Jack Vassalotti certainly knows how to stick out in a crowd.
Donned head to toe in one of his many costumed creations, the 62-year-old avid runner uses any opportunity to go the extra mile.
“I've developed a bit of a reputation,” he said. “Whether that's good or bad I don't know, but I'm having fun doing it.”
As he remembers it, it all started at the Sea Witch Festival's 5K race about four years ago. Being so close to Halloween, race organizers encourage runners to wear costumes on their 3.1-mile journey. Jack had so much fun with it, he started dressing up for other themed races, such as St. Patrick's Day, the Fourth of July and other holidays. He says he doesn't dress up for every race he enters, but if there is any way he can incorporate a costume into it, he'll try his hardest.
“I'm still trying to embarrass my children,” said the father of two children and two stepchildren. “So far, they keep encouraging me.”
Since rejoining the running world about five years ago, he said, he's made many great friends through the Races2Run and Seashore Striders events. It's the support from them and his family that keeps him thinking about new outrageous costumes.
They can be simple, from a hat, a wig or funny-colored socks to much more complex that might involve some spandex, a tutu and makeup.
“My wife has helped me with a few costumes when it comes to makeup or even sewn a few things to make something to accommodate a look I want,” he said.
He's always keeping an eye out for something that will fit into one of his costumes, but he finds most of his costumes on the internet.
A staple on the Cape Region's weekend running scene, Jack ran 36 races last year, mostly of the 5K variety. After completing 20 in 2012, Jack said he set a goal to increase his race total every year.
“It's a far cry from what some of my friends do,” he said.
Jack retired in June after managing the Nike outlet store for 12 years. He spent the previous 20 years in the area in the restaurant management industry. He grew up in Newton, Mass., and attended the Culinary Institute of America and Florida International University.
He was not much of a runner during his younger years but was encouraged by a local runner to give it a shot.
“Doug White – he's at a lot of the races,” he said. “I was working at the Nike outlet when I met him and got to know him a little bit. He said I should come out to these races and that some were really fun.”
So he did, and he's been running ever since.
In April, Jack traveled with other Cape Region runners, including White, to the Boston Marathon. Jack did not participate in the race, but was standing near the finish line waiting for his friends to cross when the infamous bombings occurred.
“I wanted to be at the finish line that day. What a day to pick,” he said.
Fortunately he was not injured in the attack and quickly posted his healthy status on social media so his family and friends would not worry. Little did he know he would become a field reporter for local media outlets.
“Before I knew it, I was contacted by the paper, by WBOC and it just snowballed from there,” he said. “Everybody just wanted to know what was going on.”
Jack says marathons don't interest him right now, but he won't rule them out in the future. He recently traveled to New Orleans with friends to participate in the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Naturally, he dressed the part, wearing a jester's hat and green tutu while carrying an inflatable saxophone.
When he isn't running, Jack spends a lot of his time working at the Sussex Family YMCA in Rehoboth Beach. He serves on the organization's board of governors and is the chairman of the annual campaign. As a way of drawing attention and raising funds for the YMCA, in March, Jack walked the 35-mile width of Delaware.
“That was my marathon, in a sense,” he said.
He said he's become very passionate about the work done by the YMCA.
“I firmly believe it's a good program,” he said. “There's a lot of good people there. I've made a lot of good friends.”
Walking has been a part of Jack's life longer than running. He said he was inspired by Cape Gazette Sports Editor Dave Frederick more than a decade ago.
“His goal was to walk 100 miles a month,” he said. “So I started doing that, and then before I knew it the 100 miles per month turned into 200 miles per month. I thought if Fredman can do it, I can do it.”
Jack walks every day, no matter the weather or if he's sick. He hasn't missed a day in eight years. He calculated he walked 2,600 miles last year – more than 400 miles longer than the Appalachian Trail – and ran an additional 600.
He said running races, walking across the state and working with the YMCA are all aimed at promoting physical activity.
“It's a way to get people to realize you don't have to be some muscular workout freak to enjoy this physical area,” he said. “This area certainly lends itself to it. We have a wealth of activities around here. It's certainly encouraged me to stretch my limits.”