STATEN ISLAND, NY – Brandon Smith, an Oakwood native who now resides in Rossville, is gearing up for the 2022 United Airlines NYC Half, a signature event set for Sunday, March 20, the first New York Road Runners race to return to its traditional size since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
What makes this run so special for him is that two years ago this month, he was in a life-or-death battle with COVID-19.
With an expected field of 25,000 participants, Smith is prepping and polishing his game plan and getting on track, exercising diligently and indulging in a nutritious diet.
The race, which will salute front line workers, and where finishers medals will be awarded for the first time, will host professional athletes, rising New York Road Runners and participants from all walks of life and various communities.
The event that translates into a 13.1-mile journey will start near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, before taking runners across the East River via the Manhattan Bridge to Central Park. It’s being held for the first time in three years after being canceled in 2020 and 2021.
A LITTLE ABOUT SMITH
Smith, who’s 26 and an Emergency Room nurse at Staten Island University Hospital North, was stricken with COVID-19 in March 2020 when the coronavirus was raging, manifesting every symptom possibly connected to the illness.
He was out of work for two weeks, and though he recovered, his symptoms lingered. When he was able to return, he pledged to spend the next two years doing anything he could to help with COVID patients.
“At the Emergency Room at SIUH North, I worked throughout the pandemic,” he recounted. “When I first started I was a nurse at New York Methodist Hospital. There I worked on the oncology floor mostly with cancer patients. But when the pandemic started pretty much the entire hospital became COVID units. ”
“And what makes it difficult in an Emergency Room setting is if someone comes in with shortness of breath and chest pain, it could be a lot of different things and you’re waiting for tests to come back. Ninety-nine percent of the time it was COVID, but sometimes it was different, ”he said.
He explains there was a time when he used to easily run five plus miles, but found he now struggled to run more than one mile.
Then, after losing 20 pounds, and gaining 30 back, last summer he trained for and completed a Nurses Association 5K for charity, and felt overcome emotionally at how far he’d come since his COVID diagnosis.
“I didn’t do any running until last August,” said the eager participant. “I gained a lot of weight, but I signed up for an Emergency Nurses Association 5K virtual run, using an app to track your mileage. When I did it, I said, you can do anything. ”
Then when one of Smith’s friends ran in the NYC Joe Kleinerman Road Runners event, the 10K run that happened in January, he signed up as well.
“I’ve now been using training plans that my friends have been using for this race, but it’s self guided. I’m generally trying to eat healthy. I eat just fruit in the morning since fruit on an empty stomach is easily digestible. And carbs really help. Nutrition really plays into it. But before the race, I’ll just have a banana, ”he added.
ANOTHER EXTRA SPECIAL EVENT
To say it’s been a crazy two years for Brandon would be somewhat of an understatement.
He became engaged to Jessica Dragone, 27, in November 2018. And when it came time to make wedding plans, the happy twosome discussed a destination wedding in Italy for 2020. But due to COVID-19 mandates they were forced to move the date and then delay the wedding again.
“I thought maybe we should do it in the United States, since our Italy plans weren’t working out. I talked to my fiancé. We were engaged over a year. She works in advertising but studying to be a teacher. So when the mayor said you can get married online, we decided to go for it. One of my co-workers happened to be an ordained minister and she did our wedding for us. We took photos and got married online in June of 2020. ”
So the couple married via webcam, with a co-worker as the officiant and 100 guests on Zoom as exuberant spectators.
MORE ON THE RACE
The race will see the return of the United Airlines NYC Half app, powered by TCS. Onlookers can track runners and create cheer cards. Virtual racers can also track their run in the app while enjoying an audio experience.
This year will boast the strongest professional participants in event history, with 23 Olympians, eight Paralympians, and six open division athletes who hold half marathon national records in their respective countries.
Notables will include “Good Morning America’s” Amy Robach and TJ Holmes, former NFL player Tiki Barber, reality TV star Nev Schulman, sportscaster Nicole Briscoe, and former Miss Universe Andrea Meza.
The race will be covered locally in the tri-state area by ABC New York, Channel 7.
Live event coverage will include four-to-six minutes of live news cut-ins between 6 and 10 am from Prospect Park, Central Park and Times Square.
Runners unable to make it can still participate in the event virtually, running the 13.-1 mile distance anywhere around the world at their convenience between March 12 and March 20.
To learn more, visit www.nyrr.org.