Hurricane Sandy took her home. It nearly took her husband's life. And for a while it took away an everyday comfort: her running. But Jen Correa has made a pledge to herself.
Come November 3 -- the day the New York City Marathon returns to the streets of the five boroughs -- she is doing a 26.2-mile recovery run that will put the tragic events of last year well in the past.
And what a year it was for Correa, 38, a resident of Sandy-ravaged Staten Island, and for many others in this year's marathon. Last November, the city and New York Road Runners officials canceled the marathon less than 48 hours before its start, one more victim of the storm that clobbered the New York City area.
The 2013 marathon will include about 48,000 runners, 20,000 of whom, like Correa, were slated to run the 2012 event before Sandy had her way, as well as untold others who will be using the race to distance themselves from the disaster.
Picking up the pieces
Correa's ordeal began early in the evening of October 29. She and her two children had already evacuated their home in the Oakwood Beach section of Staten Island as Sandy tore up the eastern seaboard. But her husband, Pedro, an Iraq War veteran, stayed behind to try to keep their home safe. Soon he was battling the 15-foot storm surges that poured into their home, located just yards from the Atlantic Ocean.
"He left a message on my cell phone saying, 'I love you, and tell the kids I love them,'" says Correa.
She took his words to mean, "Goodbye, forever."
Pedro managed to survive, by first drifting atop the dislodged roof of a neighbor's home and then swimming to higher ground. But the family's house was swept off its foundation, with most possessions lost or destroyed. (Days later Pedro managed to retrieve a dozen or so of his wife's race medals.) The Army Corps of Engineers eventually leveled the house, after it was located a half-mile from its street address.
Nearly a year later, the family remains in transitional housing. But Correa, a runner for two decades, got back to the streets (in donated gear) and then back to training once again for New York, which will be her third marathon.
"I'm coming in as a Sandy victim; I'm coming in as a Sandy survivor," says the executive assistant. "But when I cross that finish line, I am putting it all behind me. It's going to be proof of my resilience."
Jose Montanez will be returning for his 10th New York City Marathon, and with a very personal goal in mind: to drape his finisher's medal around the neck of his guide dog, Davey Crocket. That ceremony had already become the pair's pos-tmarathon custom, but this year it will have added meaning, thanks to Sandy.
Davey, a yellow Lab, does not run with Montanez, 42, blind since age 21. But the dog has shepherded his owner around New York since 2009. When Sandy's rain and high-powered winds began lashing the outside of Montanez's seventh-floor Manhattan apartment, the dog became the one in need of help.
"Davey sat on my bed hollering and crying for hours," says Montanez, a cashier at a Goodwill retail store. "I was comforting him. I brought over toys from his bed to calm him down, but he was still scared."
Montanez's building, like many others, lost power and running water. Asked to evacuate, Montanez stayed put so as not to further distress his dog. With no working elevators, the two had to walk up and down the seven flights of stairs three times a day so Davey could go outside. Montanez also made solo trips, bringing a bucket of water drawn from an outside hose to Davey, as well as to other mobility-impaired tenants of the building. Montanez decided to pull out of the marathon even before it had been canceled.
"Davey was not well," says Montanez, who trains and races with volunteers from Achilles International. "I couldn't leave him in that condition with anybody [during the marathon]."
Montanez says that as soon as the lights came back on five days after the storm, Davey quickly returned to his old self and let his owner start thinking of his next loop around the city.
"It is very good for me to run," says Montanez, "and look back on what happened last year."
And once it's over, he and Davey will add another medal to their collection.
Brian Lang has already been recognized for his running. In May, he was honored by Habitat for Humanity for raising $14,000 for the organization through his training for the New York City Half-Marathon. Those funds were earmarked for Sandy rebuilds, something Lang and his family know the need for all too well.
Residents of battered Breezy Point, Queens, the Langs lost their house, along with those of Brian's mother-in-law and sister-in-law, in storm-related electrical fires that destroyed more than 100 area homes.
Since being displaced, the Langs have been renting an apartment in Brooklyn. Their two daughters commute 50 minutes to a school in the Rockaways that's attended by many of their Breezy Point friends.
"We knew we had to find normalcy on some level for them," says Lang, 44, an electrician who has used his trade skills on Habitat construction projects.
Running provided him with a similar balance. He had taken up the sport only a few months before Sandy hit, using it to get back in shape after spinal surgery. The day before Sandy struck, he ran a half-marathon.
"Little did I know the runner's high I achieved with that race would be replaced with our world crashing down," he says.
But even facing an uncertain future -- no timetable has been set for when the Langs can begin rebuilding their home in Breezy Point -- Brian says, "Running has been one central theme in the healing. Sandy wasn't going to take the physical well-being I broke my ass to get."
In May, he decided he would make his marathon debut in New York, and go for an ambitious goal of a sub-four-hour time. Compared with what he and his family have been through, Lang says, "the marathon should be a cakewalk. All I have to do is not stop running."
Spoken like a true New Yorker.