Elite hosts: Cape Elizabeth residents open their homes, hearts to Beach to Beacon runners

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Sheila Abourjaily has never run the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race, but she holds one of its records: most consecutive years hosting elite runners.

This year is the race’s 20th anniversary, and Abourjaily’s 19th year hosting athletes at her Salt Spray Lane home during race week.

Her daughter, Erin Dawson-Chalat, who lives nearby on Channel View Road, comes in a close second with 17 consecutive years. She has also run the race several times since moving to Cape Elizabeth 20 years ago, but will sit out this year on Aug. 5 due to a foot injury.

Since 1998, the 6.2-mile route along Cape Elizabeth’s coast has been a destination for top distance runners from around the world. Host families are responsible for providing them with lodging, meals, transportation, and a feeling of comfort in the days leading up to the event.

When Abourjaily first volunteered to host in 1999, she was paired with Simpson Limareng from Kenya and Germán Silva from Mexico. She knew Kenya was home to some of the world’s top athletes, but she had never heard of Silva.

But her husband George had – and she can still remember the look of shock on his face when he told her, “Oh my gosh, Sheila. He’s famous!”

Silva had won the New York City Marathon in back-to-back years (1994 and ’95) and had also represented Mexico in the ’92 and ’96 Summer Olympics. Silva and the Abourjailys hit it off instantly.

“He became my best friend,” Abourjaily said. “Now he is family.”

A signed photo of Silva hangs in the Abourjaily’s home. In black marker he wrote: “To my best friends Sheila and George. You are my family. I love you. Thank you.”

The Abourjailys have stayed in touch with Silva throughout the years. They visit each other as frequently as possible, and Silva’s son, who was only 1 when he first met the Abourjailys, is turning 18 this year.

Abourjaily’s and Dawson-Chalat’s other memorable guests have included Kenyans Godfrey Kiprotich, Lornah Kiplagat, 2001 champion Evans Rutto, two-time winner Micah Kogo, and five-time champion Catherine “The Great” Ndereba.

Abourjaily has visited her guests in Kenya three times; Dawson-Chalat has twice. Their friend and Beach to Beacon founder, Joan Benoit Samuelson, accompanied them on one trip.

Once, Abourjaily delivered a bridesmaid dress from David’s Bridal to Ndereba for her sister’s wedding. Next to the photo of Silva in Abourjaily’s home hangs a photo of Ndereba, smiling in pink, standing next to the bride and groom.

Each year, on the Friday before race day, Dawson-Chalat hosts a dinner for elite runners where she prepares and serves ugali, a traditional African cornmeal typically accompanied by a meat or vegetable stew. Because she is vegan, she has only tasted the dish once, but said the runners from Africa love it.

“Each (runner) we’ve hosted (from Kenya) is so neat and kind and grateful,” Dawson-Chalat said. “They’re just happy to be here.”

The mother-daughter duo said they are looking forward to hosting two more Kenyan runners this year. Abourjaily will host Leonard Barsoston and Dawson-Chalat will host Stephen Sambu.

“It’s quite nice in a small town (like Cape Elizabeth) to host people from other countries,” Dawson-Chalat said. “I love hearing their stories.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Sheila Abourjaily, left, and her daughter, Erin Dawson-Chalat, outside Abourjaily’s Cape Elizabeth home early Wednesday morning, July 26. Next week they’ll be hosting elite runners for the 20th annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K.