Cancellation of 2012 NYC Marathon and running instead in support of Staten IslandPosted: 5 November 2012
I started composing a post soon after learning of the cancelation of the 2012 New York City Marathon, but I was so affected I couldn’t put anything into words.
Having arrived in New York a few days earlier amid the growing controversy over letting the marathon continue as scheduled, I personally felt torn about running the race while recovery efforts continued. It also emerged that Staten Island, where the race normally begins, was hardest hit within NYC.
I went to the convention centre on Friday to the race expo, but the reservations grew, especially as I made a slight detour through Chelsea, where emergency food rations were being distributed in a park. I picked up my bib despite those reservations. At the time, I figured I can run the race, and help out in any way I can afterward.
I returned Friday evening to the hostel where I was staying to use the wifi (no exorbitant data roaming for me) and see the twitter explosion about the race cancellation. “Shocked, but not shocked” formed part of my reaction tweet.
Saturday morning, the hostel organized a cleanup of a local park. We were shuttled by a parks employee to the riverfront park in northwest Harlem. There are signs of storm damage here, such as fallen trees, but our group was just tasked to rake the fallen leaves gathered at the edge of the basketball courts. Not what I expected, but every little bit helps, I supposed.
When we got back to the hostel, I discovered a newly-created Facebook group, New York Runners in Support of Staten Island. The group’s plan was for runners, whether or not they were supposed to run the NYC Marathon, to head to Staten Island to drop off needed supplies for the relief effort. So as not to overwhelm what’s already happening there, various groups would spread out across Staten Island, according to one’s intended running distance.
Sunday morning, I set out for the Staten Island Ferry. Accompanying me was John, who was also staying at the hostel and was also set to run the marathon. I had told him about this initiative, and he was keen to go. On the way, we could see many people clad in orange, as that was the uniform for those participating in this endeavour.
It was great to see thousands of runners, carrying backpacks full of stuff, but others had boxes, and one even had a suitcase. The vibe was positive, and there were great cheers when the organizers starting using a bullhorn to make announcements (see above photo). John and I settled on the group running 10-12 miles total.
Once on Staten Island, the various groups splintered further, and we set off toward our destinations. I’ve never run with a backpack, let alone one that is filled with clothes and food, but this is not a race. Everyone went along at their own paces. For the first 5 miles, I saw what I’ve already seen on Manhattan: downed tree branches, and broken signs.
Soon after I saw curbsides full of garbage and a pump sucking water out of a house. We reached our destination, which was a distribution centre for relief supplies. One of the volunteers who was there requested that we take some items and pass it on to other centres along the way. We gladly dropped some of our stuff, took more, and continued on.
The scene changed very quickly. The severity of the destruction became more acute as we ran toward the ocean shore. John and I, along with two other runners, encountered a pair of brothers who were there to help out their parents, who live on Staten Island. According to them, their parents punched a hole on the roof of their house to avoid the rising waters.
There are many more stories like that from everyone who lives on Staten Island. We helped clear out the garbage and disassembled the shed of the house of Mary Anne, a 70 year old who lived not far from shore. (A photographer from the island newspaper stopped by and took this shot of her and John hugging.) As the flood waters were rising, she tried to call the attention of a passing rescue boat, but it was full. She then scrambled out a window and clung to her house’s gutter until someone finally rescued her. While she was clinging to the gutter, she witnessed a nearby fire to a house, the remnants of which are in the photo below:
Having never witnessed such destruction in person, I was humbled to see it for myself, and to be a part of the recovery. I totally agreed with the runner-volunteer who was quoted at the end of this New York Times article: “We had our marathon today. But it was just more of an emotional one.” I did run about 12 miles out-and-back that day, all told, but that is irrelevant compared to what happened between those 12 miles.
There were some moments of levity, mostly before we ran into the devastated area. While waiting for the ferry, I met members of Team Takbo, an NYC-based run group, some of whose members had been ready to run the marathon. There was some Gangnam Style dancing as the ferry docked on Staten Island. This is John, a French runner-volunteer, me, and two members of Team Takbo; we were at one of the distribution stations at the parking lot for the beach at the end of Midland Avenue:
But just because we runners have gone through, the emergency is not over. There is more to be done on the ground to help storm victims get back on their feet. New York City’s Service page is one resource where you can volunteer or donate.