Slideshow: Why I Run
<p>26.2 miles. One race. A reason to run.</p> <p>Every year, thousands of runners take part in the 26.2 unique, exhilarating and grueling miles that make up the New York City Marathon.</p> <p>What brings someone to the starting line? Every runner has his or her reason. It can be purely competitive. It can be completely personal. Either way, the goal is to finish.</p> <p>From running in honor of a fallen Staten Island neighborhood to raising awareness about a rare disease that has affected a child, espnW takes a look at just some of the inspiring stories behind Sunday's New York City Marathon.</p>
Stories written by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie
26.2 miles. One race. A reason to run.
Every year, thousands of runners take part in the 26.2 unique, exhilarating and grueling miles that make up the New York City Marathon.
What brings someone to the starting line? Every runner has his or her reason. It can be purely competitive. It can be completely personal. Either way, the goal is to finish.
From running in honor of a fallen Staten Island neighborhood to raising awareness about a rare disease that has affected a child, espnW takes a look at just some of the inspiring stories behind Sunday's New York City Marathon.
Barbara Baldauf: 'I still have the strength in me'
"I never exercised as a child, never went to the gym, and never thought sports were something I could do." But after Barbara Baldauf's mother died from breast cancer when Baldauf was 14 and her father suffered a heart attack several years later, her own breast cancer diagnosis in 1998 served as a wake-up call to take care of her own health. She started to run and dropped 50 pounds from her 5-foot-2 frame, and she's kept it off for nearly 15 years. Most recently, she was diagnosed with Sjögren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and dry mouth.
When Baldauf (pictured to the right of her niece in the above photo) decided to set an example for her family and do what she could to make sure she would be there for them for years to come, she had to figure out a lot of it on her own. Now, she gathers her whole family and has them put on matching bright green T-shirts for a multi-generational run every year at the Sea Girt 5K on the New Jersey Shore.
But the marathon goal has always loomed large. "Even today going out on these runs, it's still unbelievable to me that I'm going to do it," she said. "I think back to how sedentary I was when I was growing up. I'd watch my friends play field hockey or basketball and think, 'I'm not that way.' But now, I'm actually running with a girlfriend who was always very athletic and I always looked up to and envied because of the way she played basketball."
Baldauf was registered for the 2012 race, but didn't even consider running another marathon after it was canceled. "There's nothing greater to me than New York," said the New Jersey native. "It's where my family first settled when they came here from Italy generations ago. It's where I have ties. It just had to be New York."
Despite her personal struggles, she decided to use her marathon as way to raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation of Metropolitan New York in honor of her niece, who was diagnosed as a toddler three and a half years ago.
"I've done other charity work for breast cancer, but just seeing my niece, how young she is and how little we know about the disease, there's a lot of work to be done," she said. "You see someone with a wig or a kerchief, and you kind of feel sad, but you understand. People don't understand about epilepsy. They are afraid of it and don't know how to react." The $6,500 Baldauf has raised to date for the foundation will be used for research and education in the epilepsy community and beyond, "to teach people not to be afraid," she said.
But the marathon itself is the culmination of a transformation she has been working on for over a decade. "It's showing myself that, despite the obstacles I've been presented with in my life, I still have the strength in me," she said. "It's been an emotional journey, but I'm so proud of the example I'm setting for my family, my children and even my nieces and nephews."
Jen Correa: 'This year is the holy grail'
When it started raining the Sunday before the 2012 New York City Marathon, Jen Correa was relieved. When the Staten Island native evacuated her home a day earlier, it was still beautiful out. But she had learned her lesson about leaving at the last minute with Hurricane Irene the year before, when she had to deal with rain, flooding and downed trees on her way out. Plus, she was worried the Verrazano Bridge might close if the winds got too strong.
Living in a flood and fire zone, she had a section of her closet packed for evacuation with her wedding album, her parents' wedding album and a lockbox. She grabbed those items along with a couple days' worth of clothes and her computer hard drive, though she left the actual computer and video camera with her husband, who was staying behind. The next thing she heard from him was a voicemail saying he loved her. For the next two hours, she thought he was dead.
When Hurricane Sandy hit her neighborhood, the house next door crashed into hers, knocking it off its foundation and floating it half a mile down the road, where it landed in the weeds, looking like Dorothy's house in "The Wizard of Oz." Still inside when the house was swept away, Correa's husband had taken the legs off the dining room table and tried to float on it. When that started to hold water, he jumped onto a neighbor's roof as it floated by. He found two two-by-sixes and used them to get over the debris that would have otherwise crushed him. "He's an Iraqi war vet," Correa said. "It's not something most people would have lived through."
Without power, she was tuned out to the controversy swirling about whether the race should or shouldn't go on. Her focus was on digging through what remained of her home, trying to salvage a baby blanket or Christmas ornament from the wreckage. When someone mentioned the marathon, Jen was confused. She didn't understand how it would even be possible to start a marathon on Staten Island. She didn't have running shoes or a sports bra and she hadn't slept or eaten in days. One neighbor told her, "You'd better not be running that marathon," while another said, "You have to run it for us." The marathon was always such a happy day, and the backlash added to her heartbreak.
It was six weeks before Correa tried running again. It seemed selfish when there were insurance calls to make and meetings with FEMA. But her running wasn't forgotten. Her husband would walk out into the waist-high water to see what he could rescue from their former home, coming back one day with her boxed-up wedding gown and children's baptism outfits, and another day with garbage bags full of running shoes and race medals, which he immediately started cleaning to prevent them from oxidizing.
Finally, when some friends sent her a pair of her favorite Asics shoes, she thought, "Maybe let me just go. I have a sports bra, I have a pair of capris. I have enough. Let me try this." She realized just how essential running is. She runs by the beach, keeping tabs on the fixes around the neighborhood. She notices the little stars dotting poles throughout Staten Island, with words of inspiration like "Believe" or "Be strong." Having everything taken away has made her appreciate that much more what she does have.
Correa and her husband won't be rebuilding their house. The state has bought back the land where it once sat, and they're living in a white-walled apartment while they figure out their next step. They're focused on rebuilding their lives and, for Correa, the marathon is an important step in that process.
"This year is the holy grail," she said. "It's the closure of everything that I've done for the past year, all the struggles." She has had some false starts in past New York City Marathon, deferring once due to injury and another when she was pregnant. "I have to believe it's supposed to be this year," she said. "It all comes down to Nov. 3. When I get to that finish line, it will be hard, but I will put it all behind me."
Joseph Emas: 'Hey, I'm back'
Joseph Emas is no stranger to running marathons. He has finished 30 races, including two in New York City (2002, 2007) since he started running in 1980, and boasts an impressive personal record of 2 hours, 49 minutes. The 58-year-old lawyer, who splits time between Miami and Ottawa, Canada, has also run the Walt Disney World Marathon, but insists it's New York that fills the streets with magic.
"The exuberance of the crowd just radiates through," he said. "Coming out of the tunnel and turning onto First Avenue is the greatest feeling ever. The 59th Street Bridge is dark and lonely and then you turn that corner and it's like walking into Oz. It's a beautiful experience."
But this marathon will be different. "A little cancer operation has got me slowed up and made things more challenging, and more interesting," said Emas, who finished the race in 2007 despite experiencing some heart problems at Mile 17. That year, his wife and now 17-year-old daughter jumped in to finish the last nine miles with him (to make sure he didn't collapse). But he's never been one to give up. Not then, and not when he received a prostate cancer diagnosis in 2012, just a few days before he was scheduled to run Boston in record-setting heat.
Ignoring the warnings from his wife and race organizers, he forged ahead, albeit in a "P.W." (personal-worst) time punctuated by frequent stops at the medical tent to get his blood pressure checked. He went on to have his tumor -- which was bigger and more aggressive than anticipated -- removed that summer, followed by a winter of radiation therapy. But even as he lay in his living room hooked up to IV bags, he was thinking about his next race.
"It certainly felt like I gained 500 million pounds, but my love of running has always been there, along with the tenacity and testosterone, I never seem to give up," he said. The odds were certainly stacked against him, and doctors warned him that running was in his past. But Emas insists running has been central to his healing, physically and psychologically.
"When you've torn your body apart and gone through that extreme fatigue and exhaustion, going out to run a 5K or 10K reminds you just how alive you still are," Emas said. The lingering fatigue from his radiation treatments has become a new normal, but also a reminder of the capacity to overcome any challenge.
"Whatever life gives you, as long as I know what I'm up against, I'll deal with it," he said. "You finish, you win, end of story. ... I've been declared cancer-free and I intend to do this one to say, 'Hey, I'm back.'"
Karoline Engel: Running in memory of Sandy Hook
New York City English teacher Karoline Engel (pictured second from left in the above photo) started running in college at Wake Forest University as a way to be healthy and blow off steam from the pressures of exams and student life. Looking for a goal her senior year, she decided to train for a half marathon and dabbled in a few halves in the years since. The full marathon was always a life goal, but not necessarily something she planned to do anytime soon.
But the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy unfolded and struck too close to home for Engel not to do something to pay tribute. She grew up in Newtown, Conn., and attended Sandy Hook. "I'm not normally very superstitious, but something about it resonated with me -- 26 victims, 26 miles, and I'm 26 this year," she said. "I couldn't stop thinking about it. It just seemed like the right time."
The marathon was a way to pay tribute to the lives lost in Sandy Hook, but Engel also found a way to derive some positivity as well. She joined Team for Kids, the New York Road Runners' charity that provides running programs for kids in underserved communities in New York. As a middle school teacher in the South Bronx, Engel knows firsthand how many students don't have the same opportunities in extracurricular sports as those in more affluent schools. "We don't have many after-school programs at my school, and those we do have are just teachers donating their time," she said. There isn't even money for items like stopwatches until an organization like Team for Kids steps in.
She set out to raise money for the cause, but also brought the Team for Kids program to her own school, MS 363. "Already the kids are showing up excited to go to running after school," Engel said. "They're going through so many changes emotionally, physically, hormonally, it's important for them to have a healthy outlet."
It's not about running for Engel or her students; it's about setting goals and overcoming them. Initially, she wasn't sure how the kids, who weren't used to exercising much, would react. But they loved it. "Kids who didn't think they could run a mile came up to me a few practices in and they were able to do it," she said. "They would come up to me after school saying, 'I felt so great. My legs hurt, but it was so awesome!'"
Engel plans to dedicate each mile of the marathon to a Sandy Hook victim, but when she runs through the South Bronx, she'll also be looking for students who have come out to cheer her on.
David Lundell: 'I run for Boston'
Growing up in Newton, Mass., just a mile from the Boston Marathon's famous Heartbreak Hill, David Lundell got bitten early by the running bug. Starting in fourth grade, he would run to Heartbreak Hill and back almost every morning; on Marathon Mondays, he would again head to the hill to hand out water and cheer on the runners.
It wasn't until he was in his 20s and living in San Francisco that Lundell tackled the marathon distance himself. He made five attempts at it (including three in New York) before he hit the qualifying mark for Boston. The now-New Yorker was chasing the qualifier in 2010 when his daughter was born the night before the New York City Marathon. "I was coming back from the delivery at 4:30 in the morning, seeing the marathoners come out to get on their bus down to the Verrazano," he recalled.
So, when he finally did qualify for Boston, it was a dream come true. "I'd grown up watching the marathon, and to be there running it was the most fun I've had during a race," he said. He high-fived everyone he saw and basked in the cheers of Newton residents who saw his "Dave from Newton" T-shirt.
Lundell, 39, had taken a break from following this year's Boston Marathon online when a coworker came and told him about the explosions. "I couldn't believe it was intentional," he recalls. "I was totally devastated, and what was most heartbreaking was thinking about what a special day Patriots' Day is in Boston, and how many times I'd been there cheering right up until the last runner went by."
Lundell couldn't stop thinking about the hundreds of people impacted, especially those who lost limbs. "I just couldn't let it happen without trying to make something positive out of it," he said. He started to read online about what it takes to recover from an amputation. He learned that the average lifetime cost for an amputee is upwards of $500,000 and having the money to afford the right prosthetic care can make all the difference in living a very normal life.
"I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact," he said. So he looked into different charities and settled on Limbs for Life, setting a goal of raising $2,500 and dedicating his upcoming New York City Marathon race to the cause. With a week to go, he's raised over $2,200.
On Sunday, he'll be wearing his "I run for Boston" shirt in support of Limbs for Life. "I've always run for myself," he said. "This is my chance to dedicate it to where I'm from and help others."
Robert Pickus: 'Noah is always the reason I run'
Robert Pickus was a runner in high school, but turning 40 four years ago prompted him to tackle the marathon as a way to get in shape.
He did a few half marathons, then lucked out in the lottery for the 2012 New York City Marathon. But while post-40 fitness might have gotten him running, his 9-year-old son, Noah, is his real inspiration. Noah has calcifications on the brain as a result of Cytomegalovirus (CMV), a virus that can be contracted in utero and, for Noah, caused hearing and vision loss, seizures, cerebral palsy and developmental delays. Getting up at 5:30 in the morning to run and squeezing long runs in on busy weekends isn't easy.
"But Noah is always the reason I run," said the Long Islander.
This year, Pickus decided to raise money in Noah's name for Stop CMV, an advocacy organization that has impacted his son. He raised $8,300 last year and increased that number to almost $15,000 heading into this year's race.
"Not so bad for a cause that not many people are familiar with," Pickus said. It's also given him a chance to talk about the virus and its causes and effects. Some kids don't make it, which makes Noah one of the lucky ones despite his issues. One of five kids in the world to be put on an experimental medication when he was born, he has been exceeding expectations every since. A music lover despite his hearing loss, an avid skier and baseball player despite his right-side weakness, Noah captivates a room. "Sometimes you see a kid with a disability and your first instinct is to feel bad, but Noah is the opposite," said Pickus.
Noah and his 11-year-old sister, Ashley, will be Pickus' No. 1 fans as he shoots to break four hours Sunday, wearing his Stop CMV T-shirt. They'll be cheering from Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, around 86th Street in Manhattan, and then near the finish line in Central Park. Pickus is feeling just a little bit stronger than he did last year, and not nearly as nervous.
"I just want to get out there," he said. And while the hills in Central Park will be tough, Noah helps to put things into perspective. "When I think about what he goes through," said Pickus, "what I have to do is nothing compared to the battles he fights through on a daily basis."
Bryan Steinhauer: Mind over matter
Despite growing up in Brooklyn, Bryan Steinhauer first paid attention to the New York City Marathon when he heard runners go by his window at Mount Sinai Hospital, where he fought for his life after being beat up in a Binghamton, N.Y., bar as a college student in 2008. "I'm going to run a marathon," he said at the time.
"I'm a cocky kid," he said, admitting his marathon plans were initially tongue-in-cheek as he lay in a hospital bed, his left leg frozen in a bent position after three months in a coma. But his physical therapist agreed that running would be good for improving his coordination and loosening up his body. So the following year, he began to run, at first for just five minutes on a treadmill, supported by a harness.
"It's the same process day in and day out," Steinhauer said of marathon training and recovering from a traumatic brain injury. "It's not big steps, it's small steps in the right direction." First, he had to conquer the mile, but he wasn't done. "I thought, 'Let's keep the momentum going,'" Steinhauer said. "There's no end. Recovery is for life, so for me, it's an ongoing process."
The physical challenge is only one part of what Steinhauer has had to overcome. "You put forth the effort day in and day out, but especially with a brain injury, we're susceptible to distraction and impulsivity," he explains. "It's a challenge to sit back and answer a question like, 'What really matters to you?' Instead, it helps me to focus and not lose sight of my goal by asking, 'What small step can you accomplish today?'"
But while he's looking forward to crossing the finish line and realizing his goal, his experience over the past five years has given him perspective. He had no memory of the bar fight, and police records reportedly have conflicting accounts from witnesses. But as Steinhauer watched his onetime hospital roommate be discharged in diapers in a wheelchair, his eyes were opened to what matters in life -- and a major gap in support available for young adults with traumatic brain injuries. "I watched so much pain around me, I couldn't just walk away when I came out of the hospital," he said.
So, Steinhauer created a foundation, Minds Over Matter, through which he works to help provide needed services for young people like himself who are dealing with the aftereffects of brain injuries. His team has raised $11,000 so far and he aims to increase that to $25,000.
The part of the race Steinhauer is most excited about -- passing Mount Sinai and running by his room. "That's my hospital," he said. "I'm sure the finish line will be thrilling, but my real goal is to show how much more people are capable of. If I can do it, so can you."
Kathleen Twible: "It's not when you finish, it's why you run'
When you have a son born without skin on his legs, who lives his life with 75 percent of his body covered in bandages that have to be changed daily in an excruciating two-hour process that involves bathing in vinegar and bleach, it puts any discomfort from marathon running into perspective. That's the case for Kathleen Twible, whose 11-year-old son Robert lives with a rare genetic condition called epidermolysis bullosa, or EB.
When Robert was born, the doctors said there was no way he would live. But he's a fighter. Robert has a wheelchair and a feeding tube. An old soul, according to his mother, he also loves Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and Dick Van Dyke. And he loves dancing on stage despite the pain it causes him.
When Jamie and Alex Silver, founders of the Jackson Gabriel Silver Foundation that raises money for EB research, offered Twible a bib for the New York City Half Marathon two years ago, she took one look at her son. "People say things happen for a reason, and I don't believe that in terms of having a sick kid. But I do see his desire to keep going and fight the fight," Twible said. "I never thought I could run 13.1 miles, and when I finished, I thought there's no way I could double it. But how do I complain about anything when I see what he goes through every day?"
She did run the half, raising $5,000 in the process, and went on to raise another $7,000 for the 2012 New York City Marathon before it was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She put last year's training toward the Philadelphia Marathon. Now, she's back for 2013 in New York and has raised $2,200 and counting for EB research. New York is special for the 40-year-old, who grew up in Queens.
It's exhausting to run at 5 a.m. every day and go into the city every weekend for training runs in Central Park, but Robert cheers her on. "There she goes again," he laughs. "Go, Mommy go," he said.
"He asked if he could run with me one day, and in my heart, I know that's far from the truth," said Twible. "But he knows I'm running because he's sick, and he wants a cure more than anything."
On race day, the former college basketball player plans to stifle her inner competitiveness in order to enjoy the ride. She'll wear the letters "EB" on her back, encouraging people to ask about it. And she may stop to hug the friends and family who will be out on the course waving butterfly sticks. At Mile 17, Robert will be there. "It's not when you finish, it's why you run," she said. "He's my hero."