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Sandy and the marathon

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by | no responses

Windsor Middle School cross country coach Xerxes Whitney gets his team warmed up before their meet Nov. 16 in Santa Rosa. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG / The Press Democrat)

By HOWARD SENZELL / Towns Correspondent

Windsor Middle School teacher Xerxes Whitney flew to New York for that city’s Marathon nearly a month ago. When the event was canceled because of superstorm Sandy, he improvised.

On Nov. 4, the morning the Marathon was supposed to be run, he instead ran 26.2 miles on a make-shift course with a group of new-found friends.

“I figured since I trained for a marathon, and since I’d already spent the time and money to fly across the country, I might as well run,” he said.

Whitney did get to run in New York, but that’s only half the story.

His journey began in San Francisco on a rainy Halloween night when he boarded a red-eye flight to JFK.

“At that time, the race was still on,” the Healdsburg resident said. “We landed safely, and then I had the cab ride from hell.

“It was wild. It took two and a half hours to get to where I was staying in Brooklyn. You can’t imagine the gridlock. The ride not only cost me a $100, it was so harrowing it upset my stomach.”

He had made arrangements to stay with his cousin, Joel, and once settled into the apartment, he began reading in papers and online that public sentiment was against holding the Marathon.

“Most everyone seemed to think it was a horrible idea to run the Marathon with so many people in need,” he said. “I agreed after seeing all the destruction. A running race seemed trivial.”

Whitney got word of the cancellation while picking up his bib number at the Marathon Expo.

“At first, I was bummed out because they waited so long to make the decision. If the race had been canceled right after the storm hit, I wouldn’t have made the trip or missed three days of school.

“I’d dreamed for months about what it would be like having crowds cheering for me along the route. I thought about all the training I’d put in and had a pity party for myself.”

Then, while browsing on Facebook, Whitney learned that some of the 40,000 entrants were going to show up at Central Park and run.

“I decided to go for it,” he said. “We all met at the spot where the Marathon ends. I couldn’t believe how many runners were there. The atmosphere was festive and beautiful. I was blown away by how many foreigners there were. Most of them were wearing their country’s colors. I felt like I was a minority being an American.”

The loop around Central Park is 6.1 miles, so Whitney mapped out how he would complete the distance of a marathon.

“I started running at 9 a.m., and it was one big fiesta,” he said. “Everyone was saying hello to one another. I was in awe.

“I met these two cool guys from Atlanta, who had just done the Kona Ironman two weeks before. We took pictures together. They dropped out after 13 miles, and then I hooked up with a couple from Miami. They dropped off after 20 miles, and so I hooked up with a nice lady named Courtney.

“It was slow going the fourth lap. We were both cramping up pretty good, but we managed to push through. I was still a little less than two miles short of the marathon distance, so I ran a bit further. I timed myself and completed the distance in 4:26.”

When Whitney’s students learned he wanted to run in the Marathon, they raised close to $1,500 in pledges that would go to the school. Their teacher earmarked the funds for a sixth-grade science camp and sports programs.

Whitney, who has Cerebral Palsy, began running seriously in the sixth grade when he completed the Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.

He has competed in four races beginning with the 1997 Los Angeles Marathon.

“I love running,” the 41-year-old said. There’s something about it that makes me feel free and liberated.”

Will Whitney go back to New York for the race in 2013?

“I’m not sure,” he responded. “I know it won’t take too much to get me excited about doing it.”

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James Lanaras is our Windsor correspondent.
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