As a runner and part of the tight-knit New York City running community, I was conflicted that the famous ING NYC Marathon would still be on after Hurricane Sandy made her way through our state roaring her ugly head. I ran my first marathon, in the city I love only last year and the long, early morning training runs are still very fresh in my head. I'll forever be a NYC marathoner. Training for a marathon is a monumental feat, one that requires more than one knows he or she can handle. So I can only imagine the frustration, anxiety and wave of emotions that a possible never-before cancellation of the race might have had on me if I were running in this year’s event. The New York City Marathon, the largest marathon in the world and undoubtedly the most famous 26.2 miles you’ll ever run, is the New York Road Runner’s premiere event and rakes in on average $340 million every year. The large paycheck takes care of the event’s ever-growing costs to put it together, as well helping produce the NYRR other signature races and charity organizations that go on throughout the four seasons. A cancellation of this event would be a huge blow to the future of the NYRR, as well as business’ all over the city. With more than 20,000 out-of-towners making the trek to the Big Apple for the race, a cancellation during our city’s biggest disaster, outside of 9/11, could very well be an economically poor decision.
However, news on Wednesday that the race would indeed go on, despite Hurricane Sandy relief efforts needed in so many neighborhoods, hurt so many more people than the NYRR had hoped it would help in the wake of the superstorm. New Yorkers were outraged that holding the race and using resources like volunteers, generators, and simple things like bottles of water, would benefit runners and not those affected by the devastation. There were areas in Staten Island that had yet to even receive assistance, and with the marathon’s starting line on Staten Island’s border, New York runners were unsure about stepping foot over the bridge and leaving briskly without lending a helping out. Runners with a golden ticket to Sunday’s race were offering to defer their spot until 2013, realizing that this year’s race was surely not going to be the same. So when the marathon was eventually cancelled at the eleventh hour, the community of New York City runners, led by sports medicine doctor Jordan Metzl, decided to put their energy—and miles logged—to good use. They would run their way through Staten Island, carrying necessities and goods that families were in need of, and deliver door to door to those areas most affected by the wrath of Sandy.
As myself, and so many others, passed the word on to our fitness buddies, the spark was lit. We spent our weekend gathering enough money and donations to bring over to Staten Island and filled our backpacks to the brim. On Sunday morning over 600 runners met at the Staten Island Ferry and dispersed upon the borough that some would say is most in need right now. With over half of the cities fatalities of the storm, we weren’t sure what we’d encounter on our run through the forgotten island, but we were together and ready to give all that we had.
My group of almost a hundred ran our way off the ferry and uphill for what seemed like forever, roughly around four to five miles. We knew today was going to be a workout, but this was definitely feeling military-style with our loaded bags on our backs as well. After stopping at our first drop-off location, we learned that donations were moved further toward the borough’s hardest hit neighborhoods—another five miles away. It was either backtrack and hop on a 30-minute train ride to Staten Island’s Midland Beach, eating up more of our precious time, or carry on on foot. While my group was divided--some of us hadn't spent months training for a marathon at this point (myself included) and others had pounded the pavement with dedication--we all knew that the considerably short distance we had to go was far less than we’d being going if it was race day, and only pales in comparison to what the victims were going through. We did what we do best and we kept trucking along, the infamous runner's wall never coming near. Cars loaded with people kept asking us who we were and where we were going. And as we shouted out “We’re here to help!” thumbs-ups and car horns were equivalent to sideline cheers.
When we reached Midland Beach, the New York Runners in Support of Staten Island crew broke into action—delivering our goods at the Red Cross tents set up in a neighborhood schoolyard and descending upon the streets to get our hands dirty. What we encountered I can honestly say was that basically of a third world country, a war-torn community. My husband came to America as a teenager after the Bosnian War and I know through his stories what people who have lost everything look like. He compared what we were seeing to that of his city when his people were in desperate need of life’s basic necessities: food, water, clothing and shelter. Since this was my first experience with this type of intense volunteer work, so soon after a devastation had hit, I knew that if my husband who had experienced horrible things was startled by Superstorm Sandy’s reach, then this must be as bad as it looked on TV every night this week.
A small group of us hit the streets, including teammates I have run marathons and triathlons with, and friends I had just met along the way. A runner, Tanya from London, who upon hearing the marathon was cancelled, joined the ever-growing group on Facebook and had decided to help. Tanya knew not a single person she was spending her day with; she didn’t know much about New York City besides what she’d seen in movies and in pictures; but she said she couldn’t have been here and not done something to help. Tanya was my hero for the day. If she could help, then everybody could.
We went door-to-door and tried to assist as much as people would let us, but so many families were at a loss for words. We knew this was an emotional and long week for Staten Island residents, so we proceeded with caution and approached people carefully until they would accept our assistance. I think the wreckage had not only taken their homes, but their humility too. Having never thought such disaster would be their fate, these people just didn’t know what would help what they knew was already broken. After scouring blocks and staring in awe what this storm had done, my group and I found a family who were shoveling out what was left of their flooded first floor and basement of their home. We immediately jumped in and created a factory line of passing along debris-filled buckets that we dumped on the streets, leaving piles for the garbage trucks to take away later that night. For hours we quietly helped this family who had just barely survived the storm. The surge of the water had filled the neighborhood, devouring one-level houses and completely destroying everything in her path. Camera crews and photographers came by to take our pictures and families thanked us for spending our day with them. It’s simply the least we could do, and we meant it.
Today, I got the workout of my lifetime. I spent the day with New York City’s finest athletes. The friends you see on your morning path, the trainers at your local gym, and the runners from across the world, using the strength of their minds, muscles and mainly their hearts to accomplish the biggest marathon they’d ever completed. I know that what I experienced in the little time I was able to spend with the victims of this storm, might be the most meaningful hours I’ll ever spend lifting, walking, running and sweating. We covered almost 10 miles of roads today, carrying at least 20 pounds on our backs. But the New York Runners in Support of Staten Island group—along with the rest of the marathon volunteers assisting in all five boroughs—were just doing what they do best, sharing their positive energy with others.
I am a fitness editor because I love what sports, athletics and exercise do for people. The things I hope to teach readers might help you lose pounds, run faster and lead a healthier lifestyle, but I hope the readers of our magazine and those all over can learn that fitness can unite people and will forever change your life in so many ways. Thank you to all who helped make today’s “run” such a success.
If you’re in the area and would like to help Hurricane Sandy’s relief efforts, visit nycares.org and http://www.timeout.com/newyork/own-this-city-blog/how-to-help-in-new-york-city-after-hurricane-sandy. Many neighborhoods will need your help—whether financially, in the form of goods, or just a helping hand—for many weeks to come.