Cancelling the New York City Marathon – for the first time since it began in 1970 – pitted those who favored running the race (despite the fact that the city was still devastated in many places from Hurricane Sandy) against those who felt it was only respectful to cancel it.
Almost no one approved of the way the cancellation was handled. Until Friday night before the scheduled Sunday morning race, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had insisted that the race would go on despite the storm’s devastation. But a massive protest – including a major social network campaign among tens of thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook – convinced the mayor’s office to cancel. NPR interviewed runners from Dubai, Italy and elsewhere, all among the 20,000 or so who had arrived from overseas. "We would have understood if it had been cancelled at the beginning. Now, calling it off after everyone got here? This is not really the best idea," Italian would-be marathon runner Gabriel Dini told NPR.
But in an inspiring turn of events, hundreds of marathon runners took their Sunday run anyway – wearing their orange marathon shirts and carrying backpacks filled with relief supplies – through hard-hit Staten Island, where 19 people had died in the storm. Hastily assembled relief groups such as New York Runners in Support of Staten Island were briefed in advance on the devastation they would see as they embarked on their relief efforts.
According to the Associated Press, runners took up the cause for two reasons: to do some good, and “beat a bad rap pinned on them by greedy race organizers and a mayor who seemed oblivious to the end,” Jordan Metzl, the sports medicine doctor who organized the runners, told AP. “We initially were bummed [at the cancellation], but also saddened by the perception that runners were indifferent to the needs of other people.”
An additional AP story recounted the volunteer efforts: “Instead of running his first marathon, Akil Defour of Brooklyn climbed 20 flights of stairs in a building without power or heat in Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver water, blankets and peanut butter sandwiches.” The conditions were perfect for hundreds of conditioned athletes to volunteer. “We decided it would be easier for us athletes to go up and down the buildings,” he said.
Runners may have been disappointed, and serious disappointment and conflict remain over how the race was canceled, but after a demonstration of how cruel Mother Nature can be, isn’t it good to see human nature picking up some slack? Have you heard or experienced any inspiring stories from the storm? Share them.