New York Runners in Support of Staten Island – My Video and Report Helping Hurricane Sandy Victims

To Help Hurricane Sandy Relief, Please Donate Here to the Red Cross

The ING New York City Marathon 2012 – was the most important race I have run to date. In this year’s NYC Marathon many runners would only ran in one burough, Staten Island. It may not have been the usual 45,000 runners as in previous years but those who participated were an incredible group of people.

My story starts Sunday, October 28, 2012. I was watching the news tracking hurricane Sandy. Just how bad was it going to be and was it going to derail my first ING New York City Marathon?

I had a plane ticket for a Monday night red eye to JFK but as the reports came across the news I knew that flight was probably going to be cancelled. By Monday morning I was wondering if I was going to be able to get a flight at all. So, I booked another flight for Wednesday morning, but that was eventually cancelled too.

After my second cancelled flight, I figured getting into JFK at all would be difficult. So, determined, I came up with plan “B” and found a Tuesday red-eye to Buffalo instead. My buddy, David DeNeire, from Grimsby Canada, said he’d pick me up and we could drive together.

Wednesday around noon he picked me up. My first time in Buffalo, NY I, of course, had to experience the original Buffalo Wings. We stopped at Duffs, and it was worth it. Then, we got on the road for the 7 hour drive to Manhattan.

It was a typical road trip. We stopped, took pictures and talked about the upcoming weekend. He was flying down to Savannah for their Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on Saturday then returning to run the ING New York City Marathon Sunday. Yes! Back to back!

We arrived in Manhattan at night. As we drove in, we couldn’t determine the famous Manhattan sky line, because no lights lit the buildings. Lower Manhattan had no power. It was weird…erie especially because it was also Halloween. We walked down to Hell’s Kitchen and checked out the very subdued scene which was not at all typical.

Thursday, the Expo opened. I was scheduled to give a presentation each day of the Expo. Thursday I was giving a presentation called, “Being Race Ready – A Pre-Race Visualization.” For those of you that don’t know, I am a certified hypnotherapist. I don’t really hypnotize people during this presentation but do use some techniques to help with the visualizing the course and relaxation.

It was becoming apparent that Sandy was putting a wrench in the spokes, but runners are a determined breed. People were showing up from all over the world, and Mayor Bloomberg declared the race would go on. Not being from Manhattan and walking around lightly effected midtown, Bloomberg’s decision seemed to make sense. I really thought that our dedication to this event might help lift post Sandy spirits

Friday, I watched Bloomberg’s news conference at noon because I could feel some negativity associated with the marathon. It was still a go, so I headed to the Javits Center to give my next presentation, “ChiRunning® – The Basics.” I went on at 5 PM and as my presentation was almost done a woman in the crowd held up her cell phone and mouthed “the marathon is cancelled.! Then, I told the crowd and through a forced smile offered a conciliatory “Well, we can still have fun in New York and now you have some time to practice your ChiRunning®.”

There was still no official announcement from the Expo announcer. However, the news spread quickly as runner after runner looked to their smartphones then looked to the person next to them wondering if the news was for real. It was.

Most everyone seemed to understand. There were no boos, just mixed emotions. I think most got it. Sure, we invested a lot of time and money in preparation for the marathon, but people were hurting and in need of help. Sandy and done some major damage. When people asked me I said, “There always another marathon”.

I went back to my hotel room and started to look for my Sunday morning alternative. Could there be way to chip in and help some of the people who’s lives had been flipped upside-down? I went on-line but didn’t really see anything organized enough where I wouldn’t just be in the way.

Saturday, I wondered if there was even going to be an Expo. I was scheduled to give another Pre-Race Visualization presentation but obviously I questioned its appropriateness.

The Expo was still on when I arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. I saw disappointment but no grumbling. I gave a presentation on Cadence and Stride Length. It went well. The cool thing was that after my presentation I heard about group trying to put a volunteer effort together via Facebook.

I was hoping for an official event. I was worried. What was I going to do without something being organized? I really didn’t know anyone or where I was going?

When I got back to my hotel, I hopped on my computer and started to look for that group on Facebook. I actually found two. After reading the posts I went with the group call “New York Runners in Support of Staten Island.” The organizers listed items that were needed and said meet for the 8:30 Ferry to Staten Island.

It was getting late. Now, I needed to find hardware stores still open in midtown Manhattan. I wanted some good leather gloves just in case I had to to more than just deliver supplies.

I shared the link on my Facebook page and said I was going to get gift cards and supplies. Within a minute friends were commenting, “Pick some extra up and I will pay you back when you get back to LA. Ripples make waves.

I ran out and picked up gift cards and supplies. I came back to the hotel and stuffed my back pack with the supplies and clothes to donate. I would be ready to go bright and early.

Sunday, race morning, my friend and local NYC resident Jen Turner, met me in the lobby of my hotel at 7:30 AM. She had a bunch of supplies too. We loaded it in the trunk of a cab and were on our way to the Ferry Terminal.

As I walked into the terminal all I could see was a sea of orange race shirt and people wearing backpacks filled with items ranging from baby diapers to cat food. I was excited but I wondered how were they going to organize what seemed to be a 1,000 people.

We were divided by the distances we would run and/or walk to carry our supplies. In less than 24 hours the organizers had squad leaders ready with maps to the areas most in need of our help. I picked the 14+ mile group. There was 12 people in our squad. I was surprised at the pace we were running even with an additional 20 – 30lbs on each of our backs. These people were fast!

I don’t remember all of their names but most of them were locals. Some weren’t even even going participate in the marathon. Yet, they volunteered and ran anyways. As we got closer to Midland Beach the scenery changed. Just imagine a war zone. And it seemed like the farther we went the worse it got.

There was a donations center in a parking lot in Midland Beach. We quickly regrouped and at that point I wanted to go into the neighborhood and pass out my supplies and gift cards.

Tom, another runner in our group, who I have never met before, asked me if I wanted to team up with him. He was anxious to get in there and do some work. We crossed the parking lot and walked right into the neighborhood. Four house in we ask a guy if he wanted some help. There was another fellow already helping him but he needed more help. Someone handed me a mask and we started clearing his garage. Thank God for the mask, because it smelled bad. I think the mask help psychologically too.

Tom and I started throwing everything left on the floor into trash bags. We helped to move heavy equipment. The point where it really hit me was when Dave, the homeowner, found a large bucket of baseballs floating in water. He looked at us and said, “These are the balls I would throw batting practice to my son when he was in Little League. It’s hard to throw these away”. He picked up the bucket of balls and reluctantly threw them away. Tom and I stayed there a little more than a half an hour.

We move on to help another family around the corner. Their bottom floor was a bedroom. We helped move out all the furniture. If it wouldn’t go through the door easily we would break it up. If it was wood it was easy to break because everything was so water-logged.

The floor was muddy and even after we help clear the room out the owners had to clean it and tear down the interior walls. We decided to move on to another house.

As we walked down this street where the water line had been over 6 feet high, there was nothing but trash piled up outside of every house. But, this trash wasn’t just trash. It was everything they owned. Many people left cars behind when they evacuated. Sadly, most of those cars were completely ruined.

At our next stop, Tom and I split up. I went down a different street and met a family that was already pulling out the sheetrock walls. They were so wet you could easily punch a hole in them. Down they came. In this house a beautiful flat screen TV was still hanging on the wall looking in working order, but when John, another volunteer, and I pulled it down, water poured out the sides. It was ruined, and became part of the trash pile.

Now, we were taking out the insulation and everything else down to the studs only leaving the exterior walls so they could dry out. This family was working full bore to get the job done before dark. They had a 10 year old girl and two boys around 13 taking wet sheetrock out to the curb while trying not to trip on the buckled wood floor panels. I ended up giving all three kids gift cards. They liked that.

Their attitude was amazing. The family was taking it in stride. I was wondering how they were
able to do it.. This was a neat family but so was every family I encountered.

We took a short break when a lady drove by with a huge pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. We each took a bowl right from the tailgate of her SUV. It was delicious, and then it was back to work.

That’s when I met Dave. His house burnt down. Stressed electric wires from the power pole crossed, sparked and caught his house on fire. I surveyed the damage. There was nothing left. When I told him how sorry I was for him and his wife he said, “I don’t care about the property, I can replace that. I had 5 pets in there I couldn’t get out.” We both welled up as he thanked me for coming out and helping.

I had been in the neighborhood for about 4 hours when I decided to walk back to the command/donation center. There was a sea of orange shirt-clad runners and volunteers, helping load and unload. The volunteer runners took supplies and food from house to house and helped in any way they could.

I still had to run back. I decided it was time to go. It was a lonely 7 mile run back most of the way. I felt numb. I thought about how I would handle something like this happening to me. Could I be as resilient as these people? I saw American flags hanging form destroyed houses. It touched me. I felt proud to be an American and of how we overcome adversity and persevere.

With about a mile left to the Staten Island Ferry terminal I met two other runners going back: Cary and Kevin. We talked about what we saw and what we did. Their stories were exactly the same as mine. We got on the Ferry and counted our blessings.

Because of a delayed flights, my crazy back-to-back marathon friend, David, couldn’t get back to NYC in time to join us Sunday morning. When he heard the stories he insisted we go back Monday so he could put in some time in volunteering too. It is a good thing David was so dedicated, because it locked me in for another day even though leaving Monday night. What else better did I have to do anyway?

Monday morning David and I went to the hardware store. Dave bought a bunch of supplies like brooms, work gloves, masks and heavy duty trash bags. When we arrived at the Midland Beach donation center and opened the back of his truck people immediately wanted the brooms.

We ended up at Marina’s house where 3 volunteers were also tearing down the walls. We asked her how we could help. She had a refrigerator that was on its back filled with water and rotting food. She ask us if we could get it out for her. When we stood it up it started gushing water, and the smell was overwhelming. We knew we had to empty it but no one wanted to open those doors. David sucked it up and went full force. He grabbed a trash can and stared with the freezer where there was a horrific stench from water-logged spoiled meat. It was a terrible job and to his great credit David did most of it. I carried the lower storage drawers outside trying not to spill any of that rancid water. With all the food emptied, we got that beast out the door and pushed it to the curb along with the rest of the debris and trash.

It was time to go. I had a flight to catch and David had a 7 hour drive back to Canada. But first, I had to go check in on that family I had met the day before and say good-bye. After a quick stop there we headed back to David’s truck. I changed into some clean clothes for the plane ride home. Then, he drove me to the airport.

It was a quiet ride. It felt good to help but it was amazing that this happened only because I was in New York for a marathon that would never take place. Instead, I found my own marathon. The most important marathon I would ever run.

Volunteer Focused, Steve Mackel, Head Coach Sole Runners Full and Half Marathon Training Programs

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