BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — When Gill Sellick and her family first moved to Niskayuna from the U.K., about a year and a half ago, it was the dead of winter in Niskayuna. She didn’t know a single person. Hoping for some friendly opportunities, she went online and started searching for social groups in town.
She found a couple of promising leads. One was Niskayuna Moms on the Run, an unaffiliated but well-organized group of women who meet up early in the morning to talk and run or walk.
Sellick got an answer right away from one of the group’s members, Tina Lee.
“We worked out that Tina was just down the road from me,” she said. Lee promised to stop by on her morning run the next day.
When that gray morning rolled around, Sellick stood at her front door, wondering if Lee’s plans might have changed. It was snowing, after all.
But soon enough, she spotted Lee’s hat bobbing up the road through the flakes. Sellick made one of her first friends in Niskayuna right then and there, on her doorstep in the icy cold.
She soon learned that “the moms,” as they sometimes refer to themselves, are pretty tough to keep indoors. Their runs are canceled only when the temperature dips below -10 degrees, or when there’s excessive ice on the ground. They don’t take holidays, either; they have a tradition of meeting up on Christmas Eve morning for a run and a hot coffee at the local Starbucks.
In the years since Niskayuna Moms on the Run was founded, splinter groups have broken off to suit their own schedules and preferences. Some train for speed or distance, and others walk together while recovering from injuries.
One group, which could be considered the original, meets at 6 a.m. near founder Annie Serafini’s house. Serafini planted the seed for the group in June 2001, when she got tired of doing step aerobics alone in her basement and invited a few friends to alternate between running and walking in the early mornings.
“There was a very small group of women,” Serafini recalled after completing a four-mile loop on a recent, humid September morning. The sun had just come up, and moms were jogging home to make sure their children caught the bus for school.
“I just started recruiting people,” she said. Serafini now lives in California most of the time with her two daughters, who are high-level figure skaters chasing Olympic dreams. But whenever she’s home in Niskayuna, she rises early and laces up her sneakers.
Even when she’s on the opposite coast and can’t join in, Serafini said it makes her happy to be included on the group message where people organize their various runs. There are more than 100 names on the email list.
In the group’s 14 years, the participants have grown from recreational joggers to, in some cases, serious marathoners and even triathlon contenders. They’ve teamed up for long distance relays like Reach the Beach in 2011 and Ragnar in New York in 2010 and 2012.
Sometimes, for long relays, they even field two teams to run together, so no one has to pound the pavement alone.
“I do triathlons because of this group,” said Tina Lee, a runner who arrived at the 6 a.m. run already sweaty from an early start. When she started with the group, she could run only two miles or so without stopping. Now, she has her sights on the Hudson Crossing Triathlon in 2016.
The tenacity required to run four miles or more before the sun comes up, then consistently turn around and put children on the school bus and, for some, head to jobs of their own, extends into these women’s personal lives. It makes their friendships ironclad.
They’ve helped each other through bouts with cancer, guided each other through the perils of caring for aging parents, and even occasionally answered each other’s desperate pleas for recommendations on a reliable plumber or dentist. If a member needs a home-cooked meal during a difficult time, there’s no better place to turn.
“It’s mostly just running, but it’s sort of a resource as well,” runner Marie Bosman said.
Serafini, the group’s founder, isn’t afraid to take it one step further. She said the group’s longevity has even inspired others to lace up their sneakers and follow suit.
“I really think the moms got the dads running,” she said. “I really think we set this town in motion.”