By Paul Richter
“I made it to the gate today,” Dad told me. That’s the security gate at the end of Ocean Promenade in Breezy Point. Dad’s house is at the other end at Reid Avenue, which means he walked about a half-mile. Not bad for someone who turned 99 this month.
I know what he’s going to ask next. “So when’s the Family Run?”
We have been having this race at the end of every summer since 1977. It began as a bet between brothers, who was faster, and has somehow morphed into an annual family event that has carried on for 46 years.
The details of how the bet came about are fuzzy after all these years but basically, I had been telling Dad about my training for my first marathon, the 1977 NYC Marathon, and my brother John, coming off his freshman year running for Nazareth High School, probably sick of hearing me yammering on about how many miles I was running, interjected that he was faster.
I scoffed and like a true older brother boasted, “John, I could run on the beach from Reid Avenue to the rocks (what we called the Breezy Point jetty) and back and you can run from the rocks and I would still beat you.”
Dad, hearing this, said, “Can I get in on this bet?”
So the Family Run was born. Nothing material was bet, it was for bragging rights. The logistics of the race were worked out. We picked a day when low tide, so we could run on the hard packed sand, coincided with the noon Breezy Point siren. When the siren sounded, Dad, John and 10-year-old brother Roy Thomas started from the rocks, and I headed towards them from Reid Avenue.
Of course, I didn’t win. I wasn’t that good of a runner to pull off running three miles to their mile and a half. I remember I didn’t even make it to the Surf Club (about a mile for me) when they passed me. Little RT finished first followed by Dad, John, and then me.
For some reason Dad called for a rematch the following year and my wife JoAnne joined the race. Again, I lost, coming in after RT and Dad, but passing JoAnne and John.
In 1979, we ran it again. Brother Stephen, back from his stint in the Army, joined us along with 9-year-old little brother, Peter, and that year, I finally won.
Each year, at the end of the summer, Dad would call and ask, “When’s the Family Run?” By the mid ‘80s, Dad’s grandchildren started participating.
In 1991, we moved the race off the beach. It was getting too complicated coordinating low tide with the noon siren and getting everyone to their starting points on the beach. We ran on Ocean Promenade and the sidewalks running to Beach 222nd Street. Now everyone ran out and back, touched the Surf Club fence, two miles, with Dad starting first, followed by everyone else based on their presumed finish time. The fun we have each year listening to the sandbaggers moan how out of shape and slow they are, is countered with “You want to start with Dad and the grandkids?”
And so the race continues. Now rather than a bet between brothers is more of a salute to Dad, who still pushes himself each year to run the Family Run.