Unique Challenges Motivate Marathoners (with audio)

With nearly 50,000 runners registered for the 43rd ING N.Y.C. Marathon, Nov. 4, the Diocese of Brooklyn will be well-represented.


Sharing a Brotherly Bond

The Conway Brothers

John Conway, 22, will be running his first N.Y.C Marathon. However, just two years ago, this wasn’t even a remote possibility.

The Holy Family Elementary School graduate and altar server at Holy Family parish, both Flushing, struggled with his weight in the early part of his life.

“I wasn’t able to do a lot of the things I wanted to do because the weight was an obstacle,” he said.

Through diet and exercise, the current student at Baruch College changed his lifestyle and lost over 100 pounds, to the point where he wanted to attempt a marathon.

But he did not want to tackle it alone; he wanted his older brother Mike – also from Holy Family and now a captain in the U.S. Army Special Forces – to run by his side.

Mike, 28, who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, sees his brother John as his biggest inspiration. The brothers will run the race together and hope to finish under 4:20.

“The fact that he’s doing it is so impressive to me that I said, ‘Whatever it takes, I want to do this with you,’” Mike said.

They both entered the marathon lottery and were selected, but Mike only found out three weeks ago that he’d be able to make the trip. He’s currently stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

“It’s an accomplishment for anybody to finish a marathon, but to be able to do it with your brother…it blows me away,” Mike said.

“My life has completely changed,” John said. “The marathon is like the final step in my journey.”


A Busy Few Days

Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy, 58, will be running in his 13th N.Y.C. Marathon, with his best time being 4:22. But that’s not the only running the St. Anselm’s, Bay Ridge, parishioner is doing.

Election Day is Nov. 6, and McCarthy is the Republican Conservative candidate for the State Assembly’s 46th District, in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Coney Island and Brighton Beach.

“Lately, I’ve seen a lot that I don’t really like in Albany. I saw this as opportunity to run and maybe go up there and make a difference,” the Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, graduate said.

Between training for the marathon, running for office and working full-time for JPMorgan Chase, McCarthy has a lot on his plate.

“The running helps me keep my sanity,” he said. “It helps me stay grounded and reduce my stress level.”

Last year, McCarthy was all set to run the marathon, but he withdrew after suffering from a bulging disk in his back. He’s 90 percent recovered and hopes to finish in 4:30.

As a native of Bay Ridge, McCarthy enjoys running through the neighborhoods of Brooklyn on race day and seeing all the spectators – many of whom he knows personally – cheering him on.

“You really see what a great, vibrant place Brooklyn is and New York is,” he said. “It’s a fantastic day.”


Third Time’s the Charm

Michael Ammirabile

Overcoming life’s challenges has been a theme for Michael Ammirabile, 35, a parishioner at St. Athanasius, Bensonhurst. The Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, and St. John’s University, Jamaica, graduate lost his brother in a truck accident when he was nine and lost his mother when he was 26 to scleroderma.

What’s more, his father suffered a stroke in 1999, which left him paralyzed on his right side. Through it all, he’s relied on running and his Catholic faith to realize that he’s blessed.

As a kid, he watched each year as the marathon runners crossed the Verrazano Bridge. He decided he wanted to run in the race and joined the N.Y. Road Runners in 2001.

Though he qualified in 2003, he deferred the race to the following year, since his mother passed away that July. In November, 2004, he not only finished his first marathon in 4:24, but he also raised $5,000 for scleroderma research.

Just two years later in 2006, he improved his time by nearly an hour, finishing in 3:26.

“Before I started, I could never could have imagined running 26 miles,” Ammirabile said. “It seemed like forever. But I think anybody can do it if you build up to it.”

Ammirabile will be running his third marathon, hoping to finish in 3:30.

“Looking back at my faith,” he said, “I realize that God may have given me these challenges for a reason.”


The Young Shall Lead

Peter O’Rourke

This will be the eighth N.Y.C. marathon for 24-year-old Peter O’Rourke, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s, Bay Ridge. But, it will be his 22nd marathon in just eight years of running.

The Bay Ridge native and graduate of Msgr. Farrell H.S., Staten Island, played lacrosse in high school but he never envisioned himself as a long-distance runner.

“I hated running growing up,” O’Rourke said. “But I started running to lose weight, and it just clicked.”

On his 18th birthday – Nov. 6, 2005 – he ran his first N.Y.C. Marathon while he was a freshman at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights. In addition to seven in the city, he’s run five in Boston, three in Disney World, two in Scranton, Pa., two in upstate New York, one in Houston and one in Long Island.

O’Rourke’s best-ever time was 2:55:46, and he hopes to finish this year with a similar mark. He’s gained a passion for distance running.

“I think it’s just the freedom out there,” O’Rourke said. “There are no constraints. You can run one mile, you can run two miles or you can run 20 miles. There are no restrictions or time limits. You can just go. The whole city is your park basically.”

O’Rourke’s favorite part of the N.Y.C. race is the start, when he crosses the Verrazano and winds up on 94th St. – the block he’s lived on his whole life.

“It’s really a rush getting through Bay Ridge,” he said.


From Grenada to the Big Apple

Desalyn Andrews

After 20 weeks of rigorous training, Desalyn Andrews, a parishioner at St. Therese of Lisieux, East Flatbush, will be running her first N.Y.C. Marathon.

Born in Grenada off the northeastern coast of South America, she came to the U.S. in 1974. She earned an accounting degree at Brooklyn College, Midwood, and now works as an auditing manager for the IRS.

She began running in 2010 as a way to take up her time in lieu of the death of her mother in October, 2009. She ran a 10K and was immediately hooked on long-distance running.

In 2011, she joined the N.Y. Road Runners and just one year later will be attempting her first marathon. “Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be doing this,” she said.

She started training in July for four to five days per week with a combination of distance running and cross-training.

“This has consumed my whole life!” Andrews said. “I’m nervous, but I’m so excited!”

Andrews’ family will greet her at several stops along the route. She hopes to finish the race in 4:30.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all of the sights,” she said. “But I’m also looking forward to getting to the finish line with my hands up in the air!”

Andrews is thankful for her parish prayer group’s support and believes running is a true gift from God.

“I really thank God for giving me the physical and mental ability to be able to do this,” she said. “It’s really an amazing journey.”