ON THE FIRST SUNDAY in November, as the sun begins to set and the temperature drops to the mid-40s, the TCS New York City Marathon starts to become a thing of the past. The marathon staff and volunteers break down barricades along the race course. The police escort, along with the medical vehicles and the shuttles, slowly drive up First Avenue in Manhattan announcing to the small number of racers crossing Mile 16 that the streets will open back up to the public soon. It's only 4 p.m., and these runners still have more than 10 miles -- and at minimum four hours -- to go before they cross the finish line.
More than 50,000 runners crossed that finish line while the sun was still shining and thousands of spectators were still packed like sardines at the grandstands. Not for these 100 or so racers. It will be dark, lonely and cold when they enter Central Park for the last mile. About 150 spectators will be gathered around the last few yards of the finish line, cheering but sounding faint in comparison to the cacophony just a few hours earlier. As the time inches toward the 7:25 p.m. race cut-off, these racers will technically finish but won't be listed as official finishers. Many will take nearly 12 hours to get through 26.2 miles. But they aren't running for the accolades or the bragging rights. They are here for much more personal reasons. Here are their stories.
Finish time: 8:52:33 at 7:58 p.m.
"Annabella ... Annabella ... Annabella ..." That's the name Katherine Rashdan, 36, repeated for 26.2 miles. When Katherine's legs started to give at Mile 12, she didn't think she was going to finish. But then she remembered her 7-year-old daughter, Annabella. "I wanted to show her that you can do anything you put your mind to," Rashdan said while wiping away tears.
Just three months ago, Rashdan began training for the marathon after winning an online contest for a late entry into the race. It had been 19 months since she had given birth to her second child, and she knew she lacked the training but she didn't want that to deter her from trying. "I can't even believe that I did it," said Rashdan, of Long Island. "When I go home, I'm going to give this medal to Annabella. And when my son is old enough, I'm going to tell him all about how his mom completed a marathon."
Denise Hidalgo (left) & Rochelle Rosa
Finish times: 9:13:29 and 9:13:27, respectively, at 8:21 p.m.
For Rochelle Rosa, 68, it has seemed like every year for the last decade she's faced a medical crisis. Eight years ago, after getting hit by a car while crossing the street, Rosa could barely walk. Her left knee was completely destroyed, and her dreams of ever competing in a marathon started to dissipate. Then, after suffering an aneurysm in her stomach three years ago and being temporarily paralyzed for six months, her marathon fate seemed sealed. But, one morning, Rosa woke up and said, "I'm going to run." Fighting her way back from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane to no assistance at all, Rosa began running in her late 60s. "I'm not a quitter," said the New Yorker. "This is everything to me."
When the time came to sign up for the 2019 New York City Marathon, Rosa's good friend and running partner, Denise Hidalgo, 60, knew she would be running alongside Rosa. Said Hidalgo, who has completed eight marathons, four in New York City: "I was actually hoping I could keep up with her. She drove me. On the bridges, her pace was astonishing."
Finish time: 11:02:35 at 8:45 p.m.
Running has always been a huge part of Hannah Gavios' life. But in 2016, she injured her spinal cord after falling 150 feet from a cliff as she tried to escape an assault from a man in Thailand. Gavios was paralyzed and told she may never walk again. She didn't let that stop her.
Last year, Gavios completed her first NYC Marathon with the support of Team Reeve, a part of the late Christopher Reeve's foundation. She raced the entire course on crutches. This year, Gavios did it again. "After my injury, I told myself that no matter what the circumstances are, I'm a runner no matter what," said Gavios, who lives in Astoria, New York.
Still the 26-year-old is not done and has aspirations beyond another marathon: She's eyeing Africa's highest mountain. "My dream," Gavios said, "is to do Mt. Kilimanjaro."
Finish time: 12:29:46 at 9:21 p.m.
Dave Fraser and "final finisher" have become synonymous over the years at the New York City Marathon. Over the course of 26.2 miles, Fraser can be seen throughout the five boroughs pushing himself backward in his wheelchair for 90% of the race, only facing forward on the downhill portions. "This is how I get around every day," said Fraser, who lives in Brooklyn. "This is just my life. I've always done it like this. I don't know any other way."
Born with cerebral palsy, Fraser entered his first NYC Marathon in 2007, in search of a new challenge. It wasn't until the next year when his wife, Nora, got stomach cancer that he decided he'd race -- and finish -- every year for her. Sunday's race was his 12th consecutive, and Nora has been in remission since 2008. "The only way I'm not competing is if I have an IV in my arm," the 52-year-old jokingly said.
Now, 11 years later, Nora and their three sons meet Fraser and his guides for the final mile of the race. "When I see her face, I know that I'm close," Fraser said.
Finish time: 13:13:41 at 10:05 p.m.
At the age of 7, Asha Noppeney underwent amputation surgery on her right leg after a bicycling accident in her birth country of Uganda. She had to learn to walk and run on a prosthesis. Throughout her childhood and most of adulthood, Noppeney never imagined she could complete a marathon. "I never, never thought I could run marathons," Noppeney, 65, said after she did a dance across the finish line. "I started at 40 years old -- and now look at me! Never, never lose hope. Never give up."
For the last decade, Noppeney, who now lives in Bayreuth, Germany, has competed in nine marathons around the world -- usually finishing in less than nine hours. But here in New York, she struggled over the last six miles, due to pain caused by her prosthetic leg. "I told myself to keep pushing. Don't feel the pain and just do it. And I did it," Noppeney said, as she raised her hands toward the sky.
Finish time: 11:45:44 at 10:26 p.m.
When Papa Otene crossed the finish line at the New York City Marathon, all he thought about was the beauty. This year, the 72-year-old completed the marathon with his wife and his granddaughter, and ran in memory of friends and family who have passed. Just a week before the marathon, Otene's mother-in-law died, and he knew his family would feel her beauty when they finished the race. "There was nothing like running in the honor of those who we have lost," Otene said.
Otene traveled more than 21 hours from New Zealand with 150 members of Influence Crew, a group dedicated to healthy lifestyles, to compete in his third NYC Marathon. Most of them stayed together the entire race. Near the end, a member from the group fell and Otene stayed behind to help them finish. "I would always do that to be with my community," he said.
Finish time: 12:06:03 at 11:14 p.m.
At 11:14 pm on Sunday, Shellie Warren crossed the NYC Marathon finish line in honor of her son, Brett, who died by suicide five years ago. She was this year's final finisher. Read more about her story and the other final finishers in my feature dropping on ESPN tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/CIui41VwVf— Charlotte Gibson (@TheCharlotteSue) November 5, 2019
Five years ago, Shellie Warren's son, Brett Warren, died by suicide after jumping off a bridge above the Hudson River in New York. Just months later, news came that the former Navy machinist mate was selected to run the 2014 New York City Marathon. Warren decided then what she had to do: She would run the marathon this year in his honor. Not being a runner, she knew the race would be physically and emotionally challenging. But no matter what, she would finish for Brett. "It was never an option not to finish," said Warren, 59. "I felt him every step of the way. He was with me."
At the starting line, Warren stood on the Verrazzano Bridge and took a moment. She knew she would have to cross a few bridges over the course and see more rivers -- and she associated trauma with both. So, in this moment, she stopped and had a talk with her son. "I told him I was sorry that he was in so much pain, and that I always loved rivers and I always loved bridges and I wanted to love those things again. I told him I was going to have to stop hating rivers and bridges," Warren said.
Warren crossed the finish line after 11 p.m. as the official final finisher -- long after organizers called the race and started sending people home, including the ESPN photographer and reporter. "I feel like I said goodbye to that trauma," she said. "I needed to say goodbye to that deepest part of grieving and realize that there's so much good that I can still do."