It was around mile 23, about three hours into his quest to complete the TCS New York City Marathon on Sunday, that Richard Cohen said he was tempted to slow down. But the vocal support of his wife, Stacey Schwarcz, and his students at Nassau Community College boisterously cheering him on and waving posters from the sidewalk helped propel him to the finish line.
“I was really tired and struggling,” Cohen said. “Just knowing that they were ahead, and if I ran faster I’d be able to see them, it kept me going.”
Cohen, 42, an Oceanside High School alumnus, decided to run the marathon as a way to raise money for scholarships for his students at NCC, where he is a co-coordinator of the honors program and teaches physical science, specializing in weather and climate. He said the weather was perfect for the marathon, which helped him finish in three hours, 49 minutes — three minutes faster than his goal. In all, he raised about $4,000 in scholarship money for his students.
The 26.2-mile course starts on the east end of Staten Island, and participants cross the Verrazano Bridge and run through Brooklyn, into Queens, over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, up to the Bronx, and through the final stretch down Fifth Avenue into Central Park. Cohen said his desire to ensure his students succeed is what helped him persevere.
“I figured I’d use my passion for running and my passion for teaching students as a way to raise as much scholarship money for the students as possible,” he said.
His students, including Jane Jeong and Laura and Melissa Fragomeni, showed their support for him by standing on the curb and cheering him on as he ran by. His father, Stuart, came, too.
Cohen said he chose to raise money for his students because many of them have so much happening in their personal lives and have to afford school at the same time.
“The students that I work with are just truly amazing people,” he said. “It’s amazing what they have to go through to achieve what they achieve. They all have jobs. They try to fit school in, and they have a lot of family responsibilities. It’s really a struggle for them, and it’s nice to see how much work they put into this.”
NCC student Lauren Tyson said she couldn’t attend the race, but tracked Cohen’s progress on the NYC Marathon app, which uses chips in the runners’ bibs to monitor them.
Tyson said that when she moved to the United States from South Africa and enrolled at the school in August 2017, Cohen helped guide her toward the courses she took and was there to offer her advice when she needed it.
“He’s one of the most phenomenal men and teachers,” she said. “This school is lucky to have him. He goes above and beyond, and every student who has encountered him has left a better person.”
Schwarcz also used the app to track her husband’s progress after he passed her, and she called him when he had one mile left to motivate him to finish. “It felt great to be able to provide a little extra encouragement to get him through that last mile,” she said. “I know he loves to be able to put in a little burst of speed at the finish line, so I thought a little last-minute cheering would help.”
To prepare for the event, Cohen woke up at 5:30 a.m. three times a week to run, and he gradually increased his distance as the marathon approached. Now a resident of New York City, he said he ran along the West Side, his preferred route taking him along the greenway, around Battery Park, over the Brooklyn Bridge and then over the Manhattan Bridge. He said he also frequently ran in Central Park and over the George Washington Bridge. He added that training in the summer months was grueling because of the heat, but his fondness for running helped him press on.
“I love running first thing in the morning, when the city is silent,” he said. “Just being outside and feeling like the city is mine because there’s no one out and about, it’s a great feeling.”
Cohen grew up on Frederick Street in Oceanside, where his parents still live, and graduated from Oceanside High School in 1994. He earned a bachelor’s in meteorological science at Penn State University and a master’s in secondary education at Adelphi University. He is now completing his doctorate in science at Stony Brook University.
Cohen recalled that he was out of shape in college and decided to start exercising regularly. He got into fitness and karate, but said he didn’t start enjoying running until about four years ago. Two years ago, he attended the marathon as a spectator and decided that he wanted to participate himself.
“Just seeing the grandstand and seeing the finish line and all of the signage that was up and all the people taking pictures, I figured this was something that I needed to do,” he said. “Something just clicked in me.”
To prepare for Sunday’s feat, he ran in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7, which he finished in three hours, 53 minutes. He said the course was challenging because it rained at mile 8 and at mile 11, and he was tripped and fell to the ground at one point. Nevertheless, he got up and finished the race, which he said was instrumental in helping him prepare for the New York City event.
Many of his students motivated him. Cohen said, by texting and emailing him encouraging words to keep him on track. The hardest part of the race Sunday was the logistics, he noted. Cohen woke up at 4:30 a.m. to take the subway to a ferry, which transported him to a bus that took him to the starting point on Staten Island. He said the hard work was worth it to be able to help students and complete the marathon.
“It’s gonna be something that I’m proud of for the rest of my life,” he said. “Hopefully the money will help my students achieve their goals.”