Each year, the TCS New York City Marathon shines a light on something incredible in NYC. The magic isn’t just in the 50,000+ runners who make up the world’s biggest marathon. The day also affirms the power of people helping people, as more than 10,000 volunteers come out to ensure a safe, enjoyable event for everyone.
“I love the volunteering experience and the people of my community who come out every year,” says Jeff Laperuta, a fixture of the mile 3 fluid station in Brooklyn, where he’s been volunteering every year since 1984 and serving as captain since 2006.
What keeps him coming back? “I get a T-shirt,” Laperuta jokes. Volunteer swag is definitely a nice perk, but it’s hardly been his main reason for sticking with the race through 32 years.
“It gives the world a look at my community and country—and how we help 50,000 strangers who work very hard to achieve a goal,” Laperuta says. “The marathon provides economic growth for our city and spotlights our commitment to the sport of running and fitness.”
Laperuta says some of his fondest memories are of watching the wheelchair athletes and those who run with Achilles International, an organization that helps people with various types of disabilities participate in major running events. The same is true for long-time volunteer Michelle Randall-Williams, who’s inspired every year by those who overcome physical challenges to conquer the five boroughs.
“I always say to myself, this is the year I'm going to run,” she says.
Of course, running the TCS New York City Marathon would keep Randall-Williams from her beloved mile 8 fluid station, where she’s been volunteering for 37 years and serving as captain for nearly as long. The veteran NYPD detective first got involved when a friend in the mayor’s office was looking to recruit volunteers. Hailing from a large multi-cultural family, Randall-Williams recognized the race as more than just a sporting event.
“It's a community gathering that emulates my family,” she says. “The idea of embracing everyone is part of my culture and upbringing. The marathon magnifies that a million times over. It's a beautiful community gathering.”
Over the years, Randall-Williams has handed out water and Gatorade alongside numerous members of her family. Two sisters volunteered even during their treatment for cancer. Her friend “Big Daddy” has served as her DJ for over a decade.
"We've had runners from all over come up and dance for a little while,” Randall-Williams says.
"It's the biggest party in New York,” she adds. “And a healthy party at that.”
New volunteers also feel the attraction of being part of the world’s largest marathon. “I moved to New York in June, and I signed up to volunteer at the marathon even before I found a place to live,” says Morgan Weeks, a native of Georgia who spent Sunday welcoming runners and meeting their needs in the post-finish area on Central Park West. “I want to run a marathon someday. This is a way to experience it and be a part of it before I actually run it. It’s gotten me excited!”
Brooklynite C. Walsh, who’s volunteered at mile 5 in Sunset Park since 1990, confessed to feeling a similar sense of excitement this year at the prospect of running the TCS New York City Marathon someday. The middle school teacher, who says her favorite part of volunteering is helping her students realize they live in an international neighborhood, says, “I like encouraging people, because I could never run the race.”
But when pressed, she admits: “I’m thinking about doing it in 2017.”
By Ken Partridge