The music ministry at Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Church, Windsor Terrace, is known for its dedication to enhancing Mass services through song.
However, music is not the only passion for these talented musicians, especially Maureen O’Neill and Sam Foo. These two have been training diligently to run Nov. 2 in the TCS N.Y.C. Marathon.
Foo is set to complete his third N.Y.C. Marathon, while O’Neill is gearing up for No. 6. Both runners are proud of the fact that they picked up marathon running later in life.
Foo, who grew up in St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Flatlands, began running in the late 1980s. He was an avid bike rider but was looking for a healthy activity to combine with his bike riding.
Each week, Foo runs 40 miles and bikes 70 miles. Even so, the 26.2-mile run on Nov. 2 will still be challenging, but Foo said the adrenaline rush provided by the spectators will help get him to the finish line.
“It’s pretty exciting; it’s pretty uplifting,” said Foo, 62, who ran a marathon each of the past two decades. “It’s nice to see all the New Yorkers that are out there cheering you on. That really helps out a great deal.”
Upon moving to Kensington five years ago, Foo joined the music ministry at IHM. Each week, he plays guitar and sings in the choir – sometimes at three weekend Masses.
“It’s been fun playing music at the church; I really enjoy it,” Foo said.
He even compared his music ministry to his preparation for running a marathon.
“The preparation before going to Mass in rehearsing with the choir and then actually executing it … it’s the same thing (with running). Right now I’m training and I’m getting ready for this (the marathon), and I’ll execute it on Sunday.”
Just like Foo, O’Neill, who was baptized at IHM, has been busy training for the Nov. 2 race. With her schedule as an assistant principal for the Department of Education at P.S. 56 in the Bronx, the majority of her running is done at night in Prospect Park or along Fort Hamilton Parkway. As a method of cross training, she enjoys Irish step dancing every Tuesday night.
O’Neill was always passionate about running growing up, but it wasn’t until she moved back into IHM parish from Staten Island that she began racing. She met a group of women from IHM that ran every morning at 6 a.m., and this group all joined the New York Road Runners to race together.
“It’s all about doing your personal best,” said O’Neill, 61, who has run all five of her marathons after age 50. “At the end of the day, it’s all you. You never look back as a runner; you’re always looking forward.”
O’Neill has plenty of great memories from running the N.Y.C. Marathon in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011. But a few moments have a special place in her heart.
In 2005, she completed the marathon with her son Kiernan, an FDNY firefighter. She said this was a great joy, and she’s eager to run with her son again this year.
As much as a thrill as it was to run with one of her four children, O’Neill said she will never forget the experience of running the marathon in 2010. Just six weeks prior to the race, her daughter Megan underwent emergency brain surgery.
Normally, runners write their own name on their singlet, which allows spectators to yell out personalized words of encouragement as runners pass by. But rather than write the name “Maureen,” O’Neill wrote her daughter’s name “Megan.”
“I ran the 26.2 miles with 1.5 million people yelling her (Megan) name and how good she looked and how she could do it,” O’Neill said. “I shared that story with my daughter, and it meant so much to her.”
For the past 15 years, O’Neill has sung at IHM Mass alongside Liz Normandia. Through this endeavor, she met Foo, and the two will be starting the marathon together in Wave 3 on Nov. 2. Foo actually moved his time slot so the musicians could start at the same time.
On the eve of the marathon, both Foo and O’Neill will be playing and singing at the 5 p.m. Mass to get in their final prayers before running the race. And it’s these prayers that will give them the strength to accomplish their upcoming task.
“With God all things are possible,” O’Neill said. “If we have God on our side, we can do it!”
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