There are many types of running—running recreationally, running a marathon, running off the bike—and whether you’re a weekend warrior out for a quick jog or a devoted runnerd training for a new PR, it’s all about moving forward. On Sunday, I joined a group of 1,300 fellow athletes to run through the streets of Staten Island and distribute supplies to those in need. Through this literal act of putting one foot in front of the other, we helped the borough symbolically move forward post-Hurricane Sandy.
It was only after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the cancellation of the world-famous ING NYC Marathon on Friday evening that New York Runners in Support of Staten Island, a grassroots initiative, began to form. Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports-medicine physician at New York City’s Hospital for Special Surgery, planned to run the 26.2-mile endurance event—as did 47,000 other runners—but used its termination as an opportunity to organize a runner-led opportunity to lend a hand. He created a Facebook page that detailed the plan: send runners—both those who trained to run the marathon and those who wanted to help—to the hardest-hit areas of Staten Island with non-perishable food, flashlights, blankets, batteries, and other items. By Saturday afternoon, the webpage received more than 3,000 hits, and it now boasts more than 5,000 “likes.”
Word of the event also spread thanks to Twitter, which is how I discovered it on Saturday. When the tweet appeared in my newsfeed, I knew joining this initiative would be the perfect way for me to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. (After my power was restored Friday evening, I started researching ways to lend a hand, but it seemed like a lot of the groups had enough people-power for their specific goals.) I’m grateful to have the passion, endurance, and physical capability to be able to run; running is a gift that shouldn’t be taken for granted, and if I can use my privilege to help others, then it’s a no-brainer–pay it forward. After doing some research and filling out the survey—in which I signed up to run 8-10 miles and bring granola bars, toothbrushes, and tubes of toothpaste—I packed everything in a drawstring gym bag, laid out my running clothes, and set my clocks back an hour.
At 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, I arrived at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. According to the Facebook page, organizers wanted volunteers to arrive between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Even at the early end of the meet-up timeframe, I couldn’t believe how many people poured into the terminal.
Around 8:30 a.m., Dr. Metzl discussed the general game-plan and identified some of the noteworthy donations: 600 garbage bags; 1,500 Home Dept gift cards; and 6,000 KIND Bars.
As he relayed this information, I met Christine who flew in from San Francisco to run the marathon. Since we both signed up to run 8-10 miles, we decided to be buddies for the day and met Valerie, our of the team leaders. (When filling out the online survey, runners had the option of signing up for different mileage ranges: 6-8 miles; 8-10; 10-12; and 12-14 miles.)
Throughout the next hour, team leaders and lead organizers continued to pass along information and answer questions.
I also met Jessica, Robin, and Rachel; both Jessica and Robin are runners-turned-triathletes like me, and Rachel was training for this year’s marathon. It was really nice getting to know all the ladies, and thanks to our running backgrounds, we had so much in common. (As the day progressed, I learned how much overlap there is between the NYC running and triathloning communities, which is awesome.) As we chatted away, the first wave of runners and walkers boarded the 8:30 a.m. ferry, and before long, it was 9:30 a.m. and time for us to head over.
[Jessica, Rachel, me, and Christine en route to Staten Island.]
Originally, our group planned to go to Susan E. Wagner High School, which was turned into a shelter, but there was a greater need for us farther inland at the Midland Beach Distribution Center. After we disembarked the ferry, Valerie relayed this news and told us that running to this location would increase our total mileage from 10-ish to at least 12 miles roundtrip. No one thought twice about it; we needed to go where we were needed the most.
Leaving the terminal and beginning to run led to an immediate sense of heaviness and desertedness. There’s no doubt jogging with an extra 5-7 pounds caused this fatigue—which wasn’t that much compared to the 25-pound backpacks others lugged—but as our group headed farther and farther inland, this weight went from physical to emotional. Trees were ripped from the ground, side streets were still flooded, and homes were completely destroyed.
At one point, we stopped to regroup, and I talked to a resident who asked why we were wearing orange and wondered what we were doing. After I told him about our group and the initiative at large, he said where we were standing would’ve been the start line of the marathon. Instead of sleek banners, there was a rack of discarded clothes with a sign: “Take what you need.”
I don’t know how to articulate this juxtaposition and do it justice; I don’t know how someone could stand at that street and talk to these people and still hold the marathon and have zero guilt.
Eventually, we arrived at the Midland Beach Distribution Center, which spanned an empty parking lot.
At this point, Valerie told us to help in whatever way we could—distributing meals, sharing information, or simply talking to residents.
The girls and I went to the food area, grabbed cups of hot soup and bags of fresh bread, and started walking farther inland.
During the next three hours or so, I didn’t take any pictures. I’m usually not shy about snapping photos, but yesterday, it felt like an invasion of privacy; these were homes and lives destroyed. Seeing families faced with the daunting task of cleaning up their homes and rebuilding their lives served as a humbling experience. These individuals will spend the next days, months, and years dealing with and recovering from Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath.
At 1:30 p.m., our group reassembled and ran back to the ferry.
Even without the extra weight from our backpacks, it was still a heavy run back. Although I was able to talk to Jessica, Valerie, and Robin about NYC triathloning, I also reflected on how extremely lucky I am: to be part of the runner/triathlete community, to be unharmed by Hurricane Sandy, and to be able to help others.