At 5 a.m. each day, 70 year-old Leroy Cummins can be found running the streets of Brooklyn. He has been an avid runner since the late '60s and runs close to 50 miles a week. This Sunday, Cummins will be running his first New York City Marathon and is elated to be checking this item off his bucket list.
Training towards this goal has changed Cummins’ life. He is a diabetic and used to have sugar levels that were “off the books.” Diabetes runs in his family. Cummins was faced with immense loss after his mother and two of his sisters passed aways from the disease. He said exercise gave him the strength and knowledge to watch his weight, eat nutritiously and take care of his health. In fact, he no longer needs to take medication for his diabetes.
Beyond the physical benefits, Cummins’ relies on running for his mental health. Ironically, he views running as an opportunity to relax, equating it to “brushing my teeth in the morning.” After hitting the road, Cummins feels like he can “conquer the whole world.”
Cummins has been a “Strider” for about three years. New York Road Runner Striders is a free walking and fitness program that helps seniors get active, stay fit and improve their health. Cummins hopes to encourage folks around his age to keep exercising and prioritizing their wellbeing, proving that you can be an athlete at any age. As he gears up for 26.2 miles, he hopes other seniors will feel encouraged enough to say, “If Leroy can do it, maybe I can do it just as well, or at least get started.”
While the goal for Cummins’ is to pace himself and “finish the task at hand,’’ he is expected to do so at a remarkable time. Back in 2018, he ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon at a 7:37-mile pace, coming in fourth for his age group.
For Cummins, running this marathon is “bigger than the birthday.” He views it as a huge celebration that his family, friends and dog, Ginger, will attend. Cummins says there will be a “posse” along the sidelines to cheer him on and take lots of pictures.
Every person at the start line of a marathon has their own story about what motivates them to run 26.2 miles. For Lauren Nazarieh, lacing up her speakers and going out for a run is how she copes with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Nazarieh began running during the pandemic after her grandfather passed away from COVID-19.
“It was almost like my therapy,” she says. “I was able to go out on a run and take that time to myself to really be able to think, meditate and get through these really confusing times.”
As she gets ready to run her first marathon, she says her grandfather, who was a “very determined man,” would be “so happy and proud.”
“It’s not about being the fastest runner out there,” Nazarieh said. “It’s about just putting one foot in front of the other and believing in yourself and having that confidence to say ‘you know, I’m gonna go out for a run today.’”
Sara Zutter, who is a fifth grade teacher in Brooklyn and an after-school Rising New York Road Runners coach, plans to complete her seventh marathon on Sunday. The reason she runs is to inspire her students to be active and take care of their health.
Zutter has faced a lot of hurdles while training for her marathons. She was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and had heart surgery at age 30. Then in 2019, she was diagnosed with a uterine fibroid, polyps, menorrhagia and anemia, which made training for marathons insanely painful.
This past July, she paused her marathon training to remove the fibroid and polyp and made a full recovery. After the surgery, she ran the Berlin Marathon this past September.
“Being able to run (Berlin) was such a relief. It was liberating and I felt so great. I love the fact that I could get back out there and not have to worry about other things.”
Now, she is ready to run the New York City Marathon again. Her message is clear, “hang on to hope...because that will get you through the miles. The miles in life and the miles in the race.”
CORRECTION: (Nov. 5, 2021, 1:56 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Leroy Cummins. He is Leroy Cummins, not Leroy Collins.