While most of the streets on the New York City Marathon route were lined with cheering spectators during the race yesterday, the route through Hasidic Williamsburg was empty.
Except for one corner. Jose Toro, with the help of an industrial metal band, kept Bedford and Division avenues lively for the runners.
Even as the wave of runners thinned out later in the afternoon, Toro stood on a crate with microphone in hand, flanked by two massive speakers. He shouted encouragements and personalized messages as runners passed. Calling out competitors by name, he yelled, “Come on Katie, don’t stop in Williamsburg, next stop Central Park!” and, “Get those bikes off the road; we still have runners out here!”
Nearly every passing runner showed appreciation for Toro’s support. As a former marathoner, Toro knows all about the power of a little encouragement.
“I ran this race two times, and I saw how great it was to have people rooting for you along the way,” Toro said, adding that he has been cheering on marathon racers for more than 15 years.
Instead of running, Toro now participates in the annual 39-mile Walk for Breast Cancer and has a soft spot for runners who participate in the marathon on behalf of a charity. According to the Associated Press, about 6,800 of the marathon’s 42,000 participants ran in support of more than 80 official charities.
Assembled near Toro was a raucous group called Dared the Knot, a five-member band based out of Queens. Amid groups of men, women and children in traditional dress and speaking in Yiddish, the band’s harsh sound was in stark contrast to the quiet neighborhood.
Todd Bowes, 31, lead singer and spokesman for Dared the Knot, acknowledged the group’s unlikely venue.
“It’s kind of weird to be playing industrial metal in this area because everything about it is so traditional,” Bowes said, “but we’ve been playing at this same spot for the past four marathons, and we’re always received well. It’s a great way to connect with the neighborhood.”
Erica Lee and two friends, who traveled from Queens to support a friend and the other runners, joined the mini cheer squad.
“Not many people are clappy and cheery around here,” Lee said.
Holding signs and Tupperware containers of Swedish fish, Lee received smiles and thanks as the runners passed.
“There are long bouts where no one takes any candy, but when one person sees someone else grab a fish, everyone follows.”
In the end, the enthusiasm of the spectators proved less contagious than the grad for Swedish fish. Toro urged community members to join in supporting the runners.
“All you Hasidics out there can clap your hands, I promise you won’t feel any pain!” Toro said over the loudspeakers.
He didn’t get much of a reaction.