jay Kalbach ‘97 is passing down the tradition to his daughter, Ella ‘26, a player on the volleyball team, though she missed this year’s run because of a game.

“We have lots ‘old-timers (veterans)’,” said Cathy. “It swells our heart that people come back to support us every year.”

And as he mounted the pace bike, Rothenberger reflected on the run – and his son’s – legacy.

“We can make a difference,” he said. “On campus and in the community.” 

November 28, 2023
From The Wick Magazine, Wick Mag Fall 2023

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