Tag Archive | "NYC"

Runners Race in Central Park Despite Canceled Marathon

By Nia Phillips–Even though New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the ING New York City Marathon just two days before it was to start, he couldn’t stop people from running.

Several hundred runners, many of whom had journeyed to New York from around the world, participated in an event called “Run Anyway 2012” that involved running four loops around the roads of Central Park.

Running through Central Park on Sunday, it was almost possible to forget that a Hurricane had struck New York less than a week earlier. The only reminders were the yellow caution tape surrounding fallen trees or the toppled fence around the tennis courts. Regardless, the runners still came to run, even if it meant having to dodge pedestrians, cyclists, and pets. Although runners planned to meet in the park, they could not shut down its trails from the public because it was an unofficial race.

The official race, which was cancelled late Friday, had been scheduled to start on Staten Island, one of the most devastated parts of the city following Hurricane Sandy, and end 26.2 miles later in Central Park.

With 40,000 runners expected to arrive in the city for the race, community leaders and city officials asked those already here to help with the volunteer efforts. While “Run Anyway” collected some donations for Hurricane Sandy victims, it mainly served as a means for runners to run 26.2 miles after training for months or sometimes even years for the race.

The race was organized by means of social media on Facebook and Twitter.  Todd Kelley, who helped manage the social media accounts for the event, said that he created the page at 10:30 p.m. on Friday night just hours after Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the marathon. By Sunday morning at about noon, nearly 2,000 people “liked” the Facebook page. Many of them came to ride on Sunday, although just how many participated is not clear.

“We’re started this because everyone who’s running the New York City marathon is running for some cause. We couldn’t officially run for our cause, so we put something out there for people to run,” said Kelly, who stood after/before the race near a group of runners taking a picture with a Hurricane Sandy sign.

Even the “Run Anyway” slogan of the event represented this idea. Its Facebook page says, “When we run for a cause, we need to run anyway,” paying homage to the meaning why so many marathon runners decide to participate in the endurance event.

Many runners raise money for different causes from sponsors who donate a certain amount for each mile they run. The reason to run does not necessarily have to be to raise money for charity research but to mark an important milestone in one’s life.

Mariel Fresneau, for example, came to New York City from France. She said she decided to train for the marathon for a fun cause— to celebrate her sister’s 50th birthday.

Gana Batjargal is from Mongolia. She said participating in Run Anyway was more about completing 26.2 miles. “We came all this way and I believe that every runner has a cause. We’re not just running for fun. I know it’s not the same as the marathon with al the glory, but we are running for support.”

Most runners said they sympathized with how much the city is hurting. Regardless, they believe that the last minute decision to cancel the race was inappropriate.

Andres Uriate, who came to New York City with 20 runners from Chilé, said:  “It was very worrying because we spent a lot of money to get here. It’s disappointing because they notified us the day after we got here, but now we are happy and enjoying the day.”

Even those that came from other states within the United States were greatly inconvenienced by Mayor Bloomberg’s late decision to cancel the race.

Rebecca Pike drove 13 hours to New York City from South Carolina. Her original flight to the city was canceled and she made the decision to come to the city just to find out that the race could never officially start. Despite her extreme disappointment after training for four years she said, “I understand why they canceled, but they should have pushed it earlier. I spent a lot of money, lost money, and lost my race fee.”

The New York City Marathon made some slight changes to its very strict no-refund policy for the race. Runners who were unable to make it to New York City by November 3rd at 11:59 p.m. were able to gain guaranteed entry into the 2013 race. Those who made the trip to the city like Pike are still unsure if they will receive a refund, up to $347 for some.

The AP reported that the New York Road Runners, the organization that hosts the marathon, is reviewing this policy. A statement on their website says they need a “little time to work out the details and make thoughtful decisions.”

Even though the race was cancelled, pieces of the official marathon were scattered throughout Central Park on Sunday. Bright orange and blue flags lined the posts along the trails. The “finish line” sign was erected but runners could not stand directly under it. The sign was surrounded by silver barricades and monitored by security guards and the occasional NYPD officer. Instead, runners posed in front of the barrier, many wearing the bright colors of their country’s flag.

Supporters and spectators, scattered in groups along the trails, cheered for the runners as they looped around the park to complete 26.2 miles. They passed out cups of water, bananas, and even the occasional piece of Starburst candy. While much smaller, many elements of the marathon were still present in its unofficial, less glamorous manifestation on Sunday morning.

Batarjal summarized the attitude of many participating in Run Anyway the best. “It’s a beautiful day, so why not run?”


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The Last Italian Market on 18th Avenue

A typical afternoon at Frank and Sal’s in Bensonhurst

by Yvonne Bang, Italian Beat Reporter — 

“It’s not for this store!” Francesco “Frankie” Casamento repeated, a little more emphatically this time. Casamento, a 35-year-old co-owner of the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market in Bensonhurst, was standing in front of the dairy display case arguing with one of the vendors who serviced the store. The young, dark-haired vendor was trying his best to push another order of three-pack mini muffins. But he’d sold the store a bunch the week before, and many of them had come in expired.

Casamento later said of the product, “It’s a cheap, inexpensive item. This store—we have good quality.”

In Bensonhurst, where 99-Cent Stores have proliferated in recent years, a store that refuses to compromise on quality has become a rarity. Frank and Sal’s is one of the last remaining businesses in the area to stubbornly refuse to substitute quality for lower prices. Cathy Casale, who has lived in Bensonhurst for 49 years, grumbles that she can’t buy well-made items on 18th Avenue anymore.

“A lot of these [99-cent] stores put other stores out-of-business,” she said.

Eighteenth Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Bensonhurst, still has a butcher shop, a pastaria, a couple of fish markets, and plenty of fruit stands that cater to the area’s historic Italian population. Even ten years ago, there were still many Italian-owned businesses. But with that population shrinking, the number of places where you can buy authentic ingredients for traditional Italian dishes like the Sunday sauce—a meat marinara gravy—has shrunk down to one: the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market. Frank and Sal’s is the last Italian market on the street.

The market has been in Bensonhurst for over 22 years, since Casamento’s father, Franco, opened the store with two butchers, Frank Gassoso and Salvatore Civiletti. Hanging from low-slung rafters are baskets and Italian flags, bags of pasta, and over the deli, strings of sweet, dry sausages and rounds of cheese. The store specializes in Italian products and produce, like fresh green olives the size of kumquats, ample bouquets of dried, imported Oregano, and Sicilian eggplants, which are bulbous and as large as cantaloupes. Products like salted, dried capers will be difficult to find in most markets, and containers of sundried tomatoes won’t come as cheaply elsewhere. Some shoppers say they have the best Mozzarella in the area—fresh, hand-stretched, and made from cow’s milk, the way it’s supposed to be. But for all its success so far, the future is uncertain, as Bensonhurst has been changing over the last 10 years.

A large demographic shift and a general unwillingness to spend have weakened the competitive capacity of specialty stores that once catered to a solely Italian population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 57 percent increase in the number of Asian-Americans in Bensonhurst. Chinese-Americans make up almost 32 percent of the neighborhood’s entire population. Nancy Sottile, who runs the Federation of Italian-American Organizations main office six blocks north of Frank and Sal’s, agrees that many Italian-owned small businesses have closed. But she believes it’s because other ethnic groups do not shop at Italian markets.

“Chinese-Americans do not go to [Italian] markets,” she said. “I guess we did the same thing when we first came to America.”

And people don’t spend like they once did. A store called Exclusive V.I.P. Fashion, has been on the avenue for 26 years. The business—selling and designing elaborate wedding dresses for brides and events—has been affected as much by a changing culture—more people nowadays rent dresses or prefer to purchase them online—as by a relocating clientele base. Seated behind a jewelry display case in her store, the owner, who identified herself as Sally, was surrounded only by dresses. She acknowledges that many of her clients, of mostly Italian descent have moved either to Staten Island or New Jersey.

“This in itself is a dying business,” she said. “It’s an item that people just don’t have the money for—a luxury, not a necessity.”

But stores on 18th Avenue have also closed for other reasons. Second generation Italian-Americans opt out of taking over the family business when their parents reach the retiring age. A longtime favorite, Trunzo Brothers Meat Market and Salumeria, which remained rooted on the street for over 30 years, shut its doors in 2009; a Grocery and 99 Cents store took over the location. In an online rumination, Brian Trunzo, the son who pursued law instead of a life behind the meat counter like his father wrote, “I never wanted to be a butcher in the first place; it’s just not my vibe.”

On a recent Tuesday, Frank and Sal’s was busy well before the traditional afternoon rush most grocers expect. Shoppers with carts greeted Casamento on their way in; some shook his hand and patted him on the back. He picked up a jar of Nutella for a customer in line who’d dropped it on the floor.

Despite the fate of other shops along the street, Frank and Sal’s does well these days. Casamento remarked, “We still do good. There has been a drop off. People have moved out of the area. There is competition in the neighborhood. But we have our own niche.”

Later that afternoon, up the street at the Avenue Fruit Market where the owner Tony sells only produce, a sharply-dressed elderly gentleman with bronze-tinted Hunter Thompson glasses and white hair sleekly combed back inspected and pinched red peppers displayed in boxes on the street. The products were displayed on a corner, where auto and foot traffic easily kicked up dust and where flies were free to roam and land. The man, who declined to state his name, described Frank and Sal’s products as first class. When asked why he was browsing at the Avenue Market instead, he replied, “Convenienza di prezzo”—the low price, and nothing more.

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Soccer: More than just a game for Liberians

The winner’s trophy on display

by Shaukat Hamdani, Liberian Beat Reporter —

Staten Island’s Liberian community is abuzz over the upcoming rematch of its soccer league’s championship match. But the game represents far more than a typical finale, several Liberians said. The league is the glue that unites this community scarred by an ethnic civil war.

The Staten Island Liberian County League has come a long way since it was founded in 1997. While eight teams are from Staten Island, the league now also has one team from Newark, New Jersey and one from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sulaiman Tunis, the founder of the Staten Island Liberian County League, said he began the league after kids from the community came to him in the summer of 1997 and said that they were getting bored and needed a soccer league.

However this league is not just about keeping teenagers and young adults out of boredom in the summers, but it also plays two very important social roles according to several members of the Liberian community. It keeps kids off the streets, which also reduces the crime rate, and it also unites the Liberian community.

“Kids are always in the streets selling drugs, but at this particular time they will suspend whatever they are doing and concentrate on the soccer league,” Tunis said.

He also mentions that gun violence has been an issue in the community, with kids shooting one another.

“But while we (are) doing this, they will stop all of that and concentrate on the game. Then a period of time will pass, without no crime report to the police force,” Tunis added.

Spectators enjoying the game

Many of the members of the Liberian community left their homeland because of two ethnic civil wars back home. Several members of the Liberian community agree that soccer is doing a good job in uniting the Liberian community and defusing tension between people.

Teah Jackson, who graduated from college in 2008 with a college degree in accounting and is a member of the Staten Island Liberian Community Association, plays in the league, and he emphasized the importance of soccer in the community.

“Soccer is a big help to our community, to our people, our country,” said Jackson. “Soccer eases your problem, because when you come on the field, you put all that stress on the soccer ball, instead of putting it on somebody. So we use soccer to create peace, we use soccer to create family.”But soccer serving a role as a unifying source is not something exclusive to the Liberian community of Staten Island.“Even when the civil war went on in Liberia, this is one of the sources that were used to bring them together, to unite them,” said Tunis, speaking of the importance of soccer.

Tunis also added that the soccer field is a place where friendships between members of the Staten Island Liberian community begin and continue.

A festive atmosphere surrounded the original championship match on September 3rd. Music blared from the sidelines at the Stapleton playground as a crowd of over 200 Liberians from different ethnic backgrounds gathered to watch the match, a sign that soccer transcends the conflicts at home. The game pitted Staten Island’s Grand Gedeh against Lofa, of Newark. The crowd exuded passion, shouting at the refs and giving informal play-by-play commentary.

Melvin Saah, goalkeeper for Grand Gedeh, makes a crucial save

Still, the soccer game was fiercely contested. It ended in a controversial 1-1 draw after  Grand Gedeh equalized in injury time. Lofa players complained that the game should have been over before the equalizing goal, but the result stood, forcing a rematch scheduled for Sunday.

This time the captain of Grand Gedeh, Charles Dukley, is confident of victory. “The team from Jersey had really good players, but my team wasn’t totally ready, because couple of my players were injured,” Dukley said. “But this coming game I have confidence in my team that we are going to win.”

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In Brooklyn, Gospel Raises the Spirits of Marathon Runners

by Elaisha Stokes

For years, the New York City Marathon was seen as something of a nuisance for Emmanuel Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Located on the corner of St James Place and Lafayette Avenue, at the nine mile mark of the marathon, the church suffered with noise from the runners on the streets and the crowds of onlookers who came to cheer them on. But instead of letting the annual event get the best of them, the church decided to use it as an opportunity to praise the lord’s name. And so, Sunday services were cancelled on the first weekend of November, and a new tradition was born.

Each year on Marathon Sunday Total Praise, the gospel choir of the church, raises its  voice in song above the noise of the screaming fans.

“We sing on the steps,” said Shareka Newton, the executive pastor of the church. “It gives us an opportunity to come out of the church walls and into the community.”

On Sunday, the steps of the church were flanked with women dressed in bright orange, the official color of this year’s race. The 80 members of Total Praise sing in rotations to raucous crowds while the hopeful marathoners speed by a crowd estimated at 2 million. Volunteers hold out bottled water and bananas for runners who need a moment to refuel. Others make it their business to call out the names of participants who need a little extra encouragement.  But it’s the gospel choir that takes center stage. Mic’d up and amplified for all the neighbors to hear, members flail arms and raise their voice to the high heavens.  Exclamations of joy and halleluiah are made to lift the spirits of runners, who raise their hands towards the sky and wave along with the gospel choir as they speed by the church. For Juny Francois, a Haitian American and veteran marathon runner, the vision of her church’s choir gives her an energetic push early on in the race.

“There’s nothing like it,” said Francois. “I’ve run marathons all over the world. The hometown crowd, the music from my church’s choir. It connects me with God.”

This year, the church has four members participating in the race. Francois is the best runner of the bunch. She is what’s known as a local competitor, pacing an average mile in about 7 minutes and 30 seconds. At 10:52 AM she speeds past the steps of Emmanuel Baptist. Her son, Samuel Mahlangu, doesn’t even have time to snap a photo.

“I tried to record her, but I couldn’t even get a clip,” said Mahlangu. “She was running so fast.”

Francois’ love affair with long distance running started as what she called a “fluke.” She ran track in high school, eventually completing a five-kilometer race. Next she participated in a half marathon, and finally a full marathon.

“Then,” said Francois, “I became addicted.”

She has since run marathons all over the world, including Berlin and Madrid. For Francois, part of the passion of running is raising money for a good cause. This year, the cause hits close to home. Francois has raised $25,000 to benefit Haiti Green Home, a non-profit organization that develops eco friendly homes for displaced victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Francois said dedicating her run to Haiti gives her the strength she needs to reach for her personal best.

“Haitians are not really runners,” said Francois. “Not like Africans. But running comes naturally to me. If my passion can benefit my country, then all the better.”

At Emmanuel Baptist, the parish has been resolute in their support of Francois’ efforts. Many of the members of the parish helped Francois fundraise for her run. Still, the church believes that their music remains their largest contribution to the event.

“When the runners hear our voices, it cheers them along,” said Claudette Williams, a 16-year veteran of the choir. “It’s always good to sing the praises of the Lord to raise the spirit.”

As the runners stream by the sun-filled church steps, even the most cynical fans can’t help but have faith that a little bit of hometown spirit can go a long way. Maybe a full 26.2 miles.

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