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Taking on the NYC Marathon for a good cause

Long Beach firefighters run to support Muscular Dystrophy Association


It was at the roughly 24-mile mark of the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, just as he entered Central Park, that Long Beach resident Sam Pinto began to feel the physical toll of a 26.2-mile race.

“It was a complete physical and mental task going up the bridges and through the hills and the parks,” said Pinto, 35, a career firefighter in Long Beach and local school board trustee who finished in three hours 55 minutes. “The last few miles were like a whole separate race from the first 22 — it was just hard. It was much harder on your body — and then you had the rolling hills of Central Park itself. But when it got tough, I just thought about what I had been training for and who I was I running for.”

That would be the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the nonprofit health agency dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and related diseases by funding worldwide research.

Pinto, along with fellow Long Beach firefighter Bryan Jones and their friend, Devin Weinshank, ran in support of MDA and raised nearly $11,000 for the organization. Pinto and Jones had worked with the group in the past through the Long Beach Professional Firefighters union, Local 287, which has raised roughly half a million dollars for MDA through its “Fill the Boot” campaign, where firefighters collect donations for the group, over the past 10 years.

“We were approached by the running club for MDA at the start of the summer, and they asked us if we wanted to raise money by running the New York City Marathon,” Pinto said. “We saw all the success that the program brought, and what the kids go through is much harder than any training we had to do.”

Though Pinto and Jones had participated in local 5K and 10K events on the boardwalk, neither had run in a race as challenging as the New York City Marathon.

“We do Fill the Boot every year, and we actually had a few years where we were number one in the state,” said Jones, 30, a local surfer, who finished in 4 hours 28 minutes. “And since I’ve been there, we’ve been in the top three. As time went on, supporting the organization became more personal. We’ve met some of the kids and their families — their parents thanked us personally for raising money. I’ve always been active, so when it came to taking on the physical challenge it all came together.”

Pinto and Jones were among the 50,000 runners who took part in the Nov. 3 event, including many from Long Beach. They teamed up with members of the New York City Fire Department’s running club — including Long Beach residents Etan Blatt, Kelly Coyle and Randy Eichin — who helped them prepare for their first marathon.

“The FDNY has a huge running team and they had a bunch of local guys that we recognized,” said Jones. “They gave us tips and helped us with first time jitters.”

Pinto and Jones trained for four months and ran up to 50 miles a week; Pinto said he would run from Long Beach to Rockaway at Beach 126th Street and back, about 23-miles.

“I never ran more than 10 miles until August when I approached my first double-digit workout,” said Jones. “It was definitely a whole new thing.”

The race through the five boroughs began at the Verrazzano Bridge and finished in Central Park. Geoffrey Kamworor, 26, of Kenya, took the men’s race in 2:08:13, while Joyciline Jepkosgei won the women’s division in her debut with a time of 2:22:38.

“As a first timer it was really, really exciting because of the magnitude of the event,” Pinto said. “You’re surrounded by runners from all over the world and then you have the personalities of New York City rooting you on throughout the race — and all the locals cheering on random strangers.”

“Running over the Verrazzano was pretty amazing,” Jones added. “Seeing all the people who came out to support everyone, complete strangers screaming and helping you get through it, was a very special feeling.”