On your mark… Get set… Go! This Sunday, Jersey City will once again play host to the annual Newport Liberty Half Marathon, an event that will attract thousands of fleet-footed serious runners in training for the fall marathon season. And they’ll do it all while raising money for the local hospital.
“This is the time of the year when many runners are gearing up for some of the upcoming marathons, whether they’re planning to do the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, or the one in Chicago,” said event founder and organizer Mark Zenobia. “As a part of their training, it’s quite common for runners to do a half-marathon in the months leading up to the full marathon.”
The Newport community is the site of free events throughout the year.
“There are a lot of half marathons out there that people can do,” he said. “This one is one of the most popular because of the route we take.”
Runners will begin and end the 13-mile run in the Newport section of Jersey City then proceed along the waterfront. The course cuts inland so runners can make their way to Liberty State Park.
“About half the race is run in Liberty State Park, which is has its own breathtaking views to offer,” said Zenobia.
A neighborhood emerges
Zenobia said that participants in the half-marathon will come from all over Northern New Jersey and are not limited to Newport or Jersey City residents. But the event’s growing popularity is also raising the visibility of the Newport community along the waterfront. Home to several high-rise developments and a popular mall, the Newport area has over the past year hosted a number of cultural events designed to foster more of a neighborhood feel in the area.
“Among Newport’s many cultural and recreational amenities are free outdoor activities including concerts, dance lessons, a soccer showcase, marathon races as well as special events like our annual Newport Beach Party, which showcases many of the restaurants at Newport,” said Ed Cortese, senior vice president of marketing for LeFrak, the development firm that built most of the residential housing in the area. “All of these amenities are offered to generate and share a spirit of friendship and community among everyone.”
Kelly Ann Ladonna, a downtown resident, had been a dedicated runner for about 17 years until she had to cut back on her long distance runs after her mother became ill. After several years away from the sport and marathon races, Ladonna decided to lace up her running shoes this year for a good cause: Jersey City Medical Center, which receives a portion of the $40 registration fee each runner pays to participate in the event.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago,” Ladonna said. “She was cancer-free for five years.”
But her rigorous cancer treatments, which included radiation and chemotherapy, left her immune system weakened and exacerbated other pre-existing health problems. Her mother eventually died of heart failure at Jersey City Medical Center in August 2010.
“She was like the center of our family,” said Ladonna. “It was really hard on me, and on my whole family, when she died. But I believe she received really great care at Jersey City [Medical Center]. I had run the Newport Liberty Half Marathon years ago, back when I was really running a lot. So I knew it benefitted the hospital. I started running again late last year to deal with the stress of losing my mom…In the back of my head I kind of knew I wanted to do this half-marathon so that I could do something for the hospital.”
A publicist for the half-marathon was unable last week to release dollar figures on how much money this event has raised for Jersey City Medical Center.
Ladonna’s niece, Nicole Sanford, will also participate in the half-marathon, which is her first such event.
“I know I’m not ready to do a full marathon yet,” said Sanford. “A half-marathon seems less intimidating. And it will be nice to run with my aunt in honor of my grandmother.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.