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New York City Marathon runners cross the Verrazano Bridge

Irish descend on New York for marathon

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New York City Marathon runners cross the Verrazano Bridge

Most attention is fixed on who crossed the finish line first at the New York City Marathon, but there are different ways to win the race. For a group of four girlfriends from Limerick, Ireland, it was charity rather than personal glory that motivated them to partake in the world-renowned 26.2 mile-run.

“I was roped into it over a few drinks by Sinead,” joked Mary Tobin, 33, pointing to her brunette fellow runner and friend, Sinead Cusack. “My nephew was helped by Enable Ireland, so fundraising for this trip was close to home.”

Enable Ireland is a national voluntary organization providing therapy and services to children and adults with physical and sensory disabilities throughout Ireland. They have 33 sites in 14 locations, and fundraising by individuals or groups is confined to the locality they come from. Joanne Murphy, the Community Fundraising Manager in Galway, Ireland said that the organization followed a social model of disability theory that focused on the person, not the disability. 

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“Everyone recognizes the name because it’s local, and we wanted to be successful in fundraising and promoting our cause,” explained Deirdre O’Byrne, whose marathon run coincided with her 30th birthday.

Tobin, Cusack, O’Byrne, and 28-year-old Neisha Leahy all know each other from school or their local soccer team in County Limerick. They began training in April, and stuck to a schedule of both short and long runs every week before flying into JFK last Thursday.

“Three weeks ago, we did a 20-mile run, the longest we’ve ever done,” said Tobin, who, like Leahy, participated in the New York City Marathon for the first time this year.

“I’d never run a marathon until this September,” said Leahy. “I just want to finish, keep the pace.”

For Cusack and O’Byrne, this was their third time running the marathon, and both women said that there was just some sort of pull to New York, so that they hadn’t thought about competing anywhere else. Leahy and Tobin agreed that the combination of a fundraising race, and a shopping trip to New York, made them all the more interested in and committed to training. Seated in the Helmsley hotel on east 42nd Street the night before the race, the women talked about relaxing over dinner and a movie, and looked forward to “being celebs” for a day, with more than 2 million spectators cheering them on. 

The lobby of the Helmsley was packed with nervous runners, sneakers attached to their backpacks, and accompanied by excited family and friends. Most hurried towards the Sports Travel International desk from Ireland, headed by Mayo-born Martin Joyce, 56.

Joyce set up the Irish office of Sports Travel International in Dublin in 1988, and brought seventeen runners to compete in New York for the first time in 1990.

“It was small beginnings, but we peaked in 2008 with 500 people coming to the New York marathon,” said Joyce.

This year, Sports Travel accommodated 330 people, of which 300 were runners. Joyce said that he decreased the standard package price by 100 euros this year. “New York is not a cheap place to come, and it’s actually the only one that has dipped. It’s a big commitment, but I reckon its bottom level now. It’ll just go up from here, confidence is coming back in Ireland,” he added.

As with other Sports Travel International operators, purchasing a deal with Joyce’s company guarantees entry into the New York City Marathon, an otherwise lottery-operated application system. This year, about 60 percent of Joyce’s customers represented charities. “Fundraising is tough, but the drop in charity entries is far from significant,” he explained.

Cusack, Leahy, O’Byrne, and Tobin each surpassed their fundraising target of 3,250 euros by almost one thousand euros. Cusack and O’Byrne finished the race in four hours, and were thrilled because they beat their personal best. Tobin and Leahy found the experience tiring, but were proud of their achievement. “It was so tough but the crowd really pushed me through and I couldn’t have picked a better place to do my first ever marathon,” Leahy concluded. 

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