In the weeklong wake of a natural disaster that caused widespread destruction across New York City and its surrounding areas, the event many people were hoping would bring a city together is the same one that almost tore it apart -- only to begin reuniting it again less than two days before the starter's gun was set to sound.
The New York City Marathon was canceled Friday afternoon, ending a five-day firestorm from concerned citizens, public officials, marathoners and journalists, amongst others, to call off the event due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy, while thousands continued to rally around the race, citing the marathon as a symbol of strength and unity essential to the healing process of a city in shambles.
Ironically, despite the fact that no official race will be run this weekend, this year's New York City Marathon remains that same symbol of strength and unity and will end up serving as one of the biggest catalysts to the recovery effort in Staten Island, as well as the other four boroughs the race would have passed through on Sunday morning. Not to discount the disappointment and frustration of tens of thousands of runners who traveled from around the world to the Big Apple this week to run, but had the marathon been held on Sunday, it would have turned into an event celebrated by some, despised even more by others. The immediate aftermath of a tragedy in which dozens of lives and hundreds, if not thousands, of homes were lost is a time for relief, recovery and restoration, not a time for a city to be even further torn apart.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after insisting all week that the race would be run, citing its economic benefits and promising it wouldn't strain public resources, seemingly came to his senses Friday after enduring a deluge of public pressure to call off the race.
"We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it," Bloomberg said in a statement. "We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event -- even one as meaningful as this -- to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track."
At a news conference Friday evening announcing the race's cancellation, the New York Road Runners, the organization which stages the event, said it would donate supplies devoted to the marathon to the relief effort, including water, food, blankets, generators and porta-potties. On Thursday, NYRR announced a $1 million donation to relief efforts, which was matched or exceeded by many race sponsors and sparked a flood of donations from around the world. "We want to get involved in as much as we can do to help," said NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg.
While some runners resent the late decision to call off the race, many marathoners who came to New York for the event -- some of whom rather recognizable public figures -- have decided to stick around the city this weekend, using their newfound free time to assist in recovery efforts. Many of those who chose to leave donated their hotel rooms to displaced residents through race2recover.com.
Former marathon world-record holder Rob de Castella of New Zealand, who brought a group of runners from the Indigenous Marathon Project to run New York, tweeted, "All @IndigMaraProjct team will help NY community recover -- a marathon day of volunteering for us."
Dean Karnazes, the ultra-running icon who was making an appearance at the event on behalf of his sponsors, tweeted, "NYC Marathon just cancelled! It was the right thing to do. I'm going to stick around and help out. Now is a time to lend a hand, not run."
Former "Bachelor" star Andy Baldwin, who was slated to run the race, along with U.S. 50K record-holder Josh Cox, is spearheading a social media movement called #NewMarathon, a weekend relief effort aimed at getting as many marathon runners as possible to unite and mobilize into the areas that need the most help. "The people are here now," Baldwin said. "Let's do what runners do and come together and show some altruism for these people who need it."
After an emotional week that has taken lives, destroyed homes and neighborhoods and threatened to divide a community, the New York City Marathon will not be run on Sunday. It's a decision that came better late than never, and the race that won't be run still remains the symbol of strength and unity that many hoped it would.