‘The spirit of the neighborhood’

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Five days after the downtown terror attack, the NYC Marathon gave New Yorkers something to cheer about


  • Runner 54334, Luigi Eupizi of Italy, approaching the 16th mile. Photo: Liz Hardaway

  • Simon Lee of Brooklyn, drinking some water before finishes the last ten miles of the race. Photo: Liz Hardaway

  • Police officers at First Avenue and 59th Street. Photo: Liz Hardaway

After last week’s deadly terror attack downtown, many New Yorkers worried about security in the city as the New York City Marathon approached. But amid all the apprehension, millions of spectators lined the streets of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan on Sunday — and almost 51,000 runners gave the city something to cheer about.

“It’s the world’s marathon,” said Jammie ZurSchmiede, 39, a marketing manager who flew in in from Grand Rapids, MI, to meet her longtime college friend Sarah Vander Wal, 38, to run the race together, along with 50,766 other participants from across the globe.

On Nov. 5, runners lined up on Staten Island, then crossed the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and ran through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. After crossing the Queensboro Bridge, they looped around 59th into First Avenue, where runners are rumored to find their second wind. “It’s pure adrenaline,” ZurSchmiede said.

And that’s where hundreds of spectators gathered to cheer on the runners. Ringing their cowbells, holding up signs quoting the famous Forrest Gump line “Run Forrest, Run,” shaking bright pom-poms, and even parading around the blown-up faces of the runner they supported, fans went wild despite pouring rain at the 16th mile.

Cheering friends and family weren’t the only ones on the sidelines. Police officers sporting bullet-proof vests stood at their post on one short stretch of the marathon. In a statement released from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, he said that thousands of officers would be deployed last weekend to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 2.5 million spectators and runners.

NYPD Chief of Department Carlos Gomez said the event would be protected by rooftop observation teams with snipers.

Among the heavily patrolled area stood many friends and fans of the marathon. Rana Meyer, 41, had been coming to the marathon for almost 11 years to support all the runners. This year she even sported a green sign reading “Run Rachel, Run” for her friend Rachel Chang, 40, who is doing the NYC marathon for the second time.

“I usually always come anyways to watch. It’s exciting to see all these amazing people,” Meyer said. “I don’t know how they do it ... on the news they show the map of the whole route ... it’s inspiring to see all these other people doing it.”

As Meyer cheered and waved her sign, Chang ran up, cellphone in hand, and snapped a quick selfie with Meyer. Chang thanked her and kept running in order to beat her time from the previous year.

“She’s wearing gray,” the Curtis family said, studying their marathon app to track exactly when their daughter, Jennifer Curtis, 27, would arrive. Her family had been waiting since 11:30 am.

Though this was only Curtis’ first NYC Marathon, she had planned this run for a while. Curtis won the 2014 lottery but was also selected to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa. Instead, her mother, Debbie Curtis, 55, ran 16 miles, and her sister, Nicole Curtis, 23, ran the remaining 10 miles on Jennifer’s behalf.

“Running the NYC Marathon means the world to me,” Curtis said. “It’s a race that symbolizes overcoming personal, physical, and emotional challenges in the most vulnerable way — in front of thousands of fellow runners, volunteers, and spectators.”

Once Curtis approached the 16th mile at 1:30 pm, her family began to scream her name.

“[We wanted to] give her a little energy for the last ten miles,” Debbie Curtis, her mother, said, as her family went to Central Park to meet Jennifer one more time before she crossed the finish line.

Whether people ran to achieve a dream, beat a personal time or just better themselves, the marathon also was an opportunity to raise money for charity. Sarah Vander Wal raised $3,200 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. All the runners who ran for the foundation collectively raised around $600,000.

In preparation for the marathon, Vander Wal said the biggest challenge was finding the time to train. Vander Wal, who divides her time as a CEO of Open America Project and owning her own company, Cultura Colectiva, flying back and forth between New Mexico and New York, said she woke up at the crack of dawn to run four times a week and do two days of cross-training to build up her strength.

But even with the pain and sacrifice, Vander Wal said the marathon was worth it. When running through the different boroughs, she got to see how each New Yorker celebrated.

“You get to see the spirit of the neighborhood,” she said. “Running is bountiful in the gift that it gives you.”

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