As the firstborn child of two Fresno State track stars, 7-year-old Alyssa Samansky could often be spotted running her heart out at a local kids race — or with her nose in a book.
“She loved the Junie B. Jones series,” said her father, Aaron Samansky. “She was reading them constantly and had tons of AR (Accelerated Reading) points all the time.”
The Maple Creek Elementary student loved the color pink and adored dressing up in princess costumes.
“It was hilarious for her to be so girly, having the parents that she has,” Aaron said. His wife, Andrea,competed in last year’s Ironman World Championship triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.
Tragically, Alyssa Samansky’s life ended on Veterans Day in 2005.
Alyssa was walking through a parking lot with her mother and 4-year-old sister, Abigail, when she was struck and killed by a truck traveling the wrong way down the aisle.
“They had spent the day at the bowling alley for a friend’s birthday party, and they were stopping at the Save Mart on First and Nees to pick up … some Benadryl and chocolate milk,” Aaron explained. “Andrea was holding both of their hands —Abby on the left and Alyssa on the right —and the truck came down the wrong way in one of the stalls and didn’t see them. He hit Alyssa and Andrea.”
Just months after Alyssa’s death, local runner and coach Farshad Oreizi organized the first annual Alyssa Samansky Track Challenge, an all-ages track meet to honor the girl who loved to run and show support for her grieving family.
It means a lot to us, for Andrea and Abigail and I. It’s really hard… really hard. But it’s great to see that people care.
Aaron Samansky, Alyssa’s father
The ninth annual event will be held Saturday, Aug. 22, on the Clovis West High School track. Events begin at 5 p.m. and include long jump, shot put, a 50-meter kids dash, 100-, 400-, 800- and 1600-meter races, and a 1600-meter relay.
Registration is $20 and attendees can participate in as many races as they choose to. Barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs will be sold for $5.
“All of the money that we raise is split between the local library, because Alyssa loved to read, and the Clovis West track team, for putting on the event and helping out,” Aaron said.
Participants are encouraged to bring used or new books, which will be donated to local libraries.
Over the years different members of Sierra Challenge Express, a local running club, have stepped up to direct the event; Lea Nibur is this year’s organizer.
Clovis West track coach Martin Palavicini has known the Samanskys for a long time and is also a Sierra Challenge Express member. He encourages his student-athletes to volunteer at the track challenge.
“He loves helping out and his staff is really good,” Aaron said.
This year, some of the children who remember Alyssa from Maple Creek Elementary now run for the Clovis West track team, Aaron said. Alyssa would’ve been 17 years old.
“They knew her or kind of remember her, so it’s nice that they’re helping out with the event,” he said. “I never lost a friend when I was young, so I don’t know what that’s like. But it has to be traumatic for them. I think it helps them a little bit to see that we’re still here and we’re still moving forward.”
The Samanskys, including their daughters Abigail, 14, and Audrey, 8, will be at the track, where 150 to 200 people usually turn out each year to run, jump and throw.
“We just try to make it fun for everyone to do,” Aaron said. “We added field events a couple of years ago for something different. We have sprinters out there. The mile is great for distance runners. It’s really just about going out and running.”
“It means a lot to us, for Andrea and Abigail and I. It’s really hard… really hard. But it’s great to see that people care.”