Friday, November 2, 2012

Why, New York Marathon, Why

Among the other brouhahas that are being stirred up because the immense impact of Superstorm Sandy and the fact that it is almost impossible to prepare adequately for a situation such as this – especially when the situation is literally unprecedented in almost every way –the organizers of the New York Marathon, with the support of New York’s mayor, have decided to move forward with their event this coming Sunday, mere days after the onslaught of the storm. Reasons cited for moving forward with this huge and usually-well-loved event include bringing much-needed dollars into the area and holding an event that can serve as an emotional salve, something to rally behind and cheer on. Yay Runners!  Sandy knocked us down but couldn’t alter our annual big event!

As a runner, someone who adores distance events and someone who absolutely embraces the positive impact of trying to get some “normal” back after a tragedy – and make no mistake, this storm qualifies as a tragedy – it is my opinion that this decision to hold the race is severely misguided.

Right now, as I type this, people are suffering.  The fortunate ones are in a state of bewilderment.  Those less fortunate, of whom there are far too many still, have no power or heat, little or no food, few clothes, little or no water, little or no fuel for their cars or generators.  In too many cases, people’s homes are in chaos or are damaged.  In too many cases, people’s homes are destroyed or are simply gone.  In too many cases, people have lost loves ones.  All of this loss is fresh, is too recent or is current and raw.  People are not in any kind of emotional state to “rally” behind a mass of people running through their streets.  They need basic services.

Let me put it a different way.  Do you know how much preparation and how many resources go into putting on a race?  Just at a high level, there are thousands of police, firefighters and EMTs along the course and at the ready.  There are hundreds of buses set up (and the fuel to run them).  There are mobile command centers with generators (and the fuel to run them), heat, power and access to the world beyond the immediate vicinity.  There are water and sports drinks and mounds of post-race food.  There are those “space blankets” they hand out post-race.

All that being said, connect the dots here.  Think about the power and impact of redirecting all of those resources where they’re needed – among the residents of the hardest hit areas. 

  • Buses – Imagine the frustration, the outright ire, you would feel if you couldn’t get your basic necessities but you knew that people were making the effort to secure local transportation to get people to a starting line so they could run together.  Because while a marathon is a huge accomplishment, in the end, it is people running together. In a group. By choice.  It is not an emergency.  What’s happening in the neighborhoods is an emergency.  Use the buses to transport food, water, blankets, medical supplies and personnel, and other needed goods and individuals to areas in most need.  If roads are impassable at a certain point, coordinate a hand-off point with the authorities. 
  • Fuel – Simply by NOT busing runners around, just that much more fuel will be available for residents in the area who already have to line up for hours just to fill up the car or get fuel for the generator.
  • Food and Water – On the Today Show this morning, residents in Staten Island were shown dumpster diving for food.  One might argue that these individuals, who probably prepared for a day or two without power rather than a week or more without power, transportation or access to fresh supplies, might be in more dire need of bagels, bananas and bottled water than a visiting, likely-well-fed runner who has access to all of these items at home.
  • Authorities – The mayor and the race organizers have stated that no authorities will be diverted from relief efforts for this race.  And yet it takes thousands of authorities to support the race.  I would argue that in the dire situation facing so many in the New York/New Jersey area right now, any authority not helping is hurting. 
  • Helping Hands – With so many runners already in town, imagine the manpower available to help distribute goods and services where they are needed.  Has anyone asked them how they would feel about cancelling the run and using their energy for a good cause?  I bet the response would be overwhelmingly positive.  Disappointed… but positive as well.

It’s probably too late now to change anything.  Then again, a slew of music stars have pulled together a benefit concert within a matter of the last few days and have managed to get it televised tonight.  With some focus and determination… anything is possible.  Right?

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