After 10 races, Holliston family bids farewell to Tim’s Trot – Milford Daily News

After 10 races, Holliston family bids farewell to Tim’s Trot  Milford Daily News

HOLLISTON – Blue, orange, and a black Lab. 

Cakes and the No. 7. 

Timothy O’Connell. 

The 10th version of a favorite annual event brought out hundreds of runners and walkers on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Holliston High School. Flushed youngsters licked ice cream and crowded around a pile of paper results strewn across a table. 

Why give all this up? 

“We want to end on a really high note,” the mother of the day’s honoree said. “It’s bittersweet.”

Topping Saturday’s event, which served as both a return and a conclusion, would indeed be difficult. 

The final Tim’s Trot – a 3-kilometer run/walk that has raised more than $1 million for the treatment of pediatric cancer and local scholarships – was “incredibly bittersweet,” said Joanne O’Connell, whose son Tim died of acute myeloid leukemia 14 Septembers ago.  

“It is,” agreed Tim’s father, Kevin. “But it’s time.” 

Kevin O’Connell compared the preparation each year to a wedding: hundreds of guests, music, the buildup. 

“Everybody has cleared the decks and made it work – but it is work,” he said. “And we’ve always said, when it becomes work, we have to re-think it. As painful as it is to let this go, it would be much more painful if we were showing up and we had 50 or 100 people show up.” 

Saturday’s count: 617.

The race’s original proposal

Kevin O’Connell’s purging of the past includes a shredder. Not all documents ended in scraps, however. One original form will be preserved. 

Tim’s father has been destroying paperwork from previous Trots, from the days before registration went online. But he is saving a National Honor Society proposal that Max Athy drew up while he was a junior football captain at Holliston High in 2011. 

Athy crafted the race’s name, course and distance, with the goal of 100 runners for an annual event. 

“It has ballooned into something that I could never had imagined,” said the 2013 graduate after completing a walk along the course. “I’m forever grateful to have that opportunity to build those relationships with the O’Connell family, but then to see the impact that this has had on everyone else in the community … It’s surreal just seeing it now.” 

The O’Connells had planned on stopping the race in 2020, before the coronavirus halted the event for two years. Ten years – to match Tim’s short life – seemed like a good place to stop. But the Timothy O’Connell Foundation will go on, as will the baking of popular Timmy Cakes that are sold as fundraisers and were part of a drawing for lucky participants on Saturday. 

The impact of the boy whose favorite colors were blue and orange lives on in a darker substance: chocolate frosting. 

“I’m proud that he has had such a positive influence on the community and that everybody’s truly bonded by it,” Joanne O’Connell said. “A lot of people, when he was sick, rallied around him, rallied around us, supported us in the most extraordinary ways – and they continue to.” 

Madden Football, Madden the dog

The story of Tim and his Trot is not complete without mentioning football. 

Saturday’s race was held next to Kamitian Field, where less than 24 hours prior, Holliston High blanked Medway, 48-0. When Tim was in second grade, his physical education teacher was Todd Kiley, Holliston’s head football coach, a position he still holds.

On the rare times Tim was able to leave Boston Children’s Hospital – where he spent 11 of the 16 months during his cancer battle – he appeared on the field on Friday nights serving as an honorary captain, wearing the No. 7 that then quarterback Tommy Donovan gifted him. (The number has since been retired). 

Athy, a former Tri-Valley League MVP who later played at Tufts, wore the coveted “7” bib on Saturday. 

“It’s really something special,” he said. “To be able to wear this is such an honor.” 

Another favorite of Tim’s was the video football game that he enjoyed so much, the family eventually named their dog after it: Madden. 

The black Lab-German shepherd mix, less than 10 weeks old when Tim’s Trot debuted in 2011, was among many canines at Saturday’s event. She was born after Tim died, but helps keeps his memory alive. 

In a lengthy interview before the race, Kevin O’Connell recalled the many Madden Football games he played with Tim in the hospital. The son knew how to play dad.  

“I could not stop the fake punt, and I knew it was coming every time.” Kevin said. “and Timothy said, ‘until you learn how to stop it, I’m going to continue to run it.’ 

“And I never did.” 

Tim Dumas is a multimedia journalist for the Daily News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TimDumas.