Fire lieutenant to represent Brooklyn in Foot Locker Challenge
Will compete for trophy in sub-race within NYC Marathon
There will be more than 45,000 runners competing in this year’s New York City Marathon and there are just as many fascinating stories associated with the most famous long distance race in the world.
One of those stories belongs to Adrienne Walsh, an FDNY lieutenant, who has been running in the marathon since 1983 and will compete against this year.
Walsh has a special reason to want to do her best in the 26.2 mile race on Nov. 3. The 16-year veteran of the FDNY, who lives in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, will represent Brooklyn in the Foot Locker Five Borough Challenge, a race-within-a-race at the marathon in which the winner will receive a trophy and earn bragging rights.
Each of the five boroughs will be represented by a contestant in the challenge. The Tiffany Trophy will be awarded to the runner who finishes the marathon with the fastest time in the challenge group
“For the first 13.1 miles, we will be running as a group. And after that, we might still be running as a group. But if you feel you can run at a faster pace, you can go ahead,” Walsh told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a phone interview Monday.
“If I can finish in 3:30 or 3:45,” Walsh said, referring to her goal of completing the course in less than four hours, “I’ll be over the moon.”
The challenge contestants were selected because each had to overcome a challenge in his or her life, according to a spokesman for the New York Road Runners Club, the organization which founded the marathon.
Walsh is the first woman in the history of the FDNY to join one of the department’s elite rescue squads.
Walsh, who is currently in Rescue Squad 18 in Manhattan, has faced many obstacles in her Fire Department career, including harassment on the job, injuries in a serious fire truck accident and having to run for her life when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
She was off-duty on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and was driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on her way to Staten Island when she saw the first plane hit the North Tower. She drove to the Brooklyn Bridge intending to cross the bridge on foot to get to lower Manhattan “because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get near the site by car and I knew the subways had stopped,” she said.
She was running across the bridge when she spotted a fire truck. Luckily, the firefighters gave her a lift. “I ran up to my firehouse,” she recalled. Walsh was a member of Ladder 20 in SoHo at the time. She and her fellow firefighters started running to get to the World Trade Center.
“We got to about a block from the World Trade Center, near Zuccotti Park. I got off the rig and I saw this dark tornado cloud coming toward me. The building had just collapsed. I started running. I remember thinking, ‘If I can beat the cloud, I can beat building,’” Walsh said.
“But I also I thought, ‘This is it. This is how it’s going to end for me.’ And I remember thinking that nobody knew I was down there and if I died nobody will know to look for me down there,” she said.
Walsh saved herself by diving into the basement of a building. “The basement door was open and there was a light shining from it,” she recalled.
Several of the firefighters in Ladder 20 also sought shelter in the basement. Not everyone in the company was so fortunate. The company lost seven members and another seven firefighters from a unit that shared Ladder 20’s firehouse were killed.
Three years later, Walsh had to overcome an ugly episode in her FDNY career when she was the victim of harassment at Rescue 4, a company in Woodside, Queens. The New York Daily News reported that Walsh left the company after just 32 days and confided to a fire chief that she had been harassed. The ugly episode led the FDNY to transfer the commander and discipline several of the men in the squad, the Daily News reported.
In 2008, Walsh faced adversity again when she was injured in a collision between two fire trucks in Greenwich Village. The New York Post reported that both trucks were answering a call that turned out to be a false alarm.
Walsh has been a fan of the New York City Marathon since she was a teenager. She used to volunteer at the water station with other students from Bishop Loughlin High School. “I grew to appreciate the runners,” she said. “It’s interesting to go from one side to the other; from cheering for the runners to being a runner myself,” she said.
She appreciates the support she receives from the spectators. “Some of the spectators cheer for us and they don’t know anyone in the race,” she said.
Her fellow runners teach her important lessons, she said. “One year, I came over the 59th Street Bridge and I felt like I couldn’t go on with the race. It was too much. Some years, you just feel that way. I looked over and saw a runner who had no legs,” she said. The runner was running on two prosthetic legs. “I remember thinking, ‘I have nothing to complain about and I should keep going.’ So I did,” she said.
She can’t wait for this year’s marathon, she said. “I’m always fascinated by this city and by the people in this city. The marathon brings out the best in all of us,” Walsh said.
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