Chef, miner and weatherman headline NYC Marathon field
Apart from the prospective champions, the NYC Marathon is loaded with stories
Chef Bobby Flay has run the marathon two times and hopes to break four hours
Chilean miner Edison Pena was invited to watch, but insisted on running
On Sunday, the New York Marathon will feature a superb, elite field of Olympians and prospective champions, including defending champ Meb Keflezighi of the U.S., Ethiopian legend Haile Gebrselassie, Boston Marathon winner Teyba Erkesso, world half-marathon champ Mary Keitany and a slew of other international runners. But the field is also loaded with stories. Even the well known are no more or less steeled than the unknown on race day. Here are some of the stories that make marathon day the best day in New York every year.
Justin Gimelstob was an ace on the tennis court. He won the French and Australian Open mixed doubles crowns along with Venus Williams. Though he's retired now at age 33, you would certainly think of him as an athlete by sight. But on the roads, think again.
"I'm really poor at anything cardiovascular," he says. "For me, running a [440-yard course] is like someone else running a 220. I'm not really a fit guy."
Well it's relative, but Gimelstob will be out there trying to win a bet, help a cause and prove that he can "pull off this insanity."
When an older friend of Gimelstob, Jeff Warnick, passed away from a heart attack while running, Gimelstob thought of running a marathon to honor him. But his plan never materialized.
"I never got running," he says. "I'm the consummate multi-tasker. It didn't appeal to me in any way."
Later, Gimelstob was chatting at the U.S. Open with Andy Roddick. The two were tennis pals who had always supported each other's charity initiatives. Forget the standard five-set rigors; their conversation was developing into real drama, and into a wager. If Gimelstob could finish the New York Marathon in 4:45 or less, Roddick would contribute $10,000 to the Gimelstob Children's Fund, a fine cause that supports a pediatric cancer hospital. If Gimelstob's finish time was 4:46 or slower, he would donate $10,000 to Roddick's charity, the Andy Roddick Foundation that supports children.
This was a true commitment for Gimelstob, who has a pin in his foot, and has had 29 cortisone injections through the years from the grind on his body.
"Now I get [running]," he says. "That's a gift Jeff gave me. It has and will enhance my life forever: It provides a clarity of life, a purpose, it's therapeutic, medicinal. I would never have been aware of that if I hadn't been exposed to running."
Serena Burla's story is less about marathon running and more about survival. As a 1:10 half-marathoner, Burla was usually in the mix of most races she entered. She had been a standout runner at Missouri, married a shot putter, become a young mother and was hoping for a long running career.
Then in February she underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor that had formed on her right leg. NYRR President Mary Wittenberg visited Burla in the hospital.
"It took part of her bicep and it was just so unfair," Wittenberg recalls. "We were just praying her story would have a good outcome."
Burla, 28, started elliptical therapy within weeks, but had no sense of whether her elite running career was done. In July, she won a 10-kilometer race in Boston, and kept her eyes on New York for a debut marathon. With modest goals, Burla is looking for the day when she can be back in the running. For now, she is just glad to be back running.