DarrenMarathon

In Spanish Harlem, friends and family root for Emigdin Flores, 18, and his local youth running club, Rabbits USA. Photo by Darren Tobia

In Spanish Harlem, the largest cheering section at Sunday’s New York City Marathon wasn’t for any major international player: It was for a local youth running club,
including an 18-year-old resident Emigdin Flores, whose feat seemed no less grand.

Emigdin Flores, just old enough for his first marathon, was expected to run by the home he grew up in at the corner of 116th Street and First Avenue, according to his proud, but frantic mother, Norma Flores. It is a home he now commutes from in his first semester
at Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

But Norma Flores knows her son’s achievement today isn’t just personal. Emigdin is running for every kid in every tough neighborhood who found a way to sprint past the temptations that pull kids and communities down, she said.

Among those running with Emigdin Flores was Alfonso Eugenio, who founded the Rabbits USA team seven years ago. Since then, this youth running club, sponsored by the New York Road Runners Foundation, has served more than 50 kids from Spanish Harlem.

But marathon running often becomes a family affair, Norma Flores said, which is significant to a neighborhood where 50 percent of youth living below the poverty line comes from a single-parent household, according to the New York City Administrations for Children’s Services. Five fathers from the Rabbits USA team ran alongside their children in this year’s marathon, including Emigdin’s father.

“Emigdin is literally following in his father’s footsteps,” Norma Flores jokes, even though it was Emigdin’s involvement in the running club that sparked his father’s interest.

Once father and son began running, younger brother Eric joined, too. But at 13, he is five years too young to participate in the marathon.

“It’s amazing,” Eric. “It’s really cool that my brother is running in this neighborhood because it’s where he grew up.”

But young Eric isn’t much concerned yet about crime statistics or dropout rates in his neighborhood. Running is just about running — and making friends.

“It allows you to not be shy,” Eric said. “When you join a new team or club, it helps you learn to interact with new people.”

Learning to make friends in a positive environment is another ingredient to building strong communities, Norma Flores adds.

“Spending time with the group, it changes the whole dynamic for these kids,” she said.