As if the 50th anniversary NYC Marathon wasn’t already a huge deal, this year marks the return of the race after skipping a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a true show of strength, runners from around the globe will traverse the city’s 26.2-mile course with their sights set on the finish line in Central Park. Among those participating this year are two local Catholic runners — each of whom will be competing in their first-ever marathon.
Shannon Pizzella of Our Lady of Hope, Middle Village, was a three-sport Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) threat in soccer, basketball and softball when growing up in the parish. At Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, she ran track, competing mostly in sprinting and hurdling events, which don’t necessarily translate into an affinity for long-distance running.
She continued her athletic career in college, though not on the track. Instead, she was the coxswain for the Binghamton University club rowing team — which involved way more shouting than running.
Even with the cancellation last year, Pizzella had been gearing up for the 2021 Marathon anyway. Since mid-June, she’s worked with a running coach to ensure her technique is on par for what it takes to complete the race.
“The biggest challenge is that I’ve had to do the really long training runs alone,” said Pizzella, who works as a project coordinator for Mount Sinai’s World Trade Center Health Program. “Being out there for three hours by yourself is very mentally taxing.”
Other than a few 18-mile training runs, Pizzella’s longest actual race has been a half marathon, which she’s completed twice in a virtual format. On race day, she’s excited to be motivated by the thousands of spectators — including her proud family members — who will be cheering loudly along the route.
“I spent a very long time not liking running more than just a couple of miles at a time,” Pizzella said. “With all of this training, I’ve actually enjoyed running further, and it’s something that I really never thought I’d say.”
Only as race day approached did Pizzella begin to recognize the magnitude of this event. The only other time in its 50-year history that the NYC Marathon was canceled occurred in 2012 because of Hurricane Sandy.
“I originally thought I was going to be running in the 51st Marathon, which after 50 is much less exciting,” she said. “When it turned out to be the first one back and the 50th, it’s super exciting that it all came together on my running journey. I am just looking to prove I can do it and can finish it.”
Just as Pizzella will be looking to accomplish this monumental achievement, so will Anthony Furia of St. Athanasius/St. Mary Mother of Jesus, both Bensonhurst. A CYO baseball player growing up, Furia made the switch to cross-country and track at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge.
From there it was on to St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, where he studied psychology and then on to Columbia University for a psychology master’s degree. As a sports fan, Furia now has a dream job — he works as an event presentation staff member with five local professional sports teams: the Knicks, Rangers, Mets, Giants, and Jets.
Prior to working with the major pros, Furia spent 10 years with the Brooklyn Cyclones, where one of his responsibilities included entertaining the crowd as Cyclones’ mascot Sandy the Seagull. Through his current work at Madison Square Garden, he was able to join the NYC Marathon “Dream Team” in which runners raise a minimum of $3,000 for the Garden of Dreams Foundation to run the race.
Furia started training and fundraising last summer until receiving the unfortunate news that the Marathon was canceled. He’s wanted to run this race for nearly a decade, so now is his time to step up, thanks to the generous support of his donors — whom he will honor prominently as he runs.
“On the back of my shirt, I will have every name of every person who donated to me,” Furia said. “Even if the end goal is for one, there’s a lot of people along the journey who helped, and that’s something I’ll never forget.”
In addition to running, Furia devoted time in his training to strength and endurance exercises.
“Running 26.2 miles … it’s not something you just wake up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to do this,’” he said. “It takes building blocks. It’s one piece on top of the other to create a perfect situation for yourself to thrive and succeed.”
Over the years, Furia has watched on race day as other marathoners live out their dream of running the race.
“The NYC Marathon is such an iconic race,” he said. “I just want to take it all in. If I never run another one, I know I can say I ran one. That’s all I want.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.