On Saturday morning, Oct. 27, I was finishing my last 6 mile run on the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk in preparation for the Nov. 4, 2012 New York City Marathon. It was a sunny, cool day with many people either walking, running, riding bicycles or guiding baby carriages along the recently renovated boardwalk.
This revived boardwalk had brought new life and bright promise to an area that was greatly neglected in the past. Hipsters from Williamsburgh and surfers from the tri-state area arrived and upgraded the quality of life on the beach by opening new businesses and teaching young people how to surf and paddleboard surf. They have infused great energy in this beachfront community.
As I was running my last mile, I watched and admired the surfers on the oceanside of the boardwalk who seem to throw caution to the wind. Glancing on the other side, I noticed about 20 people making sandbags out of white cloth from a hill of sand near the handball courts. These must be the overcautious newcomers to Rockaway, I thought to myself. Little did I realize that would be the last mile I will run on this boardwalk for quite some time.
From the evening of Oct. 29 to the early morning of Oct. 30, Mother Nature wreaked havoc on the tri-state area which resulted in numerous deaths, untold injuries and unprecedented property destruction. Among the properties destroyed was the entire wooden Rockaway Beach Boardwalk stretching from Beach 126st in Belle Harbor to B.20 St. in Far Rockaway.
For countless decades, people sauntered along the boardwalk for its wonderful vistas of the beach with its bright sunshine, inviting sandy beaches, spectacular skies that featured magnificent sunsets and sunrises filled with promises of a new, glorious day. Anyone who has had this pleasant experience of beaches in the tri-state area might have believed that the origin of the term “Hurricane Sandy” was either a strange premonition or a cruel joke.
Will we ever again have our beloved boardwalk back on which to walk, to dream, to run?
That question was answered on Thanksgiving morning, Nov.22, at the intersection of Beach 95th St. and Shorefront Parkway on Rockaway Beach. Some days earlier the race director of the Rockaway Gliders Running Club, John Edwards, put out an email to the effect that the Thanksgiving Day 5K Run was still going forward even without the famous boardwalk. By the 9am start, over 40 runners had arrived in weather amazingly like that on Oct.27 — bright sunshine, blue skies and crisp cool air.
Many were the unbreakable Rockaway Irish but 12 runners came from Spanish Harlem in Manhattan. A German couple came in from Long Island City. Two Haitian American runners took the Q35 bus from Flatbush for the race. A Chinese American couple drove down from Flushing. All shared their tales of woe from Hurricane Sandy. I shared that my father's summer home was destroyed in Breezy Point.
In addition, the Latinos were frustrated by the lack of a comprehensive immigration policy. The Germans were incensed by Hollywood stereotypes of their people. “Who else is doing the most to save the European Union?” they muttered. The Haitians reminded us that Hurricane Sandy caused mass destruction in Haiti in addition to the previous earthquake. The Chinese- American couple were grateful that the Thanksgiving race was held in Queens because it is the most ethnically diverse county in the world. With that, I led them in an interfaith prayer—healing from the horror of Sandy and thanksgiving for what we have –the gift of human life.
Before the race, all the runners felt some degree of pain but we found great pleasure in running! Running is liberating, joyful and, when we finish, triumphant. The race director commenced the race with a shout and shout we did as we ran on the beach from B.95th St. to the far end of the boardwalk on B.126th St. and then back to B. 95th St.
The beach was previously a source of misery due to the storm but we runners were reclaiming the beach as a source of inspiration to rebuild our homes once destroyed and renew our faith in humanity due to the outpouring of volunteers and help from all around the country. We are New Yorkers taking back our community, our dignity and our city pride!
I ran with a damaged left knee due to an earlier injury but I enjoyed every step of the way. I expected to be the last one and I was. However, about one quarter mile from the finish, I noticed additional people on the beach — couples with baby strollers, a man on a bicycle, a couple exchanging a romantic kiss and, lo and behold, ten surfers in the water taking back the sea for humanity!
For three weeks I was crying tears of sadness due to the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. As I arrived at the finish line with arms outstretched and hearing my fellow runners and new friends cheering me on—I had tears of joy for this beachfront run and thanked God for revealing to me a new way of giving thanks. AMEN! GO ROCKAWAY BOARDWALK!
** Father Brian Jordan, chaplain of St. Francis College, Brooklyn, N.Y.