Marathon Signals Closure After Sandy

More than 47,000 runners ran in the 42nd annual ING N.Y.C. Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 3.

But of course, this year’s marathon was supposed to be the 43rd running, since the race was established in 1970.

After Hurricane Sandy led to the cancellation of the 2012 N.Y.C. Marathon, runners – many of whom were affected by the storm – came out this year in record numbers.

One of those runners was Colleen Lee, a Rockaway Park resident whose co-op apartment building on Beach 121st Street endured significant damage from Sandy.

Colleen Lee
Colleen Lee

Though she was forced to wait a year to run, Lee said crossing the finish line is an experience she’ll never forget.

“People are correct when they say that the crowd carries you to the finish line,” said Lee, a registered nurse at Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx, and a 1995 graduate of St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, the day after the race. “The excitement, enthusiasm and energy of the spectators were indescribable.”

Just over a year ago, Lee was anxiously awaiting running in her first marathon in November, 2012. She had trained for the past three years and increased her training regimen two summers ago by running up and down the Rockaway boardwalk.

However, news reports began circulating about a “storm of the century” poised to hit the Rockaway peninsula. It turns out “storm of the century” was even an understatement.

Though her individual apartment had no damage, the lobby, basement, laundry room and garage of her building were completely destroyed. The building lost power for five weeks, so Lee went to live with her mother in Woodside. The boardwalk – Lee’s favorite running place – also took a serious hit.

Lee said the emotional rollercoaster that she experienced during that time was tough to handle.

“It was the perfect contrast of feelings and such a dramatic swing,” she said. “I was so excited [for the marathon]; I couldn’t wait. My family was all going to get together at a certain point to watch. My cousins were going to come from out of town. It was really exciting. But to be honest, when the storm hit, I didn’t even think about the marathon right away.”

With the race approaching in a matter of days, Lee and her friend Cristin Connell, also a St. Francis Prep graduate, went to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan to pick up their numbers.

But the next day, a friend notified Lee that the marathon had been cancelled. After all that training and preparation, Lee was completely devastated.

“I agree wholeheartedly that they (race officials) should not have run the marathon last year and I’m glad that they did not, but what made that so heart-wrenching was the last minute decision,” she said.

The Rockaway boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy.
The Rockaway boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy.

Despite the emotion she felt, Lee was not deterred from exercising her automatic bid to this year’s N.Y.C. Marathon. She had raised money for Calvary Hospital, the Bronx, for last year’s race because that is where her father and aunt both passed away.

During the race, she wore a “Team Lee” T-shirt as way to honor her fallen family members.

“I can’t count how many times people screamed out ‘Go Team Lee!’” she said. “It felt wonderful.”

Lee finished the race in 6:20:44 with her family members and friends cheering her on. It turns out her nephew, who would not have been able to be at last year’s race, was in the crowd this past Sunday.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Lee said. “God has a plan that we don’t always understand at the time, but I like to think that everything is meant to happen the way it is.”

The cancellation of the 2012 marathon will always be linked with the hurricane, so running the race this year signals a return to normalcy for many residents of the tri-state area.

Lee compared the comeback of the marathon to the first sporting event in the city following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. She vividly recalled the go-ahead home run hit by New York Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza that seemed to temporarily divert the city’s attention from bigger problems.

Though there is still much work to be done to fully recover from Sandy, crossing the finish line at the N.Y.C. Marathon likely gave many Sandy victims, including Lee, a sense of closure one-year after the storm.

“This past year has been terrible and tough, and I’m sure people have just wanted to throw in the towel,” Lee said. “But Sunday was the return to what New York City is all about, which is being one of the greatest cities in the world.”