Jennifer Melfi, 5, thought she had the race sewn up.
The pint-sized runner, wearing a light purple tank top and a wide grin, pumped her arms as she sprinted toward the finish line of Sunday's Parkway Family 5K Fun Run, looking forward to her win—and to the pizza at the postrace party. With about 100 meters to go, she turned to wave at her mother in the crowd.
Jennifer's face fell, though, as a competitor came charging hard to pass her in the final few meters of the race. Paul Gualtieri, 42, leapt past Jennifer to cross the finish line first, in an unofficial time of 24:33.
"This guy came out of nowhere and just passed this girl like she was standing still," a spectator said. "She never stood a chance"
There were no prizes—the run billed itself not as a "fun, casual" event, not a race—but, for Gualtieri, beating the preschooler was its own reward.
"Dude!" he said, high-fiving a friend at the finish. "Did you see that? I [expletive] demolished her."
The girl, who seemed stunned and confused at first, soon recovered and made her way to her parents. For his part, Gualtieri basked in the glow of his victory—and recalled how he'd managed to defeat his opponent so decisively.
"Basically," Gualtieri told Dumb Runner in a postrace interview, "I sat on [Jennifer's] shoulder for most of the race. I knew I had a sub-25:00 in me today; maybe even sub-24:00. I just relaxed and let her set the pace."
"She threw in a surge around two miles in," he added. "But I stayed with her."
"And then," he said, smiling, "BOOM. I shift into high gear and just blow her doors off."
Gualtieri said this was his first win, in a race of any distance.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "It's pretty sweet when all that training pays off."
Jennifer, who was napping by then, was not available for comment.