In Gasparilla 5K, rain feels refreshing to winner Ben Martucci

Jordan Bird, 20, of Arizona crosses the finish line to win his 15K wheelchair race debut. Bird, paralyzed from the waist down since a car wreck at age 2, edged Krige Schabort by a second.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Jordan Bird, 20, of Arizona crosses the finish line to win his 15K wheelchair race debut. Bird, paralyzed from the waist down since a car wreck at age 2, edged Krige Schabort by a second.

TAMPA — He approached the starting line of Saturday's Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K fortified by half a bagel, chilled by the 45-degree feel-like temperature, and dampened by the drizzle that segued from slight to steady.

All in all, Ben Martucci couldn't have felt more blissful.

"I love rain," the former Hernando High distance-running sensation said moments after winning the race in a time (15 minutes, 2 seconds) that he said shattered his personal record.

"It's like, honestly perfect for me. It's like the rain hydrates me. I woke up this morning and barely had any water and not much to eat, but sometimes I feel like I do better when I wing it."

A 21-year-old junior at Division II Florida Southern in Lakeland, Martucci was named the 2009 Sunshine State Conference men's cross country runner of the year after winning the 8K title at the conference meet.

On Saturday, he edged Chamberlain High senior Mark Parrish (15:05), last fall's Class 4A runnerup at the state cross country meet. Martucci, the 2A runnerup in 2006, said he and Parrish essentially paced each other throughout the race.

Australian Bree McArdle, 20, a Florida State sophomore, was the female winner in 17:44.

McArdle, who tore her right Achilles' tendon in the fall, competed with roughly a dozen other Seminoles who didn't make the trip to this weekend's ACC Indoor Championships in Blacksburg, Va.

HAT'S OFF TO BIRD: Wheelchair racer Jordan Bird won the first 15K race of his life in literally the drop of a hat.

A computer science major at Arizona, Bird, 20, lost his helmet just as he crossed the Bayshore Boulevard finish line in 33 minutes, a second ahead of 46-year-old Krige Schabort of Cedartown, Ga.

Eighteen years earlier, the vehicle in which Bird was riding with his father, Jeffrey, was struck by a drunk driver. Jeffrey died, and Jordan, then 2, was paralyzed from the waist down.

Saturday was his first victory since he began seriously competing roughly five years ago.

"The conditions were great," Bird said. "The rain held off like it was supposed to. It was fantastic."

STILL SPEEDY AT 71: A year after breaking a 22-year-old national 15K record for his age group, St. Petersburg resident Joe Burgasser, 71, nearly did it again.

His time of 1:02.37 was less than a second off the 1:01.46 he recorded in 2009. Burgasser was trying to keep pace with St. Petersburg High standout Savannah Dearden, 16, a member of his Forerunners Florida Track Club who finished in 1:01.58.

"If I had stayed with Savannah, I would've gotten it again," Burgasser said. "I would've lowered it a little bit, but she was just too strong."

In Gasparilla 5K, rain feels refreshing to winner Ben Martucci 02/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 27, 2010 10:16pm]

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