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Submitted photo Steve Lueders and Paul Cool in New York City.

Willmar notebook: On the streets of NYC in a tempest

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Hurricane Sandy barged into the east coast Oct. 29 on a collision course with the New York Marathon.

The forces unleashed by the monster waves and wind were felt all the way to Kandiyohi.

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Steve Lueders, the owner of an independent insurance agency, was packed for New York. It would be his 15th marathon and this was the jewel.

The superstorm dealt Manhattan and the boroughs a body blow. Runners around the world waited for word. Was the event still on?

Finally, Mayor Michael Bloomberg let the world know it was a "Go." Hearing that, some 40,000 stoked marathoners from around the world set off for the damaged metropolis.

The trip was on for Lueders and his wife Paula. He had qualified with a 1:26 half-marathon in Arizona. Also on the flight east were the Lueders' friends Paul and Renee Cool. Paul's name was drawn in a lottery and this would be his ninth marathon.

Cool told me on Wednesday, "If he would have called it off I would have totally understood. But when he said it needed to go on. I figured, well, it's that New York spirit talkin'."

Their original flight out on Wednesday evening was canceled but with some difficulty they secured a flight to LaGuardia via Chicago late Thursday morning.

On Friday morning Steve and Paul, plus thousands of others, went on warm-up runs in Central Park.

"We were booed," said Lueders. "People yelled 'go home, we don't need you.' "

It was a shock. They had been told it was OK to come to the shell-shocked city and run in the most prestigious marathon in North America and now they were being treated like invaders.

"We talked about it," said Steve. "We wondered if it's this bad what it will be like on Sunday."

They guessed that the angry voices may have been displaced residents from the tip of Manhattan beset by flooding and electrical failure. The hotel rooms the evacuees coveted were filled by "tourists."

On Friday the Lueders were on a bus tour when Paul texted: "Dude, they cancelled the marathon.

Steve thought his friend was joking. Then Paula got a call from their son, Zach, back home. "Tell dad they canceled it." It was on ESPN.

They were marooned in New York with no race but on the hook for four nights in a downtown hotel at $460 per. Don't expect a refund for checking out early, even if you could change your flight out.

On top of that, the sponsoring organization announced the entry fees ($240) would not be refunded, though the entrant is guaranteed a spot in next year's race with a 2013 entry fee. They would also keep the $40 Lueders put down for a pre-race tour of the route, plus several more dollars he'd paid for timing alerts that allow friends to follow his progress in the race.

Trying to make the most of the situation, Steve and Paul ran the Queensboro Bridge on Saturday. Pedestrians de-barking the subway trains made it clear the runners were no longer welcome.

"It was unlike anything I'd ever encountered as an athlete," said Lueders over the phone from his office this week.

The couples went on several tours they'd booked and also to a Broadway play "Jersey Boys."

The running guests were not indifferent to the suffering elsewhere in the city. Runners drove water, blankets, shirts and ponchos to hard-hit Staten Island where the race was to start. The sponsoring New York Road Runners, which according to the Times has $41.7 million in assets, announced it would donate the entry fees to the recovery.

"Not in our names," said Lueders, "But in their name."

Lueders felt Mayor Bloomberg came out of this better than he should.

"He was the one who insisted the race was going to be run," said the Minnesotan. "Then he got us all here and got our money. He had the both of best worlds."

But the visiting marathoners didn't come up empty. Using Facebook, individuals had organized "Run Anyway," four times adding up to 26.2 miles around a perimeter service road inside Central Park on a sunny Sunday morning.

Cool and Lueders joined the stream. Magically, cases of water and food appeared along the impromptu course. Jeers had turned to cheers.

The day was even more special for Cool. The running shirts worn by he and Steve proclaimed "Out of Darkness ... running to honor the memory of Kristopher Cool."

Kristopher was Paul's nephew who committed suicide last spring. It was the same day Paul found out his name had been drawn for the marathon.

The surrogate race was a throwback to the New York Marathon's beginnings, in 1970, before the race became a five-borough event.

"It was exciting," said Steve of the unofficial marathon.

Considering the expense of running in New York City, Steve has no plans to return.

For both men, seeing New York in turmoil just beginning the long recovery was a once in a lifetime experience.

"It humbled me," said Steve,

A runner from Munich told the Associated Press: "We spend a year on this. We don't eat what we want. We don't drink what we want. And we're on the streets for hours. We live for marathon, but we understand."

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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