Speedy Santas strip for a good Claus

by Beacon Staff • December 12, 2007

Ponder, for a moment, the image of Santa Claus. Allow the depth of his meaning to infiltrate all childhood memories of good ol' St. Nick and his cookie-eating, present-giving ways. Now picture hundreds of Santas running through Emerson's main drag in nothing but banana hammocks.

This picture will become reality Saturday when the annual Santa Speedo Run takes place down Boylston and Newbury Streets for some holiday cheer and charity.

On Dec. 16, 2000 half-naked Santa history was made when Jon Ianelli, current organizer of the event, and four others were sitting in The Sevens Bar on Charles Street. They decided it was time to break away from their daily routine-and the only way to do that, would be to don some drafty, barely-there swim trunks and hit the streets.

"We did it as a joke the first time," the co-founder of the event said. "We just thought it would be something funny to do, to have a couple of drinks, put on Santa hats and Speedos and run down Newbury Street."

Clad in nothing but Claus-clothes, they carried a radio with the Muppet's Christmas CD blasting as they jogged. It's no surprise that they attracted some attention from the people walking by.

"People went crazy for it," Ianelli said. "After that, we decided to turn it into a charity event."

Over the past seven years, the group has aided countless organizations including the Sept. 11 Children's Fund, Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the Children's AIDS Program at Boston Medical Center, the Children's Hospital Boston and The Ellie Fund and Eliot Community Human Services.

This year's focus is to raise money for the Women's Lunch Place, a daytime community in Boston that serves up to 150 poor and homeless women and their children a day.

Ianelli said that the selection process for the charity depends on two factors. The charity must be small, so that 50-60 thousand dollars will truly have an impact, and and it must be local to Boston.

"We try to get sponsors from the area," he said. "We want the money to go back into the community."

Linda Myers-Tierny, head of development for Women's Lunch Place, said that Councilman Michael Ross suggested having the run benefit their organization, not only because it fits the above criteria perfectly, but also because the jog goes right past their building located at 67 Newbury St.

"The juxtaposition of the wealth and the splendor and the abundance of Newbury Street is very profound when compared to the women and some of our guests that have experienced unbearable loss," Myers-Tierny said. "The Women's Lunch Place is sometimes the only place left for them to go."

The safe haven for women in need is thrilled that the run is bringing people together in the community in a silly, yet effective way.

"To combine the excitement and the happiness of the holidays and the financial abundance of the holidays with fun and with the people who really need it the most is just a beautiful thing," Myers-Tierny said.

In the past, students from Emerson have volunteered for Women's Lunch Place through the Office of Service Learning and Community Action and learning communities like Leadership Through Service.

Sophomore Shannon Lehotsky took part in a toiletries drive for Women's Lunch Place last year by setting up boxes in all of the residence hall common rooms for a few weeks and dropping them off at the organization.

Because of her work with LTS, she understands why charity events this time of year are worthwhile.

"Giving back to the community is a good way to lift your holiday spirit," the marketing communication major said via e-mail. "I know that people are busy this time of year, and volunteering your time is a big commitment, but it can definitely be more rewarding in the long run to know that you helped someone and also made your community a better place to be in."

Emerson class of '07 alumna, Meagan Fish, helped out in the kitchen of Women's Lunch Place, and served lunches every month through a class called Community Involve. She, too, described how rewarding it was to help the local community this time of year.

"I realize how crazy December can be for Emerson students in terms of projects and finals," Fish said. "But whether it's in Boston or back in your hometown, offering your time and effort is a mutually rewarding experience."

Even if you aren't normally down with donations, the Santa Speedo Run will raise both funds and eyebrows as an alternate workout to the YMCA gym. This jog is worth the embarrassment, even if your thighs jiggle all the way.

If one so chooses to take part in this frigid frolic, he or she must dress accordingly. While this advice is given prior to any event required attire for the run is bit different from most-not to mention, a bit chillier.

Santa hat, beard and other holiday flair are a must to take part in the jog, and make sure to wrap up your holiday package in a Speedo before you head over to the Lir Irish Pub located on Boylston Street this Saturday. If you aren't 21, no worries-registration is outside of the bar and goes from 10:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

Runners are asked to raise at least $250 in donations prior to the event. The runner who raises the most money will win a ski-trip for two in Killington, Vermont, including lodging and lift tickets courtesy of the run's sponsor, WAAF 97.7/107.3.

Ianelli knows that the Santa Speedo Run and its participants are not the average philanthropists, but he said that it is because the event is so shocking and fun that it has been successful over the years.

"We don't get dressed up in fancy ballroom dresses and tuxedos to raise money," Ianelli said. "We just do it in a bar in our bathing suits."

Donations can be made online at santaspeedorun.com or checks can be made out directly to: Women's Lunch Place, 67 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116.