Glastonbury's Cabral has a change of perspective on this year's Manchester Road Race

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  • Donn Cabral
    American steeplechase runner

Nov. 24—MANCHESTER — Donn Cabral is at a crossroads, both professionally and in life.

Since making the transition from professional runner to lawyer earlier this year, the 31-year-old Glastonbury native hasn't been able to devote as much time to the sport.

And he's okay with that.

"This is the slowest I'm coming into the Manchester Road Race, I haven't been this unfit since I was probably 14, 15 years old," Cabral said. "But it's also the most excited I've been to be here at the Manchester Road Race and take part in it. And that's because of this new era of appreciation.

"So, I hope we can all appreciate what we have, what we've missed, and what we all bring to the table together and individually."

A lot has changed for Cabral since he was crowned the 2020 virtual Manchester Road Race champion — last year's in-person race was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There've been highs, like passing his bar exam, becoming a lawyer and getting engaged. And there've been lows: failing to qualify for the U.S Olympic team for the first time in his career and the passing of his father John in September.

But Cabral is using each moment to better himself, and as the framework for his "era of appreciation."

"It makes me appreciate the little things more," he said. "It makes me appreciate getting together for the race, getting together with the community, running."

Cabral was a standout three-season runner at Glastonbury High, winning multiple Class LL and State Open championships during his career. After graduating in 2008, he continued his career at Princeton.

There, he captured the 2012 NCAA steeplechase championship his senior year.

Cabral is also a two-time U.S. Olympian, having participated in the steeplechase at both the London Games in 2012 and the Rio Games in 2016. He finished eighth both times. His bid for a third straight Olympics ended with a sixth-place finish at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon June 25.

Since then, Cabral has felt the need to move on to other things, namely his career as a civil litigation lawyer for the firm Gfeller Laurie, which is headquartered in West Hartford.

"There's not a long-term future in the world as an athlete," Cabral said. "So, that was kind of it, and I wanted to start contributing to society differently than just building up my legs and lungs."

But with the Manchester Road Race back in its traditional format this year, Cabral wasn't going to miss it.

"This is a good reintroduction to normal, reintroduction to big events," he said. "I'm pretty excited to see what's happening in the whole community."

Cabral has participated in the Road Race multiple times over the years — he couldn't remember the exact number, but said it was close to 15 and "probably every year since college."

He compared how running a road race is similar to the steeplechase.

"A road race and steeplechase are not similar in that there are no hurdles, you're not wearing spikes," Cabral said. "But the Manchester Road Race is similar because something that really beats up a lot of the athletes is the screaming downhills that you have on this course...I think this race plays into steeplechasers' advantage."

Cabral has used that "steeplechaser advantage" to find success on the 4.748-mile Road Race course over the years.

His winning time in last year's virtual race — which he ran on the Road Race course — was 22:50.

In traditional races, he finished in the top 10 in 2012 (third), 2013 (fourth), 2014 (fourth), 2015 (second), and 2019 (seventh).

The 2015 race was one of his favorite memories in Manchester.

"It wasn't my fastest time, but I could taste the win," Cabral said. "With a quarter mile to go, I thought 'oh my God, this is the year I finally win this thing.' I didn't and that's sports. But just being able to taste it like that and being in contention down Main Street is something I've always thought about."

This Thanksgiving will be different for Cabral, however. He doesn't anticipate an early finish.

"I'm thinking hopefully, I can still have a great view of the women's race as that's going on," he said. "But I'm not going to win the women's race either, I can't compete with that. So, it's just going to be different and I'm taking it all in stride."

Cabral feels his best shot at a championship Thursday will be as a coach. His protégé, Alfredo Santana, will be running in the men's elite field.

But Cabral said that entering a race not worrying about his fitness, times or where he'll finish has been a "refreshing" change of pace.

"But I was injured at the beginning of college, and had to miss a couple of months. That was the first time I realized that the thing that you miss is the nerves," he said. "Like going for a run is great, but at the most elite level, what makes the job of a professional runner really awesome is that gut-wrenching nervousness and surmounting the insurmountable. I'm not going to have that this year, so it will be refreshing.

"But I know it's going to make me think about quitting my job and getting back out there and being a professional runner again."

Cabral now lives in Philadelphia, and works out of Gfeller Laurie's Princeton, New Jersey office. He got his bar exam results back Monday.

"I'm currently working on getting the score transferred to Connecticut," Cabral said. "So hopefully, I'll be back here in Connecticut."

As for returning to Manchester for another Road Race, Cabral summed up his feelings in one word: excitement.

"I've got nothing more to say about that one," he said with a laugh. "But I wouldn't have it any other way."

For coverage of the Connecticut Sun and professional women's basketball, Hartford Athletic pro soccer team, as well as area high school and local youth sports, follow Adam Betz on Twitter: @AdBetz1, Facebook: Adam Betz — Sports Writer, and Instagram: @AdBetzJI.

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