Ellen McCann, 44, was held up a sign that read ” You run better than our government” to uplift every marathon runner passing by her on Sunset Park. Photo by Julie Liao
At 4th Avenue near Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Ellen McCann was hailing New York City Marathon runners with a smile and a sign that read, “You run better than our government.
Amused by McCann’s sign, a young runner shouted, “I do run better” as he gasped for breath.
“It’s just a joke about our government,” McCann said. “This means, ‘our government doesn’t run very well, but you do.’” she laughed. “While you’re running, you get very bored and the signs are funny and they make you laugh and they distract you.”
McCann was not alone. Standing beside her was her friend, Kimberly Gittines. They tracked down their friends and families on the phone who were running on the ready to cheer them on.
Around 11:00 a.m., McCann’s fiancé appeared in a group of runners. He dashed to her, kissed her hand, said,“ I love you”, and continued running.
McCann and her fiancé live in Virginia. Both of them are big fans of running.
“We work out about two hours a day, both of us together,” said McCann. “That’s how we spend time.”
Although she wanted to run in the marathon, she wasn’t chosen in the lottery.
“I like New York City,” she said. “It’s alive all day and all night. This isn’t the safest neighborhood , but it welcomes people. You don’t find that anywhere else. New York is awesome. I’ve always thought so.”
Last week, she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Virginia with Gittines. They were next-door neighbors and knew each other for nearly three decades. The races are more like precious opportunities for them to spend time together.
“She lives in Virginia and I live in New Jersey and we don’t really get to catch up a lot,” said Gittines. “So it’s like catching up on the kids and work and our parents and all that stuff alike.”
When Gittines started to run marathons in 2011, her mother was severely ill because of cancer.
“I actually ran my first marathon two weeks before she passed away,” said Gittines. “I hadn’t trained. But I figured I’d go out and see how it was and I could push through the pain because I knew there was an end point. She didn’t have an end point and that’s what I thought when I ran. That helped me along in my run.”
After her mother died, she kept participating in marathons. Her memories with her mother always comes to her mind while she is running.
“I always think of her,” said Gittines. “When I grew up, we used to play golf with our families. And she was like, ‘here’s Kimberly! Putting for a birdie! It’s win! Yeah Kimberly!’ ”
Gittines said even though her mother had never watched her running marathons, she knew her mom would be supportive. “Whatever my brother and I did, she thought it was the best thing in the world.”
McCann’s niece, Regan Debennetto, 31, was also running in memory of her father, who died of a heart attack in 2002. After that, she began to run marathons. This time she ran for the American Heart Association and planned to raise money for them by finishing the whole course.
“For my niece, she says every five miles she runs for one person and she doesn’t want to let them down,” said McCann. “So five miles she runs for her father; five miles she runs for her grandmother and she wants to go home and tell grandma about those five miles she ran for her.”
Aoiko Moisu, from Tokyo, Japan, ran the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon dressed as a samurai.
Photo by Maria Panskaya
by Maria Panskaya
Gusty freezing winds greeted runners as they got off the Staten Island Ferry to run the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon this morning. One by one, as they exited the ferry terminal, sleepy participants hurried to get to the warm buses, almost competing with each other for a cozy bus seat.
The 26.2-mile course challenged 40,000 runners from all over the world. It started on the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island, covered all five New York boroughs and ended in Central Park.
Aoiko Moisu, from Tokyo, Japan, participated in the marathon for the second time, proudly wearing traditional samurai attire. While his outfit may look odd, for Moisu, wearing samurai gear during the marathon is a way to introduce Japanese culture to viewers and a way for him to have fun.
“When I’m in the middle of the race, dehydrated and tired, hearing people cheer for me, like ‘Go, samurai, you can do it’, gives me energy and motivation to finish the marathon,” he said.
Moisu, who didn’t want to give his age, but said he “felt 18”, started running marathons six years ago and wears this costume every time. . The attire is made of light plastic parts and stretchy fabric, which allows Moisu to run fast, without restricting his movements.
“The plastic parts, arms, boots and chest, always remain the same,” said Moisu. “But I change fabric. When it’s hot, I use light material, when it’s cold, like today, I have heat-technology fabric underneath.”
In addition to running a tough marathon, Moisu has the added difficulty of getting the medal over his helmet.
“After I the cross finish line. organizers always find it hard to put the medal on me because of my helmet,” he said. “They end up putting it on my helmet’s horns.”
As Moisu waited to board the bus to the start line, the yellow and blue tussles of his costume were dancing in the wind, attracting not only the runners’ attention but also the police officers’. They searched him three times before allowing Moisu to board the bus.
“It’s cold outside and they made me take off my costume, leaving me in my shirt and pants,” said Moisu. “But I’m not mad at them. Police does this kind of thorough search for our own safety. We all remember the Boston Marathon.”
Moisu clipped his mask to the sides of the helmet and jogged slightly closer to the start line, occasionally stopping to shake hands or to take pictures with other runners.
Native New Yorkers Abbie Haklay, 82, and his wife Ilene have been on the sidelines of the New York City Marathon every year since they first moved to East 73rd Street in 1997.
Since 11 a.m. this Sunday, the Haklays were on the corner of First Avenue and 67th Street, behind the cluster of charged spectators that fringe the 17th mile of the marathon running through the Upper East Side.
“There’s a certain feeling of good will,” said Ilene. “And you know what I think? The people who are watching are having more fun than the people who are running.”
The Haklays usually rise early to avoid congestion and cheer runners on as they come down the Queensboro Bridge and enter Manhattan, but this year the couple was waiting for Ilene’s sister, Joan Phillips, and her husband Arthur to join in on the fun.
“It’s the same every year,” said Abbie, referring to the crowd’s fiery energy. “Everybody’s enjoying the same thing at the same time.”
The Haklays remained by the newly installed bike lane in the neighborhood – a calmer scene compared to the frenzy displayed by spectators just a few feet ahead. Despite chilly weather, viewers came out in droves, bundled up in scarves, gloves and even beanies that the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts was handing out for free.
The scene on First Avenue was in complete contrast to last year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and marathon organizers cancelled the race to concentrate resources on the city’s recovery after super storm Sandy.
While the Haklays agreed with the city’s decision to call off the 2012 marathon, Arthur Phillips thought carrying on with it could have sparked positive energy throughout the city.
“When you read about [last year’s cancellation], all the practical reasons are correct,” said Phillips,
“But then again, would it have helped the spirit of the city or the people?”
Super storm Sandy wasn’t the only tragedy that spectators and participants were reminded of. Memories of the Boston Marathon bombings in April were also in the air
As a symbol of support, the Boston Marathon’s yellow line ran alongside the familiar blue line that guides runners along their trek in New York.
In light of the tragedy earlier this year, the NYPD upped its security with extra resources, such as camera surveillance, radiation detectors and K-9 dogs with explosive-detection capabilities.
Phillips said some of the cheer was for April’s runners, too. For him, “the sadness, pain and sheer horror” of Boston is “still strong.”
“All of that is frightening to think about,” he said. “But you can’t let it take you down. You have to rise above it.”
“You can’t help but to cheer on all these people that have worked so hard over the years to put themselves in the condition to [run],” he said,
“It’s a great New York tradition.”
Fidellity Williams, 6 waited for her favorite teacher Ms. Sweany to run past her today at the ING New York City Marathon on 125th and 5th avenue.
“Everyday after school, she runs a lot of blocks,” said Williams.
Sweany ran to raise money for the Success Academy Harlem Charter School 5, where she is a first grade teacher.
The school is located on 140th street and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, and shares a building with PS 123, where Shirley Robinson, 33 said her daughter is learning a lot, and has even moved up a reading level.
“I’m emotional, they love my child, and I love them for that,” Robinson said.
It was the first year the mother and daughter attended the marathon, but Robinson thought that this year it was especially important.
“It’s a family thing, I had to bring my daughter to support her teacher,” she said.
Robinson said she’s really proud of the example that Ms. Sweany is setting, and that it’s even inspired her daughter to want to run in the marathon when she grows up.
“It’s inspiring to know that people are running far and long and it’s really amazing, I’m just happy to be able to support them,” she said.
A block away, on 124th and 5th avenue, Yvonne Robinson Viaer, 54 handed out paper towels, and encouragement to participants. A marathon runner, Viaer said she stands in the same spot every year she isn’t running.
“This is almost the 23rd mile, and this is when the runners need a lot more energy,” she said. “This is when they need you.”
Viaer usually runs the marathon, but couldn’t this year due to a knee injury so she chose to volunteer because a lot of her friends were running.
“It just feels good that we could do it this year, and be out here and support everyone,” Viaer said.
Last year’s marathon was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous effects on the city and its’ residents.
Keith Williams, 59 joined Viaer in celebrating the return of the marathon.
“I come out every year, I love the marathon,” Williams said.
Williams excitedly rang a bell for each runner that passed.
“Somebody cheering on the side can give you the strength to keep going,” he said.
Williams like Viaer, runs marathons too. He said he does it to celebrate health and life. In light of the recent Boston marathon bombing, Williams said, “I bet the people who did that never ran a marathon, because you cannot do that to humanity once you really celebrated life.”
Marathon runners passing the 4th avenue and 88th Street corner in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn threw up rock-out symbols, air guitars, and even stopped to dance to the ripping tunes of rock-and-roll street band, The Third Rail.
The four Bay Ridge locals of The Third Rail have become friendly faces to locals and marathon runners alike, now playing for the third year in the New York City Marathon, with 4th avenue and 88th Street becoming their official stomping grounds.
Guitarist Matt Daus, 45, put on an “electrified” show, slinging his guitar behind his head to jam out the chords of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, and pay homage to the Bay Ridge music community he calls home.
“We have a lot of local people we know and they know us back from playing in the 80’s and 90’s to playing The Third Avenue festival every year,” said Daus, “Bay Ridge is one of the last true communities in the city of New York.”
Drummer Derek Rushton, 44, threw his drum sticks into the air in between bashing his drum set to Led Zeppelin, hoping his co-workers running in the marathon caught his beats.
Named after the third rail in the subway, the band has been playing for 25 years. Starting as a home band in the basement of guitarist and bass players Matt and Paul Daus, the band began opening for Brooklyn rock bands in the 80’s and 90’s. Of all the arenas they’ve performed, the New York City Marathon is the most captivating.
Paul Daus, 42, feeds off the energy of the Bay Ridge marathon audience, which he said has made playing music after 25 years worthwhile.
“When the audience gets involved, you get an adrenaline kick,” said Paul Daus, “That’s the exciting part about it, when you have somebody coming and saying ‘wow you sound really good’ it makes you feel good, and all the time you spend rehearsing or in your room playing guitar for hours on end actually pays off.”
For Matt Daus and lead singer Rob Delcastillo, 47, the combination of the audience interaction and the event itself is an invigorating experience.
“Here you’re one with the people and you’re part of a bigger event, an ancillary part of it where as when you’re on stage, everybody is looking at you as the event,” said Matt Daus.
The audience is just as much a part of the band as the members themselves.
“We have an open door policy,” said Delcastillo. “Anybody who wants to come and be part of the show, it’s more than fine.”
The lively interaction goes both ways. With wireless capabilities, the band members sailed into the marathon crowd and got spectators to sing on the microphone.
While tighter security measures this year meant ropes guarding the band off, that did not stop them from getting up close with runners and onlookers alike, jutting their hands out to high-five runners and drawing their legs over the ropes to rip guitar shreds as close as possible to the action.
The band’s continuous involvement in the marathon was due to Matt Daus’ involvement in running two marathons, one in 1996 and the other in 2011.
“I saw the bands playing there and said, ‘we’ve got to do this one day,” said Daus.
For DelCastillo and Paul Daus, running the marathon was always a goal.
“I was very much into running when I was younger and it’s always something I wanted to do but never got the chance,” said Daus. “Now my knees are shot and I don’t think I can.”
While bad knees made participating in the event difficult, the band members paved their own way into the event, showing that no matter the age, you can still rock out.
“I was cursed to have the knees of a 90 year old man afflicted with arthritis, but I’m lucky and blessed to have the lungs of an athlete,” said Delcastillo. He gripped the microphone before getting back to belting Freddie Mercury’s “Another One Bites the Dust”.
Carrying sacks overflowing with their belongings, the evening’s final batch of competitors – with only moonlight and faded streetlamps to guide their paths – limped towards their respective welcoming parties, like wounded soldiers returning from the front. Wrapped in blue and orange aluminum-looking “heat sheets” that floated behind them like capes, they walked amidst the roars of garbage trucks and the clanging metal of cleanup crews, while a cheerful male voice repeatedly boomed from a nearby speaker:
“Congratulations on completing the New York City Marathon. Please keep moving and exit using the nearest street.”
Standing outside a security barricade at 72nd Street and Central Park West at around 8 PM Sunday, people initially held up signs like “Go Dad” and “Good Job Grandpa Mickey!” but many soon turned hungry and cold from all the waiting and shifted into survival mode, wolfing down hot dogs or bouncing in place. Others, like 27-year-old Vanessa Crooks of Panama, stared at an I-Pad, attempting to locate their friends’ or relatives’ whereabouts via a marathon website (a tracking chip, planted within the runners’ numbered bibs, was supposed to isolate runners’ geographical position). Crooks said she had “no idea” what had happened to her friend, who’d been having knee problems in the days leading up to the race.
“What has she gotten herself into?” lamented a shivering Crooks, who, unlike most marathon cheerleaders, had neither signage nor clothing aimed at pumping someone up.
“I wanted to get [celebratory] balloons but I didn’t even know where to find them,” Crooks explained.
Most of the late finishers had been relegated to walking the course – either due to cramping, or to more serious medical problems. The latter category would apply to Sofia Naouai, 27, whose 55-year-old father was still laboring in the dark park somewhere.
“He had a kidney transplant and is a diabetic, so this is major,” said a worried Naouai. “And his hand is swollen.”
Added Naouai: “He’s also blind in one eye.”
Historically, last place finishers at the New York event have gone on to achieve esteemed status. Zoe Kolowitz, who completed the 2007 marathon in over 28 hours and finished several New York City marathons in last place, is now a motivational speaker and author who has appeared on CNN, The Today Show, and ESPN. She has multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and uses crutches to achieve forward motion. Bob Wieland, who lost both his legs in Vietnam, “ran” the entire 1986 marathon on his hands over the course of four days. Following a White House meeting with President Reagan, he too went on to appear on the motivational speaking circuit.
At approximately 9 PM on Sunday, admittedly exhausted security personnel abandoned their posts at the park’s exterior fence and allowed spectators access to the finish line, where, nine hours earlier, Kenyan speedster Geoffrey Mutai had – under a cloudless sky – shattered the marathon’s all-time record in front of a nationwide TV audience. Now, volunteers and several dozen men, women, and children awaited the evening’s final runner: a 36-year-old, severely-disabled Venezuelan economist named Maickel Melamed, who’d started the race at 9 AM. The faithful, most of whom had flown in from Caracas for the occasion, waved Venezuelan flags, wore shirts proclaiming “Vamos Maickel” and clutched balloons featuring the same slogan. A television crew from Univision conducted interviews; the mood was electric.
“[Melamed’s] a celebrity in Caracas,” said Juan Carlos Garanton, 42, a Venezuelan tax attorney who’d come to the park with his family. “He’s an inspiration for many people, let me tell you.”
Soon it was 10:30 pm, and Melamed still hadn’t materialized, but the faithful remained confident that he’d arrive soon. Especially Garanton, who noted that the famous Latin American holds a secondary profession in addition to economist.
“Motivational speaker,” he said.
At 7 a.m., Gustavo Bello and a cluster of his friends and family set up banners, donned foamy red, yellow and blue hats and smeared their faces with paint.
They were preparing for an hours-long celebration of their team of more than 25 Venezuelan runners in the 2011 New York City Marathon. Brothers, sisters, husbands and wives were there to make some noise as their relations undertook a massive feat of physical endurance.
For the ninth consecutive year, the crew has parachuted in from Caracas to be part one of New York’s biggest sporting spectacles.
“It’s become a tradition,more and more runners have been joining us for this, some [have been participating] for 10 years some for the first time,” said Bello, a surgeon.
Every year, the Bellos and their extended family station themselves near the corner of Fourth Avenue and 37th Street in Sunset Park. This stretch of the course is lined with spartan bodegas, laundry services and fast food joints. It’s only several miles from the glitzy strip of Fifth Avenue marathoners will run later in the race, but in terms of socio-economics, it couldn’t be further.
But for the Bellos, the location serves not because of its diverse mix of Latino and Asian residents or its vibrant immigrant community, but because of its convenience.
“It’s easier. We’ve talked to the owner of the McDonalds. They let us park our cars,” said Adriana Vincentelli, one of the family members.
And it’s also easier to get a prime view. Unlike other neighborhoods further along the track, here the crowds are sparse.
The Bellos’ strategy, perfected over the years, allows no time for sampling the culture or cuisine of the taquerias and dumpling shops in the neighborhood. After the last runner in their group passes by, the plan calls for piling into rental cars and speeding up to the Upper East Side for a second round of cheering.
“The fifth mile is early enough that we get to see every runner—the slowest one and the fastest one,” Bello said. “It allows us then to go to the mile 18 and join them again. My dad is probably at the end. He’s 72.”
This year the group has a special motivation. Their long-time trainer, Marisela Diaz, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and missed the race for the first time in six years. Usually she gets the team into shape over half a year and then jogs along with them on the big day.
Her absence is palpable. Her image looms large on a sign strung between two poles and several family members wear her name on their shirts.
“We are doing this for her,” said Vincentelli.
Team Bello did their best to make Diaz proud. One by one, or in small clumps, the runners dash by the family’s festive encampment. Some give a simple wave, others stop for photos, hugs and even some small energy snacks. The group is exuberant—beaming with pride at their clan-members effort.
When the race is over, the celebration continues at the Mariott Marquis in Times Square.
“It’s fun to hear every one of them,” Bellow said. “There’s always a story. People rushing to the restroom, shoes with holes in them, people with bad cramps. All kinds of stories.”
By 12:15 p.m., the sidewalks of Sunset Park were quickly emptying out. Flashing police cars crawl down the avenue, trailing some of the very last of the 47,000 marathoners. The Bellos were long gone before the patrol cars pass 37th Street—they’re already on their way to catch their top runners cruise past mile 18.
Handing out water bottles and pastries Raquel Mendez, 75, of East Harlem and a native of Puerto Rico, stood outside the Jefferson Housing Projects in East Harlem with her organization Union Settlement to cheer on the 2011 New York City Marathon runners and walkers, including a few Union Settlement members.
“I live right there, “ she said pointing to one of the apartment buildings in the Jefferson Housing Projects behind her.
“And I come her everyday,” she said pointing to the James Johnson Weldon Senior Center, one of the places Union Settlement provides senior assistance.
Mendez has been watching the marathon for years.
“How long has the marathon been going on? That’s how long I’ve come out to watch it,” she said.
This year Mendez has something more to cheer about, her friend Maria Lapetina, from the Johnson Weldon Senior Center was participating in the marathon. For Lapetina, 80 years old, this is her first marathon and according to Mendez “she is very active. “
“I’m happy for her. I have two screws in my knee I can’t run too much,” she said.
Mendez has lived in East Harlem for 55 years. Years ago she said there was a lot of crime, but those memories were far away today. The East Harlem vibe was jovial with colorful banners lining the fences of Jefferson Park, a hip hop group performing a few paces away and blue ribbon fencing off the spectator areas.
“She is famous,” Maria Estelle Haddock, 67, a friend from the senior center, said of Mendez with a sly wink. “for the trips to Atlantic City. I’m just messing with her so she can give me another donut.”
For both ladies their favorite part of the race is seeing the first runner pass by.
“I get excited when I see the first runner. I like the energy for winning the prize. Some winners need the money to by themselves a little house,” Haddock said.
As a wave of runners approached the 19th mile a few ladies from the Union Settlement cheered them on.
“Keep going. Keep running. Keep walking. You can do it!”
“Que viva la raza, Puerto Rico!”
“Estan alimentando la vista (they are feeding their eyesight),” Haddock said of the ladies sitting on the sidelines.“There are so many handsome men running from all other the world.”
As a wave of mostly male runner made their way to 116th Street encouraged by the ladies, Mendez shrugged and continued to hand out food and water to the locals.
“I’m too old for that,” she said.
On the corner of Bay Ridge and 4th Avenues in Brooklyn, Rosalind Leslie, 53, grinned as her husband Don Leslie pulled a yellow, jagged-edged sign out of a kitchen garbage bag. The sign read, “Trip to NYC $1000 – Watching our beautiful daughter run NYC – Priceless.”
The Leslies flew into New York from Ottawa, Canada on Thursday to support their daughter Heather, 29, who had been picked by a Canadian lottery to run in her first ever New York City Marathon. The Canadian parents rented an apartment near South Ferry for four days – at the price of $255 per night – because “Heather wanted to live close to the Marathon’s starting point on Staten Island,” said Rosalind Leslie.
“My daughter’s kindergarten teacher wrote on her first report card that she’s a leader who likes to run, and I thought that was really cool,” she said. “I’m going to support her competitive spirit no matter what the price tag is.”
On Saturday Rosalind Leslie made the yellow, jagged-edged sign with hope that it will help Heather find her parents during the 26-mile endurance race. This morning the Leslies took turns holding up that sign on the sidewalk, from the instant they saw the first group of runners appear over the horizon on 4th Avenue, until Heather Leslie appeared in front of them two and a half hours later.
Rosalind Leslie cheered as though every competitor was her family member.
“Way to go John,” she yelled, “and I love New Zealand!” A runner with New Zealand’s national flag embroidered on his tank top waved both of his arms at her.
“Good morning handsome,” she called out to a handicapped man laboriously jogging with an artificial leg. “You’re doing an awesome job!”
“It might be the cold weather,” Rosalind Leslie whispered to her husband, who was jovially waving little Canadian flags. “I have almost no voice left.” She put on a pair of white, woolen gloves then covered her mouth while she coughed.
She said a lot of runners experience a bad zone at this distance, but would break out of it if they heard loud cheers.
But Rosalind Leslie had no interest in heading to the finish line after the runners past the mile three marker.
“It’s hard to watch because they just look like they’re dying by then,” she said.