At 5:02 p.m. on Sunday, Stephanie Pennington crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in 6 hours and 39 minutes. Less than 3 hours later, she was back in Central Park, rallying the troops for a cheering party like no other in the marathoning world.
Project Finish was back for its sixth year, the goal unchanged: to make sure the final finishers of the race received the cheers and fanfare they deserved after 26.2 miles, which might have felt more like 200 after their trek through the city’s five boroughs. Or, better put by actor/emcee G.K. Williams, one of the hosts of the festivities, the group was there to make each back-of-the-pack runner “feel like a champion.”
Williams, along with co-host Ali Feller, a popular running podcaster, kept the couple hundred fans in attendance entertained and motivated as the hours wore on, with shoutouts to finishers who stuck around to cheer their peers, singalongs to Taylor Swift songs, and even a simulated Soul Train line, where spectators ran between rows of fellow members of the cheering squad while they waited for the next runner to complete the course.
And complete it they did. Some needed assistance; some, like Ireland’s Veronica Molloy (10:29:39), cried in appreciation at the outpouring of support from strangers. Eighty-six-year-old Danil Farkash (10:26:05) looked stronger than someone half his age—he smiled as he strode confidently to the finish. And despite the finish line being officially closed at 7:30 p.m., race director Ted Metellus assured the Voice on Sunday night that everyone completing the race would receive an official time.
A little after 10 p.m., it was announced that there were five runners left on the course. By now the crowd had dwindled to approximately a hundred hearty souls, who had been invited a couple of hours before to come down from the bleachers and onto the course finishing line area. When the first two of that last group became visible, Metellus waved a pair of thunder sticks to announce the arrival of Ceil Witherspoon (12:16:54) and Angelina Millare (12:17:04).
An hour later, Metellus announced that “in consideration of their neighbors,” the DJ had to stop playing and the hosts had to stop hosting. But the remaining members of the cheering section were loud enough to make up for any amplified sound, as 75-year-old Rozanna Radakovich, flanked by two of her Achilles International guides, crossed the marathon finish line for the 36th time, at 11:32 p.m.
Her time was 15:10:18.
There through it all was Pennington, founder of Project Finish, who told the Voice she chalked up the success of the group to the “power of social media” and “the kindness of humanity.” The latter can feel in short supply these days (perhaps also thanks to the unchecked power of social media), but on this night, kindness did in fact win the race. ❖
Thomas Gerbasi is an award-winning boxing writer who has still found time to write about less violent pursuits, such as roller derby and music, for publications such as The Daily Beast, KO63 Music on Medium, and Rolling Stone Australia.