“The spirit of the neighborhood”

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

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With a rented truck, a lead foot and eight dead in an act of terror, flashbacks of last week’s fatal collision haunted the minds of New Yorkers as the NYC Marathon quickly approached.

Amidst all the apprehension, spectators still gathered in the millions along the streets of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan on Sunday to celebrate the 51,000 runners who were determined to finish the race.

“It’s the world’s marathon,” Jammie ZurSchmiede, a 39-year-old marketing manager for global accounts said while sipping a glass of wine in the bar perching under the Redbury Hotel. It was only three days before she ran in the largest marathon in the world.

Flying in from Grand Rapids, MI, ZurSchmiede met her longtime college friend, Sarah Vander Wal, 38, to run the race together, along with the 50,766 other participants spanning from across the globe.

Planning to train for 18 weeks, ZurSchmiede lost almost 8 weeks of training due to a surgery she had in July.  This didn’t stop her from participating in the 26.2 mile run. “You push your body past limits you’d never know existed,” she said.

Come early morning Nov. 5, runners lined up in Staten Island, just before crossing the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. Though the marathon didn’t officially kick off until 8:30 am with the men’s professional wheelchair division, some runners didn’t start until as late as 11.

Once the runners ran through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, they crossed the Queensboro Bridge. As they loop around 59th into 1st Avenue, runners are rumored to find their second wind. “It’s pure adrenaline,” ZurSchmiede said.

And that’s exactly 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 whooping and hollering all in the pouring rain at the 16th mile.

There wasn’t just family cheering in the sidelines, however. Four police officers alone, some who sported 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 stated that thousands of officers would be deployed last weekend to ensure the safety and security of the estimated 2.5 million spectators and almost 51,000 runners.

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

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

Families would corral amongst the sidelines, plotting with other families, friends and mostly strangers to scream in unison when their runner came close. They would make deals, cheering for each other’s party in hopes that 10 voices were a lot louder than three.

“She’s wearing gray,” the Curtis family said, studying their NYC 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, it was a plan in the works since 2013 when she cheered in the VIP section. Curtis decided to apply for the lottery in 2014 and won. However, a few months later, Curtis was 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 on Jennifer’s behalf.

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

In 2016, Jennifer Curtis began the 9+1 Program, where runners can automatically earn a spot in the marathon by completing nine qualifying races and volunteering at one New York Road Runners (NYRR) event.

“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. As her sister erratically rang the cowbell, trying to get Cutis’ attention, Curtis waved back, giving two excited thumbs up and kept running.

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

Among the heavily patrolled area also 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, and I got tired just looking at it…it’s inspiring to see all these other people doing it.”

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

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

Whether people ran to achieve a dream, beat a personal time or just better themselves as a whole, the marathon also was an opportunity to raise money for charity. Sarah Vander Wal ended up raising $3,200 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. All the runners who ran for this 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 separates her time as a CEO of Open America Project and owning her own company, Cultura Colectiva, and flies back and forth between New Mexico and New York, would wake up at the crack of dawn to run four times a week and do two days of cross training to build up her strength.

“If you overthink [training], you will talk yourself out of it,” Vander Wal said. “It’s a commitment I made to myself.”

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.”

Originally published in Chelsea News on November 7, 2017.

Click here to view the published article, which was editted for length.

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