By Bryan Boyhan
For decades he was a familiar site, a gray haired man jogging along the side of the road, his head bent to the ground, arms swinging at his side in any weather the skies would serve up. But in the past several years, injuries and ill health sidelined Andy Neidnig, the celebrated marathoner and World War II veteran who died on Monday morning at Southampton Hospital. He was 93.
Mr. Neidnig, who ran more than 30 marathons (including one at age 80), worked as a steamfitter and served at the Battle of the Bulge, was born July 3, 1919 in New York City. He was the son of Andrew and Henrietta Neidnig.
Growing up in Ozone Park, Queens, he began running at an early age. In 2009, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, he told the East Hampton Star he won his first medal for running at the age of 11.
“I still have it on the wall,” he said. And he ran ever since.
Mr. Neidnig attended Manhattan College on a track and field scholarship, said his daughter Jan, and there enjoyed a career of competitive running. In 1990 he was named to that college’s Hall of Fame, where he was noted as an outstanding cross-country and long distance track and field runner. Among his accomplishments was winning the Metropolitan AAU indoor and outdoor mile championship in 1939 and 1940. In 1938 he entered his first marathon, in Boston, and placed ninth overall.
Mr. Neidnig graduated from Manhattan College in 1941, with a degree in biology. He enlisted that year in the U.S. Army.
In a 2010 interview with The Express, he said he wanted to get his service requirement out of the way and get on with his life, not knowing that he would soon be dedicating five years of his life to the service.
He was promoted to corporal and sergeant and sent to Officer’s Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga.
“Eager for action he was shipped to an infantry unit in the Second Armored Division that was advancing into Germany in 1944,” the story reported. “He no sooner joined the division than the Battle of the Bulge erupted and his unit raced into position to block the German advance.”
He recounted at least three times he was nearly killed in action. His closest brush with death was near a small Belgian village. He was walking alongside a Sherman tank when it was hit on the other side by a rocket from a German bazooka. A huge red flash knocked out the Sherman tank and killed his captain. Out of his company of 60 men, 48 were killed or wounded.
After leaving the military, with a rank of lieutenant, he enrolled at New York University where he received a teaching degree. But by the time he graduated he had changed his mind about teaching, said his daughter, and instead followed his father’s lead and entered a career as a steamfitter.
Mr. Neidnig retired in 1981 at the age of 62 and moved full time to the Glover Street home in Sag Harbor that has been in the family for four generations. Anxious to keep up his running career, he entered a local 10K race organized by Tony Venesina, proprietor of Conca d’Oro restaurant, also an avid runner. The two became fast friends and, he told The Star, the two would compete in races across Long Island, each winning their age groups.
Well into his 70s Mr. Neidnig maintained a rigorous regimen when training for a marathon. His week would start with a six-mile loop around the village, and would end with a run from his home to East Hampton High School and back.
When he turned 70 he entered the New York Marathon where he won his age group, a feat he repeated the following two years. That first year he finished the race in 3:32:58, good enough to finish in the top 25 percent out of a field of over 24,000 runners, and setting a record for runners over 70 in the New York Marathon’s history. His personal best for a marathon was in 1952 at the Boston Marathon when he ran 2:38.
Mr. Neidnig last ran the New York Marathon when he turned 80. While it was not a record run, he was satisfied he had completed the 26 mile course with 30,000 other runners.
After being on the road for more than seven hours and actually being stopped by the frosty wind that day, he told The Express “I went their to finish the race, and I did.”
Even at age 90 Mr. Neidnig competed, although largely it was to show his support for the local Minds Over Matter 5K held in Sag Harbor each year.
“They ask me to run each year and I don’t want to disappoint them,” he once said.
Mr. Neidnig was a member of the New York Roadrunners Club and had been a frequent competitor in the Millrose Games, and had run in races around the world, as far away as Australia. He was also a member of the Chelberg Battle Post of the American Legion in Sag Harbor, and frequently served in the color guard during parades.
The family noted that Mr. Neidnig was very fond of animals and always tried to help injured animals he had found.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Neidnig is survived by his wife, Jean, a brother Franklin, and five nieces and nephews.
Visiting was at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home in Sag Harbor on Wednesday. Graveside services will be held today, Thursday, at 11 a.m. at Oakland Cemetery.