In the aftermath of Sandy

Running a marathon has been on my list – bucket list, if you will, though I’ve never called it that – for about 20 years. I’m not exactly sure why, except to say that running is the only exercise that has worked long term for me. And for me, it’s more than exercise. A run is where I turn when I’m in a cranky mood I can’t shake. It’s what I do when my brain is in lockdown. But – though I’ve done a few halves – nerves have always stopped me from stepping up to actually run 26.2.

So when the Alliance for a Healthier Generation – with whom I’d been talking about developing some tips to help parents on a budget get more for their food dollars – asked if I’d like to not only join their NY Marathon Team but serve as one of the co-captains, it took me a few days to say yes. It wasn’t a lack of belief in the mission of this wonderful organization. It was a lack of confidence in my legs. But then I decided that this might be the push I needed to actually get it done.

The view on the way home from the run for Staten Island.I pulled a training schedule from a website called, appropriately enough, MarathonRookie.com, and followed it to the letter. I did 8s, and 12s, 18s and a couple of 20s. I was still nervous, but I was ready. And then Sandy hit. My town in the NYC suburbs, like many, is still without power. Many parts of my beloved Long Beach Island, where I have spent parts of many summers since I was child, are devastated. And so much of New York and New Jersey have it so much worse. Though none of us wanted the race to be cancelled, running just didn’t feel right. Cancellation was appropriate.

And so was what happened next.

On Saturday, I started receiving emails from friends and friends of friends that a group of runners would be filling backpacks with supplies and running through the streets of Staten Island to distribute them. The effort was being organized by Dr. Jordan Metzl , a sports med doc and author who had run 30 marathons. He started a Facebook group. When I “liked it” on Saturday morning, I was the 654th person to do so. By the time I suited up and left home to meet the other runners at the Staten Island Ferry on Sunday, there were more than 3,500. By my completely unscientific count, more than 1000 runners – from all parts of the world — showed up, armed with flashlights and diapers, garbage bags and personal care items, pre-paid cell phones and gift cards to Home Depot. Anything that might be helpful. And off the Ferry we ran.

I didn’t make it as far as some. (Funny, running with a loaded backpack is harder than running without one. And none of us realized Staten Island had so many hills!) My final destination was a school being used as a shelter and distribution center about 5 miles in.

The surrounding area looked much as I expected. Trees and power lines down. The first floors of many homes damaged but not completely destroyed. My friend, and teammate, Ashley Sandberg ran a few miles further where entire homes were washed away. As she looked through the devastation she could see right to the Verrazano Bridge. “I couldn’t imagine standing on that bridge and seeing all this at the start of the race,” she told me. “It would have been so wrong.”

There is so much more to do. If you are inclined to help, whether by giving funds to an organization like the Red Cross that is leading the charge, or driving carloads of supplies to The Rockaways or the Jersey Shore, please do. And then, when you can, do some more. The cliché fits: This is truly a marathon, not a sprint.

As for me, I am going to run the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks. I will be wearing my Team Healthier Generation duds and thinking of all the people who supported me in my quest, and who have stepped up to help our friends and neighbors rebuild. And I will be back to run New York next year. By then, when we all look out from the start, I hope that we will see not devastation but a shoreline on the mend. By then, I hope it will once again feel right.

Jean Chatzky

About Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky, the financial editor for NBC’s TODAY show, is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and a contributing editor for Fortune magazine. Jean is a best-selling author; her eighth and most recent book is Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security. She believes knowing how to manage our money is one of the most important life skills for people at every age and has made it her mission to help simplify money matters, increasing financial literacy both now and for the future. In April 2013 Jean launched Jean Chatzky's Money School , a series of college-style, interactive online personal finance courses that give men and women across the country the opportunity to learn from and interact directly with her. Jean lives with her family in Westchester County, New York.
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One Response to In the aftermath of Sandy

  1. Cari Miller says:

    I am inspired by this example of people reaching out to their neighbors and not hesitating to help in any way they can. In the media coverage, I recall only hearing that this marathon ended up being cancelled. I am so happy to hear that the “marathoners” ran to as many families as they could reach and offer direct help! WOW! What a wonderful example of how to just drop what we are involved in, and just serve one another. Consider me inspired. Thank you SO much for sharing this story with us!

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