A Muddy Memorial

4/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Troy Bishopp New York Correspondent

NY Farm Hosts Highland Games to Honor Sandy Hook Victim

 DEANSBORO, N.Y. — When grass farmer and fence contractor Dan Williams mourned at 7-year-old Daniel Barden's funeral in Newtown, Conn., last year, he came home to his rural upstate New York community a changed man.

Williams couldn't have foreseen the outpouring of support for his passion to help a family in need, even if that meant slogging through the mud.

And so the Daniel Barden Highland 5K Mudfest Run was born.

The deep connection with the young victim came through Williams’ sister, Karin LaBanca, who lives next door to the Bardens in Newtown. Williams’ niece, Maggie, was a third-grade classmate of Daniel’s at Sandy Hook Elementary, where a lone gunman opened fire in December, killing six adults and 20 children, Daniel among them.

"From the moment this tragedy happened, our family has been inspired to help our friends get through this,” Williams said. “We've been building this course with the help of weekend volunteers, family and friends and donated materials since January to make this happen. Daniel's spirit has kept us motivated."

In memory of Daniel Barden and the Sandy Hook Elementary victims, more than 900 runners, including 100 from Newtown, embraced the acronym WWDD (What Would Daniel Do) in fulfilling their desires to play in the mud and celebrate the life of a little guy who loved running and playing.

Mother Nature timed her rain events nicely as the grueling hills, valleys and obstacles at MKJ Farm literally turned into a sea of mud with temperatures hovering in the 40s.

Runners (now mudders), sponsors, volunteers and spectators came from all over the Northeast to participate and support the traditional Highland Gaelic spectacle, complete with kilts and bagpipes.

Teams of a few to more than 20 with names like the Celtic Warriors, Team Braveheart, Thirsty Beavers, Rabid Bunnies, Newtown Cannonballs, Dirty Little Freaks and the Boro Hillbillies sprinted, climbed, slid and swam through a mire of soil challenging themselves and inspiring a community to pay it forward.

As the cold and dirty runners crossed the finish line, they were greeted with praise and a post-race celebration that included food and beverages, live music, the "Farmer Carry," chiropractic care and vendors — all surrounded by 26 ceremonial fire logs representing each victim of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The warmth and prayers of a rural community for Mark, Jackie, James and Natalie Barden came through as the hard work of Dan and Melissa Williams, David and Jessica Poyer, Frank and Karin LaBanca, and the legions of friends raised more than $50,000 to support the family and the college endeavors of Daniel's siblings.

In memory of Daniel's zest for life, a quote by E.E. Cummings: “The world is mudluscious and puddlewonderful.”

To learn more about the Bardens’ charity visit www.bardenmudfest.org, www.whatwoulddanieldo.com or www.bardenfund.com.

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