Jake Feinstein on the starting line of the mile run. (Photo by Steve Mazzone)
As he stood on the starting line with the other elite runners in the mile run, a good portion of the athletes and fans that were at the Rhode Island Classic Saturday afternoon did not know about Jake Feinstein.
But once his name and the school that he represents were announced over the PA system, it was apparent through the increased cheering inside the Providence Career and Technical Academy field house that most were probably hoping the slender runner from Connecticut would pull out the victory.
It would seem difficult not to.
Feinstein is a senior at Newtown High, a school that’s located in an affluent town in Fairfield County, about 45 minutes from Hartford. It’s a school that’s in a town like any other town, one that doesn’t normally stick out from the others in the state. But one fateful morning on Dec. 14, a troubled young man changed all that. He put Newtown on the map in an unthinkable way, gunning down 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 children.
Feinstein didn’t attend Sandy Hook as a youth, but he has familiarity with the school. His mom, Laura, is a teacher there. Fortunately, she was one of the lucky ones that survived the massacre.
“I was on a college visit at Penn State,” he said. “I wasn’t even in Newtown when this whole thing was going down. I had heard about it and, through text messages and such, I knew my mom was alright.”
Feinstein’s dad, Steve, was with his son at the R.I. meet. He mentioned how people in the small town his family lives in have kind of been like their extended family. On that mid-December morning, the Feinsteins lost several members of that extended family, some innocent young children and some dedicated educators. Some of those six- and seven-year-old children who lost their lives were taught by Laura Feinstein.
During a brief break before competing in the mile, Jake Feinstein reflected on the tragedy at Sandy Hook. In some ways, it has increased his motivation to excel his final season for the Nighthawks where he is the defending indoor state champion for the 3,200-meter run.
“Definitely, it was a difficult time,” he said. “Running definitely wasn’t the first thing on my mind the past few weeks. But we are getting through it. Our communities really came together the past few weeks. It’s been great to see. We are getting better day by day.”
Feinstein has found solace in his running, although sometimes it has been difficult. The first time he put on his training shoes after the tragedy was particularly heart-wrenching.
“I was running at Penn State with the guys and luckily they were able to sort of distract me,” he said. “I wasn’t running alone so that helped in a way. (Running) was definitely hard to think about. All I could think about was my town.”
“(Running has) definitely helped to sort of clear my head,” he added. “At the same time, sometimes it has been difficult to motivate myself to run. It’s also been a good way to let off some steam, just clear my mind from all the stress that has been going through our town.”
Both father and son agree that the outpouring of support from the state, from the country and throughout the world, has helped the healing process in Newtown. Since the tragedy occurred, there have been numerous memorials as well as fundraising events.
“It really makes a huge difference to know how people are reaching out, and not just monetarily. All the great messages we got, that Jake and our family received. Everybody did,” Steve Feinstein said. “The world really was wonderfully supportive. We did feel it. It was great.”
It’s a difficult time for all those affected by what happened at Sandy Hook. For the fallen educators, some have lost a parent, a sister, a brother, a good friend. And for some of the parents of the children, their loved ones were taken away from them all too soon, at a tender young age when they still had a whole life ahead of them.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jake Feinstein said, “that it was such young kids that never got the opportunity to become track stars maybe.”
The talented runner has not forgotten what happened on Dec. 14 and more than likely never will. But his running has certainly been helpful, something that has given him some sense of normalcy despite the chaotic happenings that occurred a few weeks ago.
In Saturday’s race, Jake battled among the leaders throughout the eight-lap race and eventually finished third, crossing the line with a respectable time of 4 minutes, 28.45 seconds. It was a strong start to his indoor season, one that has a lot of promise.
“I still have done what I have always done as a runner and just sort of thought about the meets in the future,” he said. “The big meets, my senior year and some good times this season, I am doing my best to not let anything change that.
“Newtown wasn’t really a town that a bunch of people have heard of, but obviously now a lot of people know about it. I am trying to do my best to represent the town well.”
This past weekend in Rhode Island’s capital city, a short, two-hour ride from his hometown, Jake Feinstein did just that.