An Interview With Julie Culley Post-NYC Marathon Cancellation

0033025d-b4d1-48f5-ac71-2ac8d1e99e7e.LargeAfter witnessing first-hand the events throughout the would-be New York City Marathon weekend, I can tell you that nearly everyone in the running community couldn’t quite articulate how they felt about the news. From what I gleaned via interviews RW did with participants and social media, the general sentiment was this: although it was the right decision, it was made too late. I still volley back and forth about how I feel–I’ll read an article that’ll sway me one direction, then read another that swings me back–so it’s not worth delving into that mess here. But, in the days following November 4, the RW staff scrambled to summarize and draw meaning from the cancellation, putting together what I think is an incredible, comprehensive look at what went down. Though it offers various opinions, I agree with it all. (The package is in the January 2013 issue–I’ll link to it once it’s online). Though it didn’t make the cut for print, I did an interview with Julie Culley, an Olympian who was set to make her marathon debut in New York. She’s also happens to be a New Jerseyan through-and-through and was directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. Julie offered a truly unique, heartfelt, and eloquent perspective that I think is worth sharing. Below is our conversation detailing her thoughts about the NYC Marathon cancellation:

Me: Now that it’s been over for a few days and you’ve had some time to let it sink it, where are you at emotionally today?

Julie Culley: I’m disappointed. I feel sad about not having run the marathon this weekend, and I’ve personally chosen not to run another marathon because of the emotional highs and lows that I’ve experienced this past week. I took a day or two off and suddenly came crashing down and got sick. I guess that’s a true sign of your emotional and physical state. I understand the pressure that was put on by the city and the pain that the city was feeling. I’m disappointed that the runners and NYRR became vilified because I truly and honestly believe that they have their best intentions at heart–in particular with the amount of money that was being raised for charity both for the relief efforts and for people who raise funds for other charities to gain access to run the race. And on top of that, the amount of expenses paid by 40,000 people to get them to the race–it’s really a shame. I think honestly if this marathon had been called off when the storm hit, it would be a lot less difficult for everyone. You know, natural disasters are not something you can prevent, and I’m sad that people are suffering the way they are suffering. I don’t think we should take anything away from their hardship.

Me: As an elite runner who prepared to run your first marathon, I can only imagine how you felt when you heard the news. How did you handle it all after Friday’s announcement?

JC: The day that it hit me the most was on Monday morning when we were leaving the city. The most frustrating part–and to me this is not a selfish thing–was the way that I saw the city continue on. As an elite runner and just seeing all the full time jobs, we were going to work on Sunday. I know that we were attacked even further for saying things like that because of the hardship that people are facing right now. Come Monday morning, that city was hustling and bustling and people were off to work. As soon as the power was back on, everyone went back to work. The frustrating part is that knowing people are hurting, people have passed away, and dealing with that emotion in and of itself. And also feeling somewhat betrayed because the marathon does so many good things for so many people. And me personally, I’ve been active in some of the charities and programs that they offer to the city of New York, so I know what the NYRR represents as well as what the elite runners were there to do. It’s a big financial hit, and I understand that everyone needs to play their part. It was definitely hard Monday morning seeing the city back to work, business as usual, long lines for the retail shops, long lines for the coffee shops, and thinking, that was what we were supposed to do. I struggle with that because my family’s shore house needs to be completed gutted. Obviously we are very lucky to have a second residence. We are not put out, our primary house is fine, but you know, it is difficult on a lot of levels.

I think that it is very unfortunate overall, and I think that the resiliency of the running community is inspiring because a lot of people put that time on Sunday to good use. I as well as many others were out there volunteering on Sunday, even after some of the harsh criticisms that came. The running community is a strong one, and I’m proud of the way people handled it. I think that’s a really important aspect of it all. It was a sad experience, and my heart breaks for the New York Road Runners because somehow this has turned into a big business move. That’s not it at all. If you see the differences that these guys make in the community and outside of it, too, it’s really inspiring. So it was hurtful to see them take so much from this.

It’s tough, you know, Monday I came home and after being so angry leaving the city, and then my parents came home after the first day they were allowed to go back on the island to see the devastation. It puts everything in perspective, of course, but it doesn’t make it hurt less.

Me: Out of the entire situation, what was the most striking or poignant moment for you from the weekend?

JC: The hostility had gotten to a point–whether it was real or just a bunch of talk–where I was with a fellow runner on Friday afternoon going for a jog, and the both of us expressed our concern for what was it going to be like out there on Sunday morning, especially with the women’s elite start being the first runners to come through the city. What is the tone of the city right now? Is it safe for everyone to be out there? That was starting to become a legitimate concern obviously for us, but for the organization, too. Honestly I think the New York Post article is what changed the entire tone. It went from, “Okay we’re going to do this, we’re going to put all of our efforts toward lifting the city and raising money for the relief efforts through the run,” to, “How dare you march through our city’s streets and parade around like nothing’s happened?” I think Friday morning when that article was published was when things really started to go downhill.

Ultimately, I think they did what they needed to do. I think if it was going to become such a divisive event toward the city, I think that this is what they needed to do. It’s still kind of like, was this the opinion of the majority or the minority–like a really small group that was making a stink–it’s really hard to know. Of course we weren’t there with Bloomberg trying to decide, but I think politics played a big part of this, and it’s sad that it happened to the marathon. Everyone had a criticism about it. I mean you turn on national television and people are chiming in about what the runners should do. And you know what? No one has ever paid attention to this before, so please don’t act like you know what to do going forward. You can’t postpone the NYC Marathon for two weeks. It’s kind of like asking the Super Bowl to be post-poned and having only 50% of the players show up. It’s crazy.

Me: What drove me nuts was that the Giants and the Knicks got to play.

JC: Yeah, when that happened, to me of course they passed the buck off elsewhere. You know, New York teams are New York until they don’t want to deal with them because they’re in New Jersey. I just felt that if it’s something that brings people together that’s positive for the community, then I wouldn’t be against the Giants game being played. I was against the fact that we were the ones that were singled out. At this point in time, it’s better for people to have something positive to focus on because it helps them keep moving forward, and it helps the recovery effort. It really, truly does. But if you take away all those things, there’s no inspiration or positivity. You’d be amazed at how much sport unites people and gives them hope.

Me: I think that was pretty apparent with what happened on Sunday between the runners who volunteered on Staten Island and who ran in Central Park. I mean, you talk about inspiration and unity, and what happened on Sunday was what it could’ve been like had the race gone on.

photophoto[1]JC: Exactly. It’s funny, you know my boyfriend and I decided we were going to go down to the East Village, and we found out about a community center that we could bring a bunch of stuff down to. We gathered some clothes and stuff from Asics, like a whole bunch of brand new stuff from the expo. We filled up a big duffle bag of it and brought it downtown. We thought if there is anything we can do to volunteer. I’m not trying to be a hero by any means, but he said to me, because I was dressed in all my marathon gear from Asics, and I said, “I should probably change, huh?” He just looked at me and said, “I’m not going to change. Why would we change? We’re proud of who we represent right now. We’re proud of this organization. If they want to yell at us, that’s fine, but we’re here trying to help out. The runners that ran in Staten Island in all their marathon gear, it’s like, we’re not a bunch of selfish people. We’re actually really here to help. I think that on some level, if there was enough time for the New York Road Runner’s to really create some sort of rallying effort, I think there would’ve been a different feeling about it. I think that it was a reaction to the negativity, and it was almost too late.

Me: So last question, what have you been up to all week?

JC: Monday when I came home, I wanted to take care of my parents who had just come home from smashing hammers into the walls the entire day by making them a big dinner. Unfortunately my intention was to try to find volunteer work as soon as I could this week, but I got sick. So my best friend from home and I started working on food donations that we’re going to deliver on Friday.

Photo credits: Elizabeth Maiuolo and Julie Culley

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” – A.C. Green

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