A Celebration of Running and Diversity

29YEAREND-4-articleLargeOne Saturday night after the New York City Marathon in November, members of the West Side Runners Club celebrated their year of racing at the Upper West Side co-op of the group’s president, Bill Staab.

Salsa music reverberated in the living room, and men in polyester blazers twirled women in hip-hugging pants. Their children darted around them as Ethiopians in running gear watched politely from the couch. Above the music emerged bits of accented English, the team’s lingua franca.

The walls were covered in running memorabilia from the 1970s, when the team’s membership was mostly affluent white men, through its evolution into one of New York City’s most competitive and most diverse working-class teams. A crudely carved wood plaque on the wall read in Spanish, “In gratitude for the support you’ve given Colombian athletes,” conferred on “Mr. Bill” in 2006 by Carlos Grisales, a former Olympian and a team member.

The dining table was loaded with food prepared by runners and their families: Ethiopian injera bread and fiery wat stew accompanied by Mexican tamales and Ecuadorean ceviche. Staab had made a salad. As the night went on, the food table ceded its popularity to a garbage bin full of Coronas and ice.

As the kitchens of Manhattan slowly shut down, team members with jobs as dishwashers and cooks trickled over. Julio Sauce, an Ecuadorean and a cook in an upscale restaurant in Midtown, arrived after finishing his shift, which ended at 12:30 a.m.

A 41-year-old father, he had finished the marathon in 2 hours 38 minutes, placing 84th out of a record 50,266 finishers. He was the first Brooklyn resident across the line. His teammate Felipe Vergara, a 49-year-old construction worker from Mexico whose training had been hampered by a back injury, was celebrating a 2:47 finish, which was good for 205th over all.

Two of the team’s top runners, the Ethiopians Buzunesh Deba and Tigist Tufa, were unable to make it to the party from the home they share with Deba’s husband and coach, Worku Beyi, in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Deba and Tufa had dominated for much of the women’s race, taking off together for a huge early lead, only to be overtaken by Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya in the final miles.

One of their Ethiopian teammates, Abu Kebede Diriba, quietly heaped a plate with food. He brought it down to the building’s doorman, Cesar Cisneros, who would be on duty until 1 a.m. They nodded at each other, and Diriba went back upstairs to his spot on the couch. He had been sharing its pullout bed with a teammate since August.

At 2 a.m., Staab turned off the music, and the teammates wandered to the subway, heading back to far-flung corners of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. For many, there would be work in the morning.

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source: The New York Times by Lindsay Crouse

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