I belong to two running clubs. One is conservative and one is liberal.
Being a person whose political beliefs are somewhere between moderate and liberal, you would think that I would favor one club over the other. The truth is that I love both clubs equally regardless of their political leanings. You see, running overcomes everything. It’s the common denominator that brings people together.
Running is a very innate human activity. Cavepeople have been doing this running thing since the dawn of man when they had to either run to catch their meals or run away from becoming a meal. Even though our intellects have evolved over time, there are still some primitive inclinations in all of us. Selfishness, bigotry, ignorance, and violence are all a part of the dark underbelly of the human condition. Running erases these tendencies. It also unites all of us regardless of our dissimilar moral, social, and political ideologies.
Whether you are a conservative, a liberal, or something in between, runners share the same values that never change. Camaraderie, goal-setting, fitness, motivational support, and teamwork are traits that runners of all ilks commonly exhibit.
In today’s divisive political climate, I am happy to be a part of an activity where politics doesn’t matter and being the best we can be as human beings does.
Being New Yorkers, one would think that we live in an open-minded society, but they would be wrong. Even though our City as a whole is generally liberal-minded, diverse, and accepting, there are still those throughout the City with conservative beliefs who choose to practice prejudice and hate over acceptance and love. Exactly a year ago, I wrote an article and sent it to the local paper, the Staten Island Advance. Even though it was never published, I felt it necessary to share my story as it relates to one of my gay friends living in Staten Island and his experience running the 2017 Forest Avenue Mile, an annual race that is very popular throughout the Staten Island running community. Reading his story will help others understand what the gay experience is like in a society that still has a long way to go in accepting others who may be different from you.
Below is the article in it’s entirety.
C’mon Staten Islanders, you’re better than that!
By Josh Pesin
I love Staten Island. I love the people, the communities, and the strong sense of patriotism, volunteerism and charity that permeates throughout all corners of the borough. When the tsunami of 2004 devastated Sri Lanka, Staten Islanders were the single largest donors to help that country. Staten Island is home to many public service workers who leave behind their loved ones every single day to serve and protect the City. Staten Islanders have engaged in grassroots causes from cancer awareness walks to pet adoption events and everything in between. Over the years, the borough has become more culturally diverse. All the new Polish, Albanian, Dominican, Russian, and other cultural businesses that have been popping up throughout the borough can attest to that.
You would think that I have only good things to say about the Island and I wish that were true. Something happened a few weeks ago in a very public way that reared Staten Island’s ugly head and reminded me that the Island is far from idyllic.
My running club, the Staten Island Athletic Club, hosted a one-mile race called The Forest Avenue Mile. This annual event takes place along the same route as the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, an event that begins immediately after the ending of the race. With the help of our club president and members who share a common love for running, we make all new members feel welcome including those from the LGBT community whose population has been gradually growing in our club. I am friends with them and I’ve found them to be great people. Upon hearing that the LGBT community was not allowed to march in the Parade yet again, one of our club members, Chris, wore a rainbow-striped race shirt as a form of solidarity during the race. As the race began and the runners went off, Chris ran by throngs of families who were lined up along the Parade route. What happened to Chris during the race can best be summed up by what he posted on a social media site later that day:
“Today I pushed myself to a new height. Today I strived to be better than I was yesterday; better than I was last month; better than I was last year. I was blessed by a crowd of supporters including family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Running with my pride on full display for a borough and community that is negligent and hateful towards myself and my community, refusing to allow the LGBT community to march in the parade. Today I heard cheers for me. I saw people beaming with pride about my singlet. I gave people hope, along with my fellow runners with the Young Democrats of Richmond County. Today I heard more jeers than cheers. I heard people screaming pussy. I faintly blocked out the crowd hollering faggot. I didn’t allow the disgusted looks and leering stares deject me from my goals. Today I was me. Today I was freer than I have ever been. More open and vulnerable than I ever considered possible. Today I had more love for myself than I have ever felt before. Swelling with pride, with confidence, with self acceptance. Today I was fearless. To everyone who has followed my journey and continues to support me as I pursue and achieve my goals. As much inspiration as I gain from myself, all your love and support inspires me to be a greater runner and person. Today I was me. Today I was free. And tomorrow I will wake up a better version of myself.”
Chris later told me that people of all ages; children, teens and adults, were chanting gay-related obscenities at him along the route. Out of the 140 runners who ran the race that day, Chris came in third place. Chris’ race performance and his resolve to overcome prejudice and hate to achieve success reaffirmed my belief that Staten Island can still be a great place to live if only more people embraced diversity like him.
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.
During my Sunday long runs with the Staten Island Athletic Club, our masters captain Gus noticed I finished each run with a noticeable layer of thick salt across my forehead. “Josh, you gotta hydrate more before, during and after your long runs”, was his response. Keeping this in mind, I made sure I took his advice when I ran The 2013 Brooklyn Half Marathon. The day before, I loaded up on several glassfuls of water. The morning of the race, I had a big cup of coffee, then a few more cupfuls of H20. I think I was hydrated enough and ready for the race.
We were in our start corrals and just moments away from the start of the race. I was looking for an available port-o-potty, but they were all occupied. I decide to hold it in; how bad can that be?
I was bent on breaking my pr (personal record) of 1:41:13 for this race. I’ve run many times with my friend Jennifer, a dedicated runner who has been continually improving in her running since I first met her several years ago. Jen and I planned on starting and finishing together.
The race starts. After running with Jen for the first seven miles and filling up on even more water at each water station throughout the race, the urge to urinate is growing in me. Jen tells me to go ahead of her since my pace was picking up, so I start pulling away from her. I am now on Ocean Parkway, a flat, wide thoroughfare going through the heart of Brooklyn. As the miles pass and my speed increases, the need to urinate increases. At Mile 10, it becomes unbearable. I decide that the only way I can finish the rest of the race comfortably is to get rid of all the urine. But stopping to pee was out of the question; I wanted to save as much time as possible in this race so I can give myself a chance to break my pr, for even seconds count. My bladder was in pain holding back the floodwaters, so I decided to urinate in my running shorts. The only problem was that I couldn’t do it. I was conditioned since childhood not to pee in my pants. I had to mentally motivate myself to pee. Like a pathetic cheerleader awkwardly chanting things like, “Josh, you can do it!”, and “Pee! Pee! Pee!”, I was determined to achieve success in this matter. After much self-motivation, the floodgates opened up and a giant sense of relief filled my being. “Hallelujah! Now I can focus on finishing this race!”, I thought to myself. And thank the Lord that I was wearing black running shorts. I looked at other runners to see if they noticed my ‘situation’, but they were all in their own little world focused on getting their race done.
After relieving myself, I was able to focus on increasing my pace, for I was bent on breaking my pr. The last few miles were my fastest, especially Mile 12. I crossed the finish line on the Coney Island Boardwalk with a new pr of 1:40:08; over a minute faster than my previous half marathon record.
Boy, this race was a real pisser!