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The New York Marathon 2012 – What Happened

Ok folks, so you saw the news pre-New York marathon day to say it had been cancelled. Wondering what happened to the AMAZING team that were signed up for the New York Marathon? Here is my perspective on the most emotional, amazing, humbling weekend of my life so far……

New York Marathon – Cancelled!

Ok folks, so you saw the news pre-New York marathon day to say it had been cancelled. Wondering what happened to the AMAZING team that were signed up for the New York Marathon? Here is my perspective on the most emotional, amazing, humbling weekend of my life so far……

As part of my “life begins at 40” outlook on life the New York marathon was to be my 3rd and final marathon this year, having already completed the London MoonWalk in May and the Edinburgh MoonWalk in June.

However, events unfolded on 29th October across eastern America that initially cast doubt on the marathon taking place, when Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey and New York.

Friday 2nd November

Despite the images of the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy being broadcast around the world, the mayor of New York, and race organisers insisted the marathon would continue with possibly some changes to logistics and the course, so on Friday 2nd November we left Heathrow with some trepidation, excitement and maybe a touch of concern.

The journey from the airport didn’t give us much insight in to the damage caused by “Sandy”, with the only evidence of a storm being a number of tree branches at the road side. As we arrived at the hotel, and as our rooms weren’t yet available, a group of us headed to the expo to pick up our race numbers and packs. However, within hours of arriving back at the hotel, the news that the marathon had been cancelled, due to public feeling, flashed across the news channels.

Stunned does not come close to how I personally felt. I was disappointed, angry and upset, not only at the marathon being cancelled after months of training, saving and sacrifice, but that it had been cancelled so close to race day. I was also a little relieved as it was evident to us all that there was bad feeling from residents, in particular Staten Island where the race was due to start, that the marathon had been going ahead when resources were needed in the clear-up following the storm.

Following news of the cancellation many of us met and discussed our feelings, and what happens next, and by the time Nina had arrived at the hotel, (she had been in the queue for immigration when the news was announced), the general consensus was that we had gone to do the marathon for charity and that the least we could do now was to volunteer and assist the residents in getting their lives back on track.

Saturday 3rd November

We held the organised pre-race tactic talk, and Nina explained about the relief run/walk she had found that we could do on the Sunday. Through the wonders of facebook she had found a group called “New York Runners in Support of Staten Island Relief Efforts”. The group, led by Dr Jordan Metzl, were running and delivering aid to Staten Island on Sunday 4th November – race day. General consensus was it was a good idea, we would be doing some good, and getting our walk (of sorts) and although not compulsory we signed up.

The idea was everybody would buy a bag of essential supplies – food, toiletries, candles, torches; batteries, baby products and even pet food, and we would join hundreds of runners from across the globe at the Staten Island Ferry terminal for the 8.30 ferry.

After our shopping trip we headed to the pasta party at Vicaversa. The meal was lovely, and the service of the staff was second to none, and for the first, and possibly the last time, alcohol was consumed at the pasta party. Although we obviously didn’t consume too much, we still had a walk ahead of us. This was the first time Walk the Walk has used this particular restaurant, and judging by how welcome they made us feel, the service of the staff, and the reaction of other diners (chocolates sent from one of the other tables), I don’t think it will be the last time

Sunday 4th November

In true “Team NY 2012” style things didn’t go quite to plan to get the early ferry, as our attempts to use the subway were thwarted by an “uncooperative” ticket machine, I can’t possibly divulge the full details, but safe to say we improvised and managed to get to the ferry terminal for the 9.30 ferry instead – as the saying goes “what goes on tour, stays on tour” (Pic. 2)

On arrival at Staten Island the Walk the Walk group set-off to one of the distribution centres that had been set-up, approximately 6 miles from the ferry terminal.

For the first few miles I didn’t see much damage, a few branches here & there, a few tiles off roofs, and queues at petrol stations. Then we turned a corner and the destructive power of “Sandy” became obvious. Houses were piles of sticks in their gardens, trees were down, power lines were laying across the roads, piles of rubble littered the pavement, which on closer inspection contained people’s entire lives – ornaments, clothing, bedding, all ruined by flood waters that had devastated the area.

We left our parcels at one distribution centre and then helped to move excess items from that one on to the next. At each centre there were piles of clothing, bedding, food, water, children’s toys, dry-ice, toiletries neatly organised by volunteers, and each being checked by destitute residents, trying to build some semblance of normality by gaining a few possessions.

The reaction of those volunteers and residents I spoke to was one of gratitude, but also of despair. I chatted as we walked to a young lad of about 15/16 who admired our “funky t-shirts” and “cool hats”. He was impressed that we had come from “Liverpool” (my Welsh accent obviously foxed him) to help him and his neighbours, and he was thankful that the marathon being cancelled had resulted in more media attention and help for the stricken areas, but he was also sad for us that we wouldn’t get to do the marathon and that we saw his beloved home in such a state. He attitude also typified the resilience of the residents, I offered him my hat & a coat I was carrying as he was wearing a t-shirt and looked cold, and also some water I had spare, but he just said “give them to someone more needy than me, and I hope you get chance to come back again”.

After delivering the goods we split in to two groups, and the first group headed back to the ferry, while the second stayed behind to help sort clothes and deliver dry ice to residents.

I was in the first group, and as we headed back we passed by houses with numbers on the door, and we were told by the National Guard that these numbers were how many people had perished in that property, it bought it back to me just how much devastation had been caused. The National Guard were in the area to help an elderly lady, we offered our assistance as they weren’t sure what her reaction would be to male soldiers, but her neighbours were on hand to help so we headed back.

Sunday evening

In true Walk the Walk style Sunday evening was time to show off those bras we had all spend hours working on. Nina had asked that we meet in the lobby at 7.15pm and we would find a nice room to have some group photos. Although, I don’t think poor Nina had realised that Team 2012 aren’t really shrinking violets so when she arrived in the lobby we were already showing off our sequins, ribbon and fringing to the amusement and joy of many people exiting the lifts and entering the hotel. I imagine there are many holiday snaps causing confusion around the world.

Monday Celebration Breakfast

As is customary for the Walk the Walk New York Marathon weekend, on Monday morning we headed to Broadway, not to dazzle in our sequins, but to enjoy a final group gathering at “Ellen’s Stardust Diner”.

As we ate our breakfast, and swapped contact details, the waiters and waitresses, all of who dream of appearing in a Broadway Show, (though sadly not all will make it), entertained us with their renditions of show tunes.

I personally was in my element, as 90% of my training iPod is show tunes, but I did behave and didn’t join in with my “jazz hands”, though as Lucy Matthews and Emma Woods will testify I did come close.

And to top off what was already a surreal experience, we were joined by a special guest, Lady Emma Kitchener-Fellowes (wife of Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes), who came to catch up with the lovely Pam from The Haven who’s charity works closely with Walk the Walk.

What a Weekend

Now I’m back home, and getting back to reality. Life doesn’t seem quite the same. I’m not sure if I’m experiencing the usual post-event blues (despite not completing the event), or whether what we saw on Staten Island has had an additional impact.

What we delivered to Staten Island was just a drop in the ocean of what was needed. Power companies and the National Guard were only just arriving in the area, nearly a week after the storm hit, and even now 3 or so weeks later there are areas without power and water. Yet the resilience of the residents was amazing; the sense of community spirit, despite everything they had been through and lost was evident from the minute we arrived to the minute we left.

I have kept up-to-date with the work of “New York Runners in Support of Staten Island Relief Efforts” via facebook, and their work consists now of raising much needed cash for the residents, and also manual work helping people clear their houses and start with the rebuilding.

The images I saw that day will stay with me forever, and I hope that I never have to see something so distressing again. The young lad I met played on my mind, I saw his sad face every time I closed my eyes, but I’m pleased to say that while watching a news channel, live from Staten Island, on Tuesday before leaving, I saw him behind the newscaster, wearing a warm coat, carrying some bags with a lady I assumed was a relation.

I made some lovely friends that weekend, bonded by a shared experience that will remain in my memory for years to come. I was also fortunate to meet two young ladies who not only did themselves proud, but Walk the Walk and their families – Abi and Steph. This was their first event, and although they were thrown in at the deep end, they dealt with the situation wonderfully.

I hope to return to New York, if not next year, (although I have registered my interest), then maybe the year after, to take part in the marathon, but also to visit Staten Island to see how they have rebuilt their lives and community.

Ali Edwards – Squirrel


From Guy:

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