News & Events News & Announcements 2015 Michael Alzamora Achieves his Dream Running the New York City Marathon

Michael Alzamora Achieves his Dream Running the New York City Marathon

SSO donors helped send Michael Alzamora to New York City to compete in the New York City Marathon in November 2014. In the blog post below, Michael writes about his experience in the city that never sleeps and the joy he felt running the marathon. 

They say that New York is the city where dreams come true.  It is also the city that never sleeps.
On October 31, I arrived to New York City in the middle of the afternoon.  I was accompanied by Brian McLean, president of Achilles Canada, and Achilles member Chris White.  Chris’ purpose was to help me navigate the streets of NYC and give me moral support.
My first view of NYC was when we stepped out of Penn Station in Manhattan onto 7th Avenue.  Penn station is a hub of subways and commuting trains.  We arrived from Newark New Jersey airport.  Upon exiting the station there were so many people on the street that they looked like a colony of ants.  On 7th Avenue all I saw was yellow, a congestion of yellow taxi cabs.  It was also very noisy specially the constant sound of cars honking.  Our hotel, The Pennsylvania Hotel was across the street from Penn station.
When night fell, Chris and I went for a walk along 7th Avenue until we reached Times Square.  7th Avenue was unusually well lit being the fact that it was evening.  The brightness was due to the fact that there are gigantic electronic advertisement billboards flanking the street.  It was also very entertaining to see the pedestrians walk by because it was Halloween night and a lot of people where dressed in costumes.
After our walk we made our way to a pasta dinner at a Holiday Inn sponsored by Achilles International.  Achilles International in NYC is the headquarters of all the Achilles chapters in the world.  Achilles is a worldwide organization for athletes with disabilities.  The pasta dinner was attended by disabled athletes from all over the world.  I felt privileged and proud.  There must have been over 100 athletes easily.
On Saturday morning, Brian, his wife Trish, Chris, and I went to the marathon expo to pick up my bib number and do some shopping.  I bought NYC marathon running gear.
From the marathon expo we took a taxi to an Achilles International 2 PM lunch at a trendy pub.  The tab was picked up by Dick Traum, founder and CEO of Achilles International.  Once again I was in the company of athletes from all over the world.  We chatted with people ranging from South Africa to Norway and other countries.  I felt as if I was participating in the Olympic Games. I was in a foreign country with people from all over the world and I was participating in an international athletic event.
After lunch we took a taxi to see Ground Zero.  Being a sacred ground, I said a few prayers asking for a successful marathon.  It was very cold and windy with light rain so we didn’t stay long.  I did however observe the two waterfalls where the two foundations of the Twin Towers existed.  I also marveled at the sky scraper building that was constructed post 9/11.
On Sunday, November 2, my hotel roommate Chris and I woke up at about 4:30 am.  A number of special buses awaited Achilles athletes on 5th Avenue from 4:30 am to 6 am.  Where the buses were stationed Chris and I met Brian and Trish, as well as Jonathan one of the pacers that Achilles International assigned to me.  My pacer Jonathan and I boarded the 6 am bus on route to Staten Island to the start of the marathon.  I said goodbye to Brian, Trish and Chris as they would meet me later on at Central Park by the finish of the marathon.  The fact that Achilles International had special buses for its disabled athletes made me feel like royalty.
Upon arrival at Staten Island, Achilles International had a special circus like tent for all Achilles athletes to take refuge from the cold and the wind.  This part of Staten Island is located to the side entrance of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge called Fort Wadsworth.  It is nicknamed the “village.” At the village, Jonathan and I met my second pacer Katie.  Minutes before the first wave start at 9:40am the race marshals ushered all the Achilles athletes to the front of the start.  However they told us to line up at the right side of the start because the first wave of able body athletes would start before us.  Once again we were treated like royalty because by the time we started running the first wave was ahead of us and we began our trek before the second wave.  It was easy to get going because there weren’t runners in front or behind us.
I’ll never forget the start of the marathon.  It began crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, a few kilometres in length.  The bridge starts at Staten Island and finishes at the start or Brooklyn.  It was extremely cold with gusts of wind so strong that I have never experienced anything like it before.  My bib number across my chest was fluttering forcefully and rapidly, I thought it was going to fly off my chest and be disqualified for not wearing a bib.
The first half of the course was so memorable I felt nothing but joy.  I was energetic and very emotional because there were thousands of spectators cheering me on.  They were very loud, some of them screaming, “Go Achilles Go” because I was wearing a T-shirt with the Achilles logo.  I ran close to the sidewalk so that I could high five the spectators and blow them kisses.  Sometimes I would yell, “Greetings from Canada.”
The second half was difficult.  I experienced several bad patches where I didn’t feel well. Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was tough.  It starts at mile 15 and ends at mile 16 connecting Queens to Manhattan.  I had to negotiate a long challenging uphill.  It took me a while to recover but I didn’t panic because I have experienced bad patches in other marathons and know that eventually they go away.  At the exit of the Queensboro Bridge is the entrance to 1st avenue in Manhattan.  The crowds got me through the bad patches.  Something that also helped me through bad patches was fueling along the course by drinking water, Gatorade, and consuming energy gels every 45 minutes.
In the final 6 miles I was in survival mode.  My two pacers Jonathan and Katie kept a steady pace and encouraged me not to stop and walk.  The race began to get more difficult in Harlem at miles 21 and 22.  As we entered Central Park in mile 24 till the finish things got worse.  I misjudged the distance to the finish.  Central Park is extremely big.  I kept looking ahead into the distance for the finish line.  I was in survival mode and couldn’t appreciate the landmarks along 5th Avenue.  I did recognize the Guggenheim Museum.
We crossed the finish line in 4:13:22 hrs.  I have run all my other marathons under 4 hrs.  I still feel very happy because the conditions were very difficult.  The New York course is very difficult because of the bridges, and the hills.  Today the winds were very gusty.  The wind was blowing so hard that Achilles could not pitch a tent to welcome all the athletes at the finish.  It was reported by the media that the weather for this year’s NYC marathon was the windiest since 1984.  Aside the blustering winds it was a successful marathon.  My pacers and I ran the marathon nonstop.  The whole time we were passing runners and hardly any runners passed us.  We even ran negative splits which means we ran the second half faster than the first half.  Jonathan and Katie were the perfect pacers because they kept me on a fine line between aerobic and anaerobic threshold throughout the marathon.
The marathon weekend also had a very therapeutic effect on me.  My symptoms of abusive and derogatory voices stopped.  My mind was clear.  I was left to feel the joy of experiencing New York’s streets and running through them.
I would like to thank my fund raising team at the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and all the donors that pledged money to send me to New York and make my dream come true.  Special thanks also go to my traveling companions, Brian, Trish and Chris for their support, looking after the logistics of the trip so I could concentrate on the race.  Thank you, Jonathan and Katie for your companionship during the marathon, especially in those grueling final miles.