Julie Culley still preparing for marathon, but mind on those affected by Sandy

John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

This week was shaping up as a time of relaxed focus for 2012 track Olympian and New Jersey native Julie Culley, who is slated to make her marathon debut Sunday in New York City. She's been training in northern Virginia and had planned to arrive late this past Sunday.

Hurricane Sandy and its disastrous impact on the East Coast changed all that. With train service halted, planes grounded and bridges and highways closed, Culley stayed put and watched the images on television and the Internet with mounting horror.

One of the coastal locations most affected is very dear to her -- Long Beach Island, N.J., where her family has had a summer and weekend house since she was a little girl. Her parents were there Sunday. They evacuated to their home in Clinton, N.J., where they are safe, but without electricity in a county with widespread power outages.

Culley said the family is fairly certain the house on LBI is intact, but almost certainly has extensive water damage. State officials have said severe flooding makes it unlikely residents will be able to assess their losses for themselves for another week and a half.

"But there's so much more going on," Culley said Tuesday by telephone, her voice calm but emotional. "Some people didn't make it through the storm."

Culley said she's been unable to tear herself away from the coverage of Sandy's aftermath, and feels distracted by thoughts of the hardships ahead for friends all over the area.

"I feel guilty for not making more of my day," she said. "I went on a run today, and my heart felt so heavy, it was almost like I spaced out and woke up a couple of miles later."

She is allowing herself to dwell on the events today, but if Sunday's race goes on (as New York Road Runners organizers have said it will), Culley said she'll regroup and get back on task. "Then I have a period where I'm off running, and I'll find a way to volunteer and help," she said. "That's where my heart is."

Culley, 31, competed for North Hunterdon (N.J.) High School and Rutgers University, then coached at Loyola (Md.) University before returning to racing in 2007. She won the 5,000-meter event at the U.S. Olympic trials this past summer and set a personal best of 15 minutes, 5.38 seconds in the semifinal heat of the race in London, ultimately finishing 14th in the final.