The streets of Nassau County’s Hub were filled with thousands of runners who competed in the Long Island Marathon or one of four shorter races last Sunday, with numbers affixed to their chests. One runner, Nestor Barrezueta, 83, of East Meadow, taped another sheet of paper to his running clothes, with the message, “Beat Parkinson’s. Walk! Walk!”
Barrezueta ran the 10K with his daughter, Sandi Paulik, 53, and his granddaughter, Anna Paulik, 22. He has battled Parkinson’s disease for 20 years, but he said he didn’t want it to keep him from following his passion. “I like challenges,” he said. “And I like running. If I didn’t move, I’d die.”
Doctors told Barrezueta that the nervous disorder could have damaged his legs to the point that he would need to rely on a wheelchair, Sandi said. She added, however, that because he walks so often, he has strengthened his leg muscles enough to support his upper body.
Many of the competitors shared similar stories, whether they were stepping up to their first starting line or returning to take part in a Long Island tradition.
Peter Hawkins, 53, a wheelchair competitor from Malverne, was the first to cross the finish line of the marathon, in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 11 seconds. The fastest male runner was Thomas Rammelkamp, 28, of Falls Church, Va., who finished in 2:33.13, and Gabrielle Russo, 33, of Patchogue, finished first among the female runners, in 2:50:40.
The marathon dates back to the inaugural Macombs Dam Park Marathon in the Bronx in 1958. That race was later renamed the Cherry Tree Marathon, but continued to be run in the Bronx until 1970, when it moved to Central Park. It was later named the Earth Day Marathon, and eventually moved from Manhattan to Roosevelt Raceway, and then to Eisenhower Park. Today it includes a one-mile race, a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, a full marathon, a sports and fitness expo and a post-race festival.
For the third year, the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce set up shop at the festival and greeted residents and runners. The first year the members took part, freezing rain pounded down on the event. But Executive Secretary Anthony Sereno said the organization wanted to come back. “It shows how much East Meadow has to offer,” he said.
P.J. Diskin, 62, of Mineola, and Robyn Kreiner, 34, of Huntington Station, stopped at the chamber’s booth, where they were given free merchandise and bagels from Bagelicious. Both runners compete in races across Long Island, and called the Long Island Marathon one of their favorites.
As Adriana Staiano, 55, of East Meadow, made her way toward the group, she agreed, saying, “Nassau County has a lot of opportunities for runners.” She competes with a group called Runners Edge, and said that the Long Island Marathon stands out among area races because it offers the varying views of the South Shore, plenty of room for spectators and the post-race festival.