Monday, November 7, 2011

My Life in Disaster: The New York City Marathon 2011

Six member of Team Red Cross on Staten Island before the race.
 The ING New York City Marathon took place yesterday on a perfect autumn day. I was lucky enough to witness first-hand the enthusiasm of these athletes. I volunteered to take pictures for the Red Cross and woke up at five in the morning. My husband was kind enough to drop me off a block before Fort Wadsworth, in Staten Island, at six in the morning. It was my second time as an eyewitness to this momentous event.

Years ago as part of Lambda Chi sorority, at St. John’s University, I volunteered to hand out hot drinks and bagels to the runners. It was cold and dark that November morning, and my sorority sisters and I were recovering from Halloween parties from the night before. So maybe we weren’t as enthusiastic as we should have been. Well that was our loss! Despite waking up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday, and searching for the Red Cross team of runners, among the over 40,000 participants for about an hour and half, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

It was a record-breaking race. The winner of the men’s category Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai broke the previous record by more than two minutes, finishing at 2 hrs 5 min and 6 sec. The women’s favorite and lead runner of the female contenders, Mary Keitany, could not hold on and lost her lead in the last mile of the race to Ethopian natives Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, who came in first and second in the women’s category.

Runners from all over the United States and one hundred and ten countries came to participate in this iconic marathon. Of the 43,741 starters, 43,475 runners finished, including the oldest runners of the race Yolande Marois, 84 and Peter Harangozo, 88, who came in at 7:41:04 and 7:53:02 respectively.

I was privileged to meet and interview some of the runners on Team Red Cross. Raising money for the Red Cross were 45 runners from seven states and four countries.

Michael Curtin
 One of those runners is Michael Curtin of Brewster, N.Y. Michael’s story is so compelling and his enthusiasm so contagious that you find yourself drawn to him, as well as inspired to maybe one day run/walk the race yourself.

Michael is a veteran of the Armed Forces, and his first encounter with the American Red Cross took place in 1994. Michael was about to be deployed to Somalia when his mother called with the devastating news that his father had unexpectedly died. Stunned, Michael wanted desperately to get home for his father’s funeral. He was in Fort Bragg, N.C about to leave for Somalia when two Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) workers arrived and escorted him back to base.

They helped him pack, drove him to the airport and handed him a roundtrip ticket home to Brewster. After the funeral, Red Cross SAF representatives met Michael at the airport and drove him back to base. What the SAF division of the Red Cross did for Michael and his family is forever etched in his heart. This is his third time running the NYC Marathon for the American Red Cross. "I will run the marathon for the Red Cross till they day I die,” Michael says. “They had my back.”

Simon Curtis
 Another runner raising money for the Red Cross is Simon Curtis who came all the way from Auckland, New Zealand. Simon says "If you want to run for a charity, this is the one." Simon was impressed with the response that the Red Cross had in New Zealand after the devastating earthquake that shook Christchurch, NZ, earlier this year. It’s Simon’s first time running; he’s been training for three months. Good on you Simon!

Marina Kanes
 Brendan Quinn and Marina Kanes were also running for the American Red Cross. Brendan is from across the river in Hoboken, N.J., and just wanted to raise money for a worthy cause. Marina, who lives in Manhattan, is raising money because her life was also touched by the Red Cross. In 2002 there was a fire in her building. Marina says the first people to knock on her door to see if she needed any assistance or a place to stay were the Red Cross. Luckily she had friends and family to turn to. But she remembers being "impressed" with the Red Cross response and has been looking for a way to repay the Red Cross ever since.

Rob Sell came all the way from Fort Worth, Texas. His brother inspired him to run the race for the Red Cross and so he did.

As an eyewitness to the Marathon you become caught up in the enthusiasm of these athletes. As you get to know their stories, you are not only impressed, but you find yourself rooting for them. I’m waiting to find out how they finished, and what their experiences were as they completed that 26.2 mile leg of their journey.

Rob Sell

My Life in Disaster is a series of blog posts by Maha Awad, who is volunteering with the Red Cross and finding out first-hand what it means to be prepared for life’s many disasters.

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