Fiachra Hallissey, left, accepting his first place trophy from John Conner, an East Hampton resident, life-long runner and a friend of Andy Neidnig.
By Gavin Menu
The Andy’s Run 5K was held Saturday morning in Sag Harbor, complete with winners, trophies and the usual mix of elite runners, walkers and families out for a leisurely stroll.
The real celebration, however, was for the sport of running itself, being that the event was named for Sag Harbor’s own running man, Andy Neidnig, one of the greatest athletes ever from the East End.
“I wanted to get at least 100 people, and we were way over,” said Robert Arcs, a member of the Sag Harbor Lions Club, which presented the event. “It’s a wonderful success in honor of Andy. Like his wife said to me, Andy is looking down on us today.”
Fiachra Hallissey, 42, of East Hampton was the overall winner in 18:38.4, with James Moore, 29, of Montauk finishing second in 19:22.3. Jorge Bautista, 24, of Sag Harbor was third in 19:24.8.
Sharon McCobb, 50, of East Hampton was the top female finisher, posting a time of 20:57.4. Renee Meier, 58, was the second overall female with a time of 22:22, and Alden Powers, at just 10 years old, finished third in 22:26.5.
A complete list of results is available at island-timing.com.
Neidnig passed away in 2012 at the age of 93, but not before he compiled an impressive running career. He was a celebrated marathoner and World War II veteran who raced in more 30 marathons, including one at the age of 80. His first marathon was in 1938 in Boston, where he placed ninth overall. In 1989, he set an over-70 record in the New York City marathon with a time of 3:32.28.
Neidnig attended Manhattan College in the late 1930s, and broke the national collegiate record for the two-mile at the time. His times in the half-mile and mile were just seconds off the world records and it was widely believed that Neidnig would have been an Olympian if not for the games being cancelled because of World War II.
When the Masters movement began in the 1970s, Neidnig was presented with competitive events for older age groups and his running career took off again.
“Andy was great. Every race he’d say ‘I’m not feeling too well,’ and then he’d go on to win it,” said John Conner, a resident of East Hampton who ran alongside Neidnig for 30 years. “He was very lucky that the Master movement came along in 1972. Running is for fanatics and it was something you had to dedicate your life to. Andy was incredibly dedicated.”
Neidnig’s dedication was on full display on Saturday with a table full of trophies and awards he compiled over his career, including his Manhattan College Hall of Fame trophy and two crystal trophies for being named the Masters Athlete of the Year by the New York Road Runner’s Club, which presents the New York City Marathon.
“In running it’s you against yourself,” Conner said before adding with a sly grin, “the cruelest of competitors.”
McCobb, the top female finisher, is president of the Old Montauk Athletic Club, which every year recognizes one member of the East End community as its Athlete of the Year. The club decided going forward, McCobb said, that the award would be named in honor of Neidnig.
This year’s winner will be David Powers, a triathlete who ran on Saturday alongside his daughter, Alden, the third overall female finisher.
“I had heard about him and learned a lot more these last few weeks,” Powers said when asked about Neidnig.
Most of the post-race conversation on Saturday, in fact, trailed back to Neidnig and his running career, which spanned seven decades. Sarah Adams, whose father, George Sheehan, ran with Neidnig at Manhattan College and went on to write The New York Times bestseller “Running & Being: The Total Experience,” ran in Saturday’s race and finished first overall in her age group (60 to 69).
“Andy and my dad ran together through college and when my dad came out here they would get together,” Adams said. “Andy was just so fabulous and Sag Harbor loved him.”
“I ran with him for 30 years and he was indubitably a world-class runner,” Conner added, pointing out that he and Neidnig ran together in world Masters championships in Italy, Australia, Japan, Finland and South Africa, among other locations. “Frequently he placed, but he always ran against world-class people if he could.”