Bay Ridge native: ‘Helping other people is faith in motion’
MANHATTAN — As Brian Ingram reached the final mile of the 50th New York City Marathon, a bystander noticed his orange “Fred’s Team” t-shirt.
The distinctive top identified Ingram as one of the many runners raising money for cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“He yelled, ‘You’re raising money that’s helping to keep my mother alive!’” Ingram recalled after crossing the finish line. He was fatigued having nearly completed the 26-mile race through all five boroughs, but the experienced runner said the comment helped him complete his quest.
The supportive words from the spectator at Mile 25 particularly resonated with Ingram because Memorial Sloan Kettering also saved his life.
Ingram, an asset management specialist by trade, said this marathon was meant to be. “I just turned 50 in September, and the Marathon is 50,” he noted. “So I thought, ‘What better way to pay it forward than to raise money so that others can continue to get the same great care that I had?’”
A cancer diagnosis “is terrifying,” he added. In his mid-40s, Ingram was a picture of powerful athletic stamina, having run more than a dozen marathons and even participating in a couple of Iron Man competitions. One day, however, he learned of his disease.
At age 47, the husband and father of two young children was rolled into an operating room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, not far from his Manhattan home.
But on Nov. 7, nearly three years after his surgery, Ingram completed his seventh New York City Marathon. It was the 14th marathon in his long-distance-running career, including the legendary events in Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
As Ingram counts his blessings, he is eager to respond. During this year’s marathon, he was part of “Fred’s Team,” a group of runners that raises cancer research funding for Memorial Sloan Kettering.
He prefers not to go into detail about his own fight with cancer.
“The important thing is that Sloan Kettering helped me get rid of it,” he said. “And I’m three years cancer-free. I feel blessed that I was able to have it diagnosed and caught before it was too late.”
Ingram also credits the Catholic faith formed in him as he grew up in Bay Ridge, where he attended schools of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
His father, John Ingram, is a successful maritime lawyer and a retired captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He also presided as a judge in various courtrooms and was first appointed to the bench by then-Gov. George Pataki.
Ingram’s mother, Maureen, had a more succinct job description — stay-at-home mom — but to her son, that is just as impressive as anything on his dad’s résumé.
“The hard-charging work ethic I got from my father,” he said. “But I also learned the importance of the home, and the stability of a home, from my mother. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.”
Ingram described his parents as a team that always cheered for him at sporting events and extracurricular activities, and they did likewise for his brother and two sisters. Now married nearly 55 years, the parents remain supportive and enjoy their eight grandchildren, he said.
The marathon was a family affair in itself. Ingram said after this week’s race, “I saw my whole family, and I saw all my friends out on the course. Everywhere. I saw them in Bay Ridge, I saw them in the city, I saw them in Queens.”
Ingram attended St. Patrick’s Academy and Xaverian High School, both in Bay Ridge. He learned perseverance and teamwork while competing on his high school’s basketball and swim teams.
“Being part of a team definitely offers very good life lessons,” Ingram said. “You rely on people, you travel with people, you get to know them, and together you experience highs and lows. These are the people who become your friends. And, to this day, I’m still very good friends with the people who were on my basketball team in high school.”
Ingram also joined the swim team at Loyola University in Baltimore. There, he met Jennifer, whom he married. With children Ava, 12, and Luke, 8, the family belongs to the historic St. Ignatius Loyola parish on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Although Ingram and his wife are raising their family in Manhattan, he still has close ties to Brooklyn and his high school alma mater. He served for nine years on Xaverian’s board of trustees and helped oversee its transition to a co-educational school.
“All the experiences I had at Xaverian helped me want to give back,” he said. “Plus, I went to a Jesuit college, and service is a big part of what is stressed there.”
Ingram further explained that his Catholic faith is manifested in multiple ways. “It’s dynamic, I would say. It’s having that time in church, celebrating the sacraments. It’s also how I raise my family, how I serve my community. And that kind of feeds into what I’m doing with Sloan Kettering.”
The Fred’s Team fundraiser is links to Ingram’s life-long fascination with long-distance running and the New York City Marathon.
“Growing up in Bay Ridge, Marathon Sunday was always a big deal,” he said. “Seeing it come over the Verrazano Bridge was something I always remembered. And it was something that I wanted to try. So I did my first one in 1997. I raised money for muscular dystrophy and I got hooked.”
Fred’s Team is named for Fred Lebow (1932-1994), a native of Romania who came to the U.S. in 1949. He settled in Manhattan, where he became an avid runner and an advocate for marathoning.
Lebow, who founded the New York City Marathon, helped mold it into the largest event of its kind in the world, attracting as many as 50,000 participants each year.
The field was kept at 33,000 this year to allow more space between runners as a hedge against the spread of COVID-19. Also, runners were required to show proof of at least one round of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of Marathon Sunday.
Lebow learned he had brain cancer in 1990, but resolved to fight the disease by funding cancer research. Memorial Sloan Kettering thus became the marathon’s first official charity in 1990.
More than $650,000 was raised in 1991, and a year later, in Lebow’s final Marathon, runners raised $1 million.
Lebow died of brain cancer in 1994. Fred’s Team was officially formed a year later, and it has since raised $90 million.
This year, Fred’s Team announced the morning after the Marathon that its runners raised $6.9 million in pledges.
Ingram noted that runners can still take pledges for a few days after the event. Go to Fred’s Team website, scroll down to “search for a participant” and fill in the runner’s name to be taken to the page that receives donations.
“I have a nice career,” he said. “But, you know, helping other people — that’s faith in motion. That’s faith in practice.”