Like some 47,000 others who intended to run the 2012 ING New York City Marathon, Bente Skari had a vision. It went something like finishing the 26.2-mile race, her first marathon, in 3 hours and 20 minutes on Sunday.
That went out the window Friday when Mayor Michael Bloomberg called off the city’s signature event for the first time since its inception in 1970, citing widespread power outages and destruction following Superstorm Sandy.
Norway’s 2002 Olympic gold medalist and five-time World Champion cross-country skier would not get to run as an ambassador for the Active Against Cancer foundation. She had traveled to New York with about 50 other Scandinavians, 32 of which planned to run on behalf of the foundation.
Skari, 40, had three kids at home ages 3, 5 and 7. After retiring from full-time training nearly 10 years ago, she hadn’t planned to take the race too seriously. Still, she logged several long runs and researched the course in preparation. Skari knew all about the five boroughs the marathon weaved through, so when she heard about the devastation that struck many of them, she got to work.
On Sunday, around the time they would’ve started the race, about 1,300 runners boarded the Staten Island Ferry with backpacks and supplies. Once they reached land, they unloaded and dispersed to help residents around the storm-ravaged Cedar Grove Avenue.
Maryann and Sebastian Battaglia told The New York Times the runners saved them three or four days’ work by removing wallboard and insulation from their flooded first floor and scrubbing their home’s stairwells. The couple later learned that one of the volunteers was Skari, a three-time Olympian.
“That’s why she had such good stamina,” Maryann said. “God bless her.”
Skari told the Times she volunteered with 50 others from her group because “New York is so special.”
“I will return to run the marathon here,” she said. “But first, we are here to help.”
In a translated interview with the Norway’s Hegnar Online, Skari said she had modest goals going into the race and just wanted to finish. Active Against Cancer CEO Helle Aanesen, who aimed to run his sixth NYC marathon, challenged her to beat his time of 3:30. After completing several three- to four-hour runs with her, Aanesen figured she wouldn’t have a problem doing so.
If nothing else, Skari said she could rely on muscle memory and hard interval training from the past. “In addition, something happens when the starting number is in the chest,” she said.
Something happened when she was in New York, and many residents were so grateful, they were moved to tears.
Among the fatalities, three bodies were discovered after the water receded on Staten Island, including a man and his 20-year-old son holding one another, the Times reported.
“My God, the marathoners,” said one of their relatives. “What they’ve done here is overwhelming. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.