A STAMPEDE OF ONE
Charging through his own neighborhood right before crossing the Willis Avenue Bridge, Ivan Diaz, a New York City Public School teacher and resident of Spanish Harlem, was one of more than 3,000 Latinos who ran the 2006 New York City Marathon. Photo: Rafael Merino Cortés/ grupoHuracán
he New York City Marathon: A lesson in people, music, culture and the world!” This was not one of the banners Ivan Diaz, 37, saw in the streets. Instead, it was a banner in his mind, a reflection of his experience when he raced through the 26.2 miles of asphalt and concrete in the 2005 race. This year, Mr. Diaz returned, along with more than 3,000 other Latinos, to charge through neighborhoods like Sunset Park, Williamsburg and El Barrio, where he lives.
The multicultural expedition through New York City is much like an action movie. As a participant, you are the protagonist. And in this epic, there is drama, scene changes, mood lighting and, yes, even a soundtrack. “I’m sure I would have had a much more difficult time finishing without the music,” noted Mr. Diaz, when he spoke about the sounds of “salsa, rock, jazz, Latin-jazz and calypso” he heard through the New York City neighborhoods. “I mustn’t forget the accordion and bag pipe players.” Along with the music, Mr. Diaz found great comfort in seeing the many different faces and flags that made up New York City and its five boroughs.
While immigration may be one of the issues on voter’s minds this Tuesday, everyone embraced the mass of runners from around the world crossing through their neighborhoods unconditionally and with little paperwork. In fact,
every year New Yorkers welcome 37,000 or so people running through
their neighborhoods, using the streets, the avenues and a few bridges
of our beloved concrete jungle. Perhaps because New Yorkers are
themselves a mass tribe of international commuters, they relish in
seeing a giant crowd of sweaty immigrants, visitors and citizens from
all walks of life trotting elbow to elbow, sometimes speaking a foreign
PARA BRASIL E AMÉRICA DO SUL
Marilson Gomes dos Santos crosses the Willis Avenue Bridge for the token run into the Bronx before returning to Manhattan and crossing the finish line in Central Park. The professional runner from São Paulo, Brazil may be new to the ING New York City Marathon but he is no stranger to the victory podium. In 2003 and 2005, Gomes took first place in the prestigious Saint Silvester Race in São Paulo, one of the most celebrated athletic events in Latin America. This year, 290 runners represented Brazil in the Marathon. Photo: John Zwinck
This madness of humanity is one of the premier running events of the world. It is an odyssey of physical stamina and a journey of psychological grit that, for the last 36 years, has plotted a course through the spirit of the Big Apple.
The race is produced by the New York Road Runners club and has been primarily sponsored by the Dutch financial giant ING Group for several years. The 26.2-mile course begins near the entrance of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and finishes near the swank Tavern on the Green landmark restaurant in Central Park. In between the start and finish, runners dash through a series of neighborhoods, including a little token corner of the South Bronx, just enough to fulfill the marathon’s ‘city-wide’ course.
To many of the participants, running is not their profession but a goal, possibly one of those ‘goals in life,’ or, as Mr. Diaz puts it, a line item on the “grand terrestrial ‘to do’ list that outlines the great accomplishments we hope to achieve before joining the cosmos.”
Running a marathon is basically calling on your mental and physical faculties to go above and beyond the call of duty.
“After training hard for four months -- I had been running lightly for nearly a year -- I was excited as the cannon sounded off,” Mr. Diaz said. “It sent us all towards that great 26.2 mile goal that killed the war-time messenger Phidippedes in 490 BC as he ran from Marathon to Athens.”
Like the Olympics, the New York City Marathon continues a legacy of historic competition of flesh and spirit from all over the world. Once a year, for a few hours on the first Sunday of November, people focus their energies on one objective -- crossing the finish line. This year, Marilson Gomes dos Santos, from São Paulo, Brazil became the first to that -- and in his first try in the New York City Marathon.
For Gomes, however, this was more than just a goal, it was part of his job. As a professional runner, he took first place in 2003 and 2005 in the prestigious Saint Silvester Race in São Paulo, one of the most celebrated athletic events in Latin America.
Africans had dominated the New York City Marathon for almost a decade, with Paul Tergat of Kenya snapping the finish line last year. And although Tergat returned this year to lead a group of Kenyans in a strong running, they crossed the finish line behind Gomes, who became the first Latino south of Mexico to win the prestigious marathon in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds, giving South America another place in New York City history. And while it may not have been as monumental as a run for the FIFA World Cup championship, it is certainly another note-worthy accolade for Brazilians and Latinos.
However, Gomes is only the latest runner with Latin American lineage to place a notch in New York City Marathon history.
Consuelo Aizpurua, 47, (center) representing her beloved Venezuela, forges through Spanish Harlem on her way to the ‘Boogie Down.’ Photo: Rafael Merino Cortés/ grupoHuracán
Before the term ‘illegal immigration’ was rammed into our psyche, Mexico was celebrated for crossing borders -- Salvador Garcia crossed the five boroughs and the finish line to take the win in 1991. Andrés Espinosa won the event in 1993. And Germán Silva snapped the finish line in two consecutive years (1994 and 1995).
It was a Cuban-born fellow, however, by the name of Alberto Salazar who became the trailblazer for the Latino community in the fabled marathon. Salazar took the 1980 New York City race with a win in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 41 seconds, the fastest American debut and the second-fastest time ever recorded by a US runner. That alone would make him pretty cool in the history books but it was also the first marathon he ever ran! The following year he broke his own record by crossing the finish line after 2 hours, 8 minutes and 13 seconds. For an encore, Salazar returned a year later to win again.
When we think of all the transformations this city has witnessed in the last 36 years, it would have been great to have documented the different sounds of the neighborhoods every year so we could recall the ‘soundtracks’ of Salazar and others.
“The musical medley that covered every neighborhood was akin, each one of them, to a track on a giant compilation album,” recalled Mr. Diaz. “This is what carried me all the way through to the finish line in Central Park.”
IN A RIVER OF SWEAT AND TEARS
Obregon Alvarez, 26, from Mexico, breaks down his body's last morsels of energy. The agony begins to settle in around this point of the race. Knowing that the last leg of the race is near (the token path in the Bronx, the relatively short stretch in Harlem and final run in Central Park toward the finish line), this is where the mechanics of the majority begin to signal, ‘we’re already here.’ Photo: Rafael Merino Cortés/ grupoHuracán
RAFAEL MERINO CORTÉS