The Brooklyn Triple Crown, a wildly popular race series that ended with the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, made its triumphant return this year. Like the mythological Phoenix, this series came out of the ashes of its former self into something fresh and new. Originally comprised of the Dolan 5k, Cosme 5k, and Hoban 5-Miler under the directorship of Edwin Cosme, this year the race series was resurrected into three brand-new inaugural races with the help of Mark Vogt of Complete Race Solutions. This new series consisted of the Bay Ridge 4-Miler, Coney Island Creek 5k, and the Caesar’s Bay 5-Miler.
The series kicked off with the Bay Ridge 4-Miler in June. Tropical storm Cindy brought with it a heavy downpour of rain throughout the previous night and into race morning. Fortunately, with only 30 minutes before the race started, the skies cleared and the Sun came out just in time for the runners to toe the line. The race consisted of three distinct segments; the 79th Street Playground, the hilly Shore Road pedestrian path, and the flat Shore Promenade. Visual elements along the course included running up and down a staircase, the Narrows Botanical Garden, and the inspiring views of the Narrows along the Shore Promenade. A portion of the proceeds were donated to the Shore Road Conservancy.
Louise Demeo, a runner from Staten Island, broke her 3-mile personal record at the 3-mile mark of the race. This was the first 4-miler she had ever run. Diane Sassone of Bay Ridge had a very emotional response to this race. She said, “I had the pleasure of running two of the three Brooklyn Triple Crown races. There was a great build up being I am a Brooklynite who belongs to a Staten Island running club. It was that “must do” on my short list. The first race was a no-brainer being it was in my Bay Ridge Hood. I made sure my warm-up was an approximately half mile run in the rain to the start. Mark, Jenn and Rob Lenza were all there to welcome the runners. They are a few of the most dedicated people I know. Soon after, the race director arrived with his family in tow. Shortly after that, Bay Ridges’ own Senator Marty Golden arrived and spoke a few words and wished us well. At gun time, the sun suddenly came out and the steam was rising from the ground. I knew it was going to be a difficult one for me being I haven’t trained. But hey, it’s Bay Ridge, I had to be there. At the second volunteer spot, the director’s family was there directing and cheering the runners. What a great experience to be part of a family production! At the third volunteer station, his brother was handing out water. If it wasn’t for his comedic chanting, I may have DNF’d. I saw all these family members on the way back before spotting his daughter Emma with her camera at the finish. I tried to look as happy as I was feeling. (I really didn’t feel good, it was wicked hot). Beside the fact that this race was along my favorite running route, the Promenade, being part of a successful event that included family and friends was priceless. It was a great run for me. Not for time, but for the fact that I did what I love, in a place that I love and it was put on by people who love what they do. I look forward to running this one again next year.
A few weeks later, the Coney Island Creek 5k brought runners six miles south to Kaiser Park, a venue with amazing views of the Creek and the Verrazano Bridge. This small location demanded a 5k route that was full of exhilarating twists and turns much like the nearby Cyclones Roller Coaster. The excitement culminated when runners sprinted their last quarter-mile of the race on a track that was inside the park. The organizer of this race named it after the nearby creek to raise awareness to the greater Brooklyn community that Coney Island does in fact have a natural water habitat in need of conservation. Assembly member Pamela Harris spoke to the runners right before the race and mentioned how this event is a great asset to the Coney Island community. A portion of the proceeds from this race went to the Coney Island Beautification Project.
The series ended with the Caesar’s Bay 5-Miler in August. Race day was unseasonably cool and sunny in the 60s which was a perfect day for running. Assembly member William Colton officiated the start of the race after wishing all of the runners a great race. Many of the runners enjoyed the inspiring views of Caesar’s Bay and the grandeur of the Verrazano Bridge present throughout the course. As they made it to the 2.5-mile turnaround, their excitement grew as they could see the finish line from afar almost two miles away. Being a very flat course, runners were able to concentrate on their pace and speed as some strove to work on placing for trophies while others aimed to break their 5-mile personal records. A part of the proceeds for this race went to the Kiwanis of Brighton Beach and Coney Island.
Jacky Lee felt that the Caesar’s Bay race was the most challenging although she was still able to achieve a personal record with a 9:09 pace. Her children enjoyed running the Coney Island Creek race and helped pick runner’s names from a hat for a pizza raffle after the race. For Amy Hernandez, the Brooklyn Triple Crown was a family affair. She and her husband Yakir and their two children Gabriel and Emily ran a few of the races in the series. They all enjoyed the events, especially the free pizza at the Caesar’s Bay post-race party.
Michael Ring, a life-long runner, member of the Prospect Park Track Club and survivor of GBS/CIDP, a rare and crippling muscle disease that affects the entire body, had completed all three race events under his own power. After contracting the disease three years ago, he was unable to engage in even the simplest of activities including standing up. Working hard with his physical therapist, he improved enough to complete the 2017 Brooklyn Half Marathon. He plans on completing the NYC Marathon this November. When asked about his time completing the Brooklyn Triple Crown series of races, he stated that by the third race, he felt like Norm from Cheers because everyone knew his name.
Laura Lombardo, a walker by choice who completed two of the race events, was an Achilles guide for Michael Ring. She said, “I was very grateful to Michael Ring and Jacky Lee for inspiring me to join Achilles International to guide those in need. They are a great group of runners to know. Even though I chose to walk and not run these events, participating in them was a thrill for me. During the races, I noticed that there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the runners. Amy Lenza, a Staten Island resident who ran all three events, had this to say about the series, “The highlight was running in Brooklyn in three different great neighborhoods and running with people from the Prospect Park Track Club”.
Race participant Lynn Holly-Love was a newly-minted runner as of last year. She had this to say about the series, “I appreciated having the three races scheduled throughout the summer because I don’t love to run in the heat and I needed the motivation. It was my first summer running season and I only ran my first race last November at the SIAC XC Championship at Freshkills Park. I was challenged and forced to push through and as a result I believe this made me a stronger runner. The courses varied in length and gave me the opportunity to run at longer distances. I also hit a PR for my fastest 5K at the Coney Island Creek race and placed 2nd in my age group. I enjoyed this running series and look forward to participating again next year”. Jennifer Marzella, a Staten Island native and active member of the Staten Island Athletic Club, was in shock after placing within the top three places in her 30-39 age group for each of the three race events. After being plagued by a year-long hamstring injury, she was ecstatic that she clinched the entire series for her age group. For Jennifer, running the Brooklyn races was like a homecoming for her since she remembers living in Bay Ridge while pushing her newborn daughter along the Promenade.
We’d like to thank all of the runners who participated and the following runners who ran at least two of the races in the series:
Amy Lenza, Angelique Demeo, Jazmine Alvarez, Jacky Lee, Lisa Swan, Alvin Prawda, Jennifer Marzella, Louise Demeo, Yakir Arteaga, Eduard Nogol, Lynn Holly Love, Michael Ring, Frank Tropea, Diane Sassone, Yolande Rose, Richard Cahn, Laura Lombardo, Davon Culley, Jonnie Soltan, Marc Cornier, John Cassidy, Ron Rudolph, Salvatore Pagano, Kathleen Lewis
We would also like to thank the following sponsors who helped make this series a success:
Unlimited Smiles, Bay Ridge Federal Credit Union, Klaygirl.com, IHOP of Coney Island, NYRET, The Vitamin Shoppe, Baya Bar, George Hamboussi Jr, Esq, Avenue O Multi-Specialty Clinic, Matoushi, My Three Sons Coffee Shop, Community Counseling, Fort Hamilton Foot Care, Sandro Frasca, DPM, Ben Bay Realty, Deloor Podiatry Group, Kitchen 21, Coney Island Brewery, Pizza D’Amore, Brooklyn Running Company, Chipotle, Gargiulo’s Italian Restaurant, Bagel Baazar, and Grimaldi’s of Coney Island.
Lastly, a big thank you to George Mattera, Matthew Lebow, Aaron Pesin, Jacky Lee, Richard and Kathleen Weaver, family members Emma, Hunter, and Bernie, the Explorers of the 60th Precinct, police officers Edward Raasch and Desiree Marino, Dionne Jordan Brown, Senator Marty Golden, Assembly Members William Colton and Pamela Harris, and Pamela Pettyjohn of the Coney Island Beautification Project (CIBP).
And of course, to Mark, Rob, Fred, and Tom of Complete Race Solutions. Without their expertise and equipment in putting on these events, these races wouldn’t have happened.
On September 11, 2001, just two days after I had begun a new position as a preschool teacher at my school in Boro Park, Brooklyn, the horrendous terrorist attacks unfurled themselves at several locations throughout the country. As I taught my students in a school building that was only several miles away and within clear view of the World Trade Center, I looked out of my window to see an unbelievable sight: buildings engulfed in mushroom clouds of black unforgiving smoke. Little did I know that within the hour, those buildings and the 2,871 people inside them would be no more. Upon leaving my school that afternoon, I found a piece of paper on the ground that gave me a small sense of hope amid a world of sudden desperation and despair. That paper inspired me to write the following story that was later published in a Queens College newspaper.
UPDATE: Right before I was about to publish this blog 16 years after I wrote the above news article, I googled “Richard Rose” and “Aon” to find out whatever happened to him. According to my google search, he is alive and well and still working for that company.
The events in my life are steeped in reality peppered with bouts of imagination. Reality is where I’m forced to live; my imagination is where I often choose to live. It makes life more colorful and interesting in dealing with the mundanity of life. However, I hiked part of the Appalachian Trail with my daughter the other day and the reality of our experience was just as exciting as what our imaginations brought us to during that journey.
My daughter got her first real taste of roughing it last Summer while at a sleepaway camp in New Jersey. Part of her stay required her to spend an entire week hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with other teen campers. They spent a total of five days on the trail hiking a total of 30 miles. She told me that they slept underneath tarps and ate food from cans and she enjoyed the whole experience. I was stoked knowing that my own daughter loved something that I had begun 20 years ago when I slept alone on top of a mountain, married, but without any children at the time. At 17-years-old, my daughter was now old enough, tough enough and strong enough to do what I had been yearning to do since then.
A few weeks ago, through the efforts of Dorothy Reilly of the Greenbelt Conservancy, we had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Pharr Davis, a female hiker who had broken the speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail in only 46 days (most who hike the whole Trail typically need several months to do that). After meeting her, hiking part of the Appalachian Trail became one of the items on our Summer to-do list.
With only a few days to go before Summer’s-end, my daughter and I set off to begin hiking part of the Trail at the base of Bear Mountain in New York. We already had all the necessary items with us to survive for a few days with the addition of a Lifestraw portable water purification device and a large solar charger that would become an emergency energy backup to power our cell phones in the mountains.
Our ascent up Bear Mountain was grueling. It consisted of a series of hundreds of steep rock stairs that seemed to never end. With our loaded-up frame packs on our backs (mine was 22 lbs, my daughter’s was 19lbs), this made the ascent the more challenging. By the time we reached the one-mile mark along our journey, I had chest pains which stopped me in my tracks. This scared me and for a good minute or so, I contemplated ending our hike then and there to make sure I’d be around in the future to to see both my kids go to college and get married. After resting enough where the chest pains dissipated, we continued on our hike to the further reaches of the mountain. Eventually we reached the top of Bear Mountain and saw a tower on the top while enjoying an amazing panoramic view of the valley below. Far away from us still was West Mountain, the mountain that housed a stone shelter at the summit and our final goal for our journey.
Our trek through the Appalachian Trail brought us in contact with various forms of wildlife: deer, a praying mantis, and a large millipede. These were reminders to us that while the trail was made for people, everything else was made for nature.
While half of our route was walkable, the other half was harrowing and dangerous and required us both to use very careful footwork navigating down rock scrambles desperately looking for safe footholds throughout. This was our introduction into the reality of our adventure. A sense of imagination started brewing in my head as we continued our dangerous, yet exciting journey towards the Shelter.
Our route crossed the path of the 1779 Trail, a trail with historical significance during the Revolutionary War. I imagined the Continental Army marching along it as the British were close on their backs.
As our hike brought us down Bear Mountain and up West Mountain, there was a sense of desperation and urgency as the Sun slowly settled towards the horizon and the woods we were hiking through darkened more and more. The gps watch that I wore to get a sense of our distance covered showed me at four miles. My daughter and I were getting tired, our shoulders were killing us from carrying the heavy frame packs, and my feet were hurting. The impending darkness made us committed to continuing until we found the Shelter.
Finally, our fifth mile brought us to one of the first unobstructed panoramic views of our journey since reaching the Bear Mountain summit hours before. We were now near the top of West Mountain! Looking across towards Bear Mountain, we saw the tower that we had passed right under earlier that day. I was so giddy with excitement at that moment, I told my daughter that it is as if we were seeing the Tower of Mordor, a reference to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I imagined us two as characters from the story who had just engaged in an epic journey full of challenging terrain and danger, which is what we really engaged in thus far.
Upon studying my trail map very carefully, I noticed that the West Mountain Shelter was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about a quarter-mile off along the Blue Trail. I used this moment as a life lesson to my daughter. I told her that most people make quick decisions in their lives without really putting enough time and thought into their decisions. These decisions eventually become bad and screw up their lives unnecessarily. I explained to her that I had just spent my time carefully studying our hiking route and noticed that our route for reaching the shelter was incorrect. It was not along the Appalachian Trail, but about 1/2-mile along the nearby Blue Trail. If I didn’t take the time to study this, we would never find it and would be hiking in the dark all night long looking for it. I hope that this lesson stays with her for the rest of her life.
At this point, we were somewhere between Miles 5 and 6 and were hiking along the edges of West Mountain in search of the Blue Trail. After passing a series of awe-inspiring panoramic views of other mountains, valleys, lakes, the Hudson River, and the setting Sun, we were both bent on finding the seemingly-evasive West Mountain Shelter. The map that I held in my hands told me that it was so close that I could smell it. We then saw through the trees a series of tents with hikers sprawled throughout campsites
at the top of the mountain. As we continued along our route a little bit more, we saw the West Mountain Shelter. Seeing this shelter made it feel like we had reached our epic journey in search of Mount Doom, the final resting place where Frodo was able to finally rid himself of the dangerous Ring.
As the last rays of sunlight disappeared into the darkness of the night, we set up our tents, enjoyed a meal together, and began a much-needed rest after a day packed with adventure. In all, we had hiked 6.35-miles and scaled two mountains, each more than 1,000 feet in elevation. Our total hike lasted for only 4 hours 15 minutes, but the memories of our adventure together will last a lifetime.
March 9, 2014 – It was the 17th anniversary of rapper Biggie Smalls’ untimely death. El Presidente, a local rapper from Staten Island, wanted to produce an update to Biggie’s classic rap song Hypnotize as an homage to him. Better known as Notorious B.I.G., Biggie admired the local running community throughout Staten Island and was planning to record a song about it before he was brutally gunned down in a drive-by shooting in LA. El Presidente, a long-time fan of Biggie’s, recorded Notorious S.I.A.C., the never-before-released running version of Hypnotize along with his fellow rappers from Brooklyn, JP and Klaygirl. This song was going to be a part of the high-concept album, Gonna Run From Yo’ Momma, but was pulled due to it’s controversial lyrics that mentioned such things as the High Rock Challenge among others. Here’s the raw, unedited version that was recently unearthed from the vaults of the Staten Island Athletic Club:
For many people I know, 2016 has been looked upon as a year of sadness. Many singers and celebrities that I grew up with in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s died this past year. And with Donald Trump winning the Presidential election, many of my family and friends including myself were devastated. We now have to worry about the future of our country in the hands of somebody who seems very ill-prepared to be the leader of our country. On the surface, this year could easily be looked upon as one that many of us would like to forget. However, in reflecting upon my own personal life, a lot of good and interesting things did in fact happen to me. Some of these things involved personal growth in new endeavors in my life and some involved friends and family who did great things this year.
In January, I visited my brother Aaron and sisters Sarah and Rachel at my father’s house. They are actually my half-sisters, but that really doesn’t matter to me. I remember when they were both just born and how my family and I helped bring them up. I am proud that they have grown up to become intelligent, responsible, and caring women who both have interesting careers.
My brother Aaron got a job working with mentally challenged adults in Brooklyn. He helps them live as independently as possible and has really excelled at his job within a short period of time. With one of them who was severally autistic, Aaron was able to help bring him out of his shell by dancing and singing with him.
My brother was in a live comedy sketch show in February. He enjoyed the experience working with other actors. You can see highlights of her performance here.
I am proud of my brother is that he recently came out in public as bisexual, something that took a lot of strength and soul-searching for him to do.
Doing stand-up comedy has been on my bucket list for at least a dozen years. In April, I finally did it. With the help of my friend Darin Magras who was my role model, I went out on stage during an open mic at the Looney Bin Comedy Club in Staten Island. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I was very relieved to finally get it done, kind of like taking a pee after having it stored in your bladder for 15 years. You can see all the carnage of my comedy act here.
The following month, my friend Will Sanchez contacted me about being a “very special guest” on his Manhattan public access cable show, Gotta Run With Will. This show features people who are fixtures throughout the New York City running community. At first I wondered why Will would want me to be a guest on his show being that I’m not the greatest runner and I wondered what could I possibly say that would interest his viewers. Will saw through my Facebook posts that I do have a life full of interesting things that could translate well on his show. After all, I am a teacher, background actor, filmmaker, comedian, and the publicity director of the Staten Island Athletic Club. But of all these things, Will was most interested in the fact that I played a naked dead guy on an episode of Law & Order: SVU. If you’d like to see how my interview may have “cracked” some people up, you can view it here.
Two years ago, my friend Michael Ring contracted this very rare muscle disease called CIDP. It incapacitated him for a long time. Last year his range of motion was very limited and he was often confined to a motorized wheelchair. Since then, has made amazing progress and attempted to walk the entire 13.1-mile length of the 2016 Brooklyn Half Marathon. I was asked to be one of his guides during his attempt. Because we were walking the entire length, I decided it would be a good idea to film him during the whole event. Here is a 6-minute documentary that I made using that footage to showcase his fantastic achievement: F*ck CIDP …One Year Later.
My daughter Emma loves art and was offered by her high school a fantastic opportunity to work as an art intern for a professional artist. From January to May, I had to leave my job 40 minutes early in order to pick her up from school, then drop her off at Smack Mellon, the place where her internship was held. Every Wednesday, I went on an Indiana Jones adventure with my car throughout the streets of Brooklyn in order to make sure she arrived at her internship by 4:00pm. It was difficult for me, but I knew that this opportunity was important for her future career in art.
My daughter’s friend had passed away and she was devastated by his death. To help her and his family deal with it, she used art therapy to heal. She drew a portrait of him made to look like his favorite anime character. She had this artwork displayed at a public art exhibition as part of the culminating event of her internship at Smack Mellon. After the exhibition was over, she presented it to his family as a gift and they were very pleased and grateful for receiving it.
This year, my friend George had been getting sick due to a failing kidney. He is a great guy with a great family including two beautiful little girls. His kidney was rapidly failing and he could not find a donor whose blood type was compatible with his. After many of his friends and family members including myself were unsuccessful blood matches for him, George finally got lucky with Darren Corona. Darren selflessly went through the whole medical procedure that essentially saved George’s life. Darren has served as a role model for me and I’m sure many other people as well. Soon after the surgery was a success, Darren and George were both featured in a news article which you can read here.
In November, I elected not to run the NYC Marathon. I ran the last three marathons as a pacer for the New York Road Runners Club and this time around I wanted to give it a rest. However, several of my friends including Jacky, Catherine, and Danielle were first-time marathoners and I would like to acknowledge their achievement here. One of them was Lisa Swan who probably worked harder than any of my friends to get to this point in her life. Lisa was a self-described couch potato and very overweight at the time. Just a few years ago she decided to get off of the couch and make a major change in her health and fitness for the better. She started running road races and shed a ton of pounds while dropping down a few dress sizes. Her stalwart determination to do what had to be done for her marathon training was unparalleled. She serves as a role model in determination for many runners in our running club. You can read all about Lisa’s amazing marathon story here.
My children continue to grow in many ways. My daughter continues to pursue her artwork and creativity and enjoys listening to rock and heavy metal while my son continues to improve in his piano playing. He has completed yet another year as a boy scout and loves playing Minecraft on the computer. His growth has shot up this year by several inches and he is now taller than my daughter. My daughter is happier at school and is surrounding herself with good friends more. And yes, my son doesn’t smile too much for photos; it could be because he has uncomfortable braces in his mouth. They will be coming out in 2017.