I’m just receiving Facebook updates from my friends who have completed the NY Marathon. This means today marks the one year anniversary. I’m filled with mixed emotions; partly excited for them, partly sad that I didn’t get to run it last year because of the storm.
But I did get to do some amazing things in a situation that will never repeat itself. Being part of a clean-up effort, feeling a sense of neighbourhood like never before, assisting handing out Army issued ration packs and bottles of water to children, mums, dads and grandparents. Taking parcels of food up to people who had been living in high-rise apartments for a week without electricity. Taking huge numbers of garbage bags filled with leaf litter and fallen debris out of a park so it could be used again.
The plane we caught from Adelaide was the first to land from Australia after the airport had been closed because of the weather. Before leaving we had been looking on the net at various websites, all of which indicated that the indomitable attitude of the New Yorkers would not allow a mere storm to cancel a race. When we landed there was a passenger taxi line up that extended a couple of hundred meters. Mum, dad and I took a chance on a ride with an American who spoke with a heavy Jamaican accent. He had his network of Jamaican taxi drivers telling him which roads were opened and closed and although we spent about $50 more than a normal fare it was worth it, if for no other reason that his insights into NY.
As we approached the hotel there were pink flares inserted into the ground, the only light by which the policemen were directing traffic. There were cues of people that stretched around every block which we realised were because the subways being all flooded meant that they were in line for one of the infrequently noticeable buses. There were no cars other than the taxis, they were all banned, there wasn’t enough petrol.
Our hotel didn’t have us in their reservations system so they sent us to their sister proerty a dozen blocks away. At check-in they handed us the room key, two glow sticks and a torch; the hotel had no power. We were lucky, the person standing next to us was after a room and being asked to pay $800 for the night which brought our a blast of colourful NY language.
The next day, out on the street, it was odd. Many people had left the city. So the streets were not filled with the hustle and bustle that you’d expect of NY and indeed every entry point into Central Park had yellow tape across it to stop people from entering.
After a time we noticed some growing tension. We heard some stories from other runners. Runners were not all welcome. This realisation that the runners who had decended on a city crying out for help should hardly have come as a surprise to us. And yet for some unknown reason it did. There was a collective sigh as we realised that we were not the central focus of the world’s most famous city and we would not be. Like children who had just learnt that their parents had more important things to do than play with them, we went off to our rooms to think about things.
The contrast between brightly coloured runners, all enthusiastic about their once in a lifetime experience was in stark contrast with those who had just witnessed their beloved city brought to its knees by wind and rain.
It was now two days until the race and we still had confidence that the race would proceed. The organisers were in the media explaining that another course could be found. It might not start on Statten Island and finish in Central Park but the indominatable spirit of New York would not be halted by mere wind an rain.
And so we set off for the New York convention centre. This was the place where we would register our names and collect our bibs which would adorn us and with smart technology record how many seconds it would take each of us to complete the arduous journey across 42.195km.
For many in the Little Heroes Foundation group I was running with, along with so many others from across the globe, this was so much more than a race. People were running to raise money for a cause, to help them overcome a difficulty in life, the death of a partner or like Peter and Aggie, two cousins who collectively lost over 42 kilos in preperation for the race. Our Little Heroes Foundation group consisting of about 30 people had collectively raised $250,000 and everyone’s life had changed. People had found new hope and come to confront demons hidden deep inside of themselves, demons that can only be found and confronted when pushing the boundaries of personal endurance.
The New York Convention Centre was a curous place not only because there was a huge blue pump sucking water out of the still flooded subway.
You could feel the suppressed excitment but nothing seemed to have the vivid colours that you’d expect, almost as if everything had a wash of grey splashed across it.
After collecting my race number, and heading into the area where merchandise was for sale, most confrontingly of all of all for me was the time I went to the check out. I’d identified a pair of “skins” that I wanted. Skins are good for protecting against chaffing and an item that I should have bought a long time ago.
As I approached the counter I felt the urge to make conversation with the assitant. By her body language I could tell she seemed a little over her day. I asked how she was. She said she was fine. I asked if the hurricane had affected her in any way expecting her answer to be along the lines that it was hard to drive with no petrol around, or that she had been without power for a couple of days. When she turned to me and said she didn’t have a place to go back to after work I could hear a bell of realisation go off inside my head and felt my body murmer to the understanding that here was a person who was serving me, but it was her who really needed help.
We wondered around for a little while longer before turning our minds to getting back to the hotel room. The que for a taxi was typically excessive so we decided to start walking in the hope we might come across one on our journey back. After walking about a block we realised that the row of cars were parked a little further out from the curb to be parked and they all had people in them. This row of cars continued on and on and on for over sixteen blocks, the equivalent length of the Adelaide CBD, and in they stretched between two army hummers, across the driveway of a petrol station and to the bowsers. Military guards were overseeing the orderly pumping of petrol. A sign of military rule in the bastion of democracy.