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Home Run, Vineland

by Ahmad Graves-El
The Run Vineland Crew is a family of runners of various ability levels. Andre Rivera is second from left.

As a resident of Cumberland County, there are numerous positive actions you can take to help bring the community together, if you’re so inclined.

One way is to paint a military mural that also represents the diversity of the citizens in this area like well-respected artist George Perez. Another way is to put on an event at Giampietro Park specifically aimed at elevating the spirits of children with special needs like rising star, Trinity Jagdeo and her nonprofit organization, We Can’t to We Can. Another way is to put on a free football camp for Bridgeton youth like former NFL player and Bridgeton native, Dominique Williams.

Andre Rivera, of Vineland, has chosen to put his best foot forward in helping to unite the community through the sport of running with his organization, Second Capital Running.

“Second Capital Running is an online resource for all things running in Vineland and Cumberland County,” the 26-year-old Rivera explains. “We also recently [became] an event management group where we produce and set up running events in the area.

“Our main goal is to [show] people ways that they can improve their lives and the quality of their lifestyles through the incorporation of running and different endurance activities.”

Running is one of those sports that is not necessarily on the top of people’s to-do lists. Also, when you ask participants from other sports, like baseball, what’s their least favorite thing to do at practice, many of them quickly respond, running.

“I [despised] long distance running in practice,” says Jonathan Dijamco, who was recently appointed as athletic director at Rowan College of South Jersey’s Cumberland Campus.

“That was literally the only thing I didn’t like about playing baseball,” the former St. Augustine Prep and St. Joseph University ballplayer reveals.

As a student, Rivera, who is a 2011 graduate of Vineland High School, wasn’t all that fond of running either. “When we had to do the mile test in school, I took the written test instead,” Rivera says. “I wasn’t athletic in the conventional sense. I was an artist.”

From 2008 to 2015, Rivera was a touring musician in a metalcore band called Every Minute Can Kill and oftentimes found himself with nothing constructive to do while living in a van all day (fortunately, not down by the river). In 2014, he joined a gym, where, interestingly, his curiosity for running was piqued.

“There was this guy who had these wicked calves and I saw him all the time at the gym,” Rivera recalls. “And I was like, ‘Dude, why are your calves so [huge]?’ And he was like ‘Dude, I run. You want nice calves, you have to run.’ ”

Once he began running, Rivera was off to the races. “My first 5K was a Rocky race in Philly,” Rivera says.

Although Rivera’s first race was a 5K, which translates to 3.1 miles, he enjoys running longer distances, including half and full marathons.

“I’m not particularly fast, [but] I love to run farther, and that’s usually the challenge for me,” he says. “Eventually, I’d like to run 100 miles. That’s my goal. I want to get into the ultra running scene and do these super challenging endurance events, 24-hour races, things like that.”

Rivera, who’s also a manager at Larry’s II in Vineland, faces challenges with courage and optimism, which are useful attributes to possess when trying to bring a community together through running.

One of his motivations was borne out of the peculiar disappearance of an eclectic music scene predominant in Cumberland County from the early aughts to the mid 2010s, where groups like Innercore, Crowd Side Royale, Hence Reverie, Bread ‘N Butta, Cheezy and the Crackers, and others reigned supreme.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and with music—that was my thing for a very long time until [it] died out. And then there was nothing going on,” Rivera says. “There was no passion attached to where I lived, so I wanted to leave. It wasn’t until I signed a two-year lease on a house, I was like oh crap, I’m here for a little bit. Maybe I should stop complaining and see what I can do to actually bring what I want here.”

Revelatory conversations Rivera had with himself led him to realize, “It didn’t make sense … to go somewhere else and be a part of something that I’ve always wanted, just to abandon the place I live. Why leave the place that has the need when you can be the person to supply the need to that place?”

This is when Second Capital Running came to life. “The idea … was to give power back to the city and back to the people of the community to say ‘hey this place matters and what we do matters.’ We’re trying to bring attention back to Vineland and [help] give it a good name with a positive feel to it,” says Rivera. “Second Capital says we’re important and now we’re going to show people why we’re important, primarily through running.”

Rivera’s first mission with Second Capital Running, whose mantra is “We’re not a club, we’re a movement,” was to bring a running event to Vineland. “I’d end up [running] on Landis Ave—[its] big wide sidewalk, open, scenic—it’s kind of nice,” he says. “I’d run past the Landis Theater all the time. I was just like, ‘man this is a big road [with] a wide channel here. How are we not having a race down here?’ ”

Rivera eventually met with Russell Swanson, executive director of Main Street Vineland. Although he had no prior experience, Rivera told him he would gladly take on the responsibilities of being the race director for the Running the Ave 5K.

“I said … I’ve never done an event before, but I’ve done my research—I know what it takes. I’ve participated in hundreds of races like this. I know what people are looking for,” Rivera recalls. “I know how you can attract people and I know what work needs to be done. And I’m willing to do it.

The inaugural Running the Ave 5K was held on June 23 and it turned out well. “We had 145 people sign up for that event, all runners,” says Rivera. “For an event like this, for the first time, 145 people running is unprecedented. It was a huge success and we are very happy with it.”

The event was so successful, that there is already a date set for next year’s race. “We’re going to do it again, June 28, 2020,” Rivera says. “If people want to know what Second Capital Running is, and they want to know what kind of events we put on, I’m always going to say come to Running the Ave 5K. That’s representative of what we want to do as far as giving Vineland a good image, primarily downtown.”

Under the Second Capital Running umbrella, there is a club aspect of the organization named the Run Vineland Crew.

“The Run Vineland Crew is just a great group of people, friends, who support each other’s love of running,” says Toni Coslop, preschool teacher, and a member of the crew.

“Run Vineland Crew is a family made up of many different runners at all ability levels,” adds Harlen Jones, correction officer, and a member of the crew. “We sincerely care about everyone in the group, and we try not to let anyone finish a race alone.”

“I’ve never met a more supportive group of people,” says Coslop, a Millville resident.

“The great thing about … this is everyone involved is interested in giving back. Giving encouragement, giving advice and giving cases of beverages for the homeless,” says Tim Gannotta, lead account manager with Liberty Coca-Cola Beverages, and member of the crew. “This group is one of the most positive things I have been involved with in my entire life.”

That positive vibe is just what Rivera, who is also the race director for the Vineland Recreation Grand Prix Running Series, was hoping to manifest when he started Second Capital Running.

And although he made this statement about the benefits of running, it could also be used to describe Rivera’s foray into community service in Cumberland County: “You start to recognize that you can do more than what people [said] you can’t do—or what you even told yourself you can’t do. It takes what is impossible and brings it into the realm of possibility.”

Second Capital Running applies running, endurance activities to daily living.