Storm mars marathon but can’t dampen helping spirit

Dave Fleishman, Pismo Beach city attorney, had planned to run in the New York City Marathon, but after it was canceled he decided to spend his time helping victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Dave Fleishman, Pismo Beach city attorney, had planned to run in the New York City Marathon, but after it was canceled he decided to spend his time helping victims of Hurricane Sandy. Courtesy photo

Dave Fleishman had hoped to run 26.2 miles through New York City a week and a half ago. Instead, he hauled supplies through the dark, cold corridors of a huge apartment building in Queens.

Two thoughts had entered Fleishman’s mind after he learned the New York City Marathon had been canceled Nov. 2.

“I’m going to Carnegie Deli because I don’t have to carbo-load,” Fleishman recalled Tuesday. “And I decided almost immediately that I needed to get out and help someone.”

Fleishman, who serves as Pismo Beach’s city attorney, had traveled to New York on a red-eye flight Nov. 1, three days before he was set to run through New York City’s five boroughs.

At that time, the race was still on, even though Superstorm Sandy had caused widespread devastation.

Fleishman’s wife and two sons, who initially planned to accompany him to New York, decided to stay home after they learned their hotel in lower Manhattan was flooded and some subway lines were still shut down.

Instead, Fleishman stayed with a friend in lower Manhattan who miraculously had power. She was watching television Friday afternoon and heard that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg canceled the marathon.

She turned to Fleishman and asked how he felt.

“There will be other races,” he replied.

“I felt like I couldn’t just sit there with all that happening out there and not do something about it,” he said later. “I’m not going to sit on my rear end and lament about the marathon being canceled.”

On Saturday, Nov. 3, he went online and sent some emails, searching for ways to help. He quickly received a response from Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, asking him to come to its synagogue Sunday morning.

There, Fleishman was grouped with two other men, one of whom had a car with a full tank of gas.

They loaded up the car with food, blankets and other supplies and headed out, with little direction except to head toward Rockaway Beach in Queens.

They drove “into chaos,” Fleishman said, with downed power lines everywhere, debris and boats that had ended up in places they shouldn’t be, like in the street.

“We were kind of shell-shocked,” he said. “I’ve never been in a disaster zone like that.”

They ended up in Far Rockaway, N.Y., at an apartment complex, a cluster of four large buildings with more than 20 floors and 900 apartments that had been without electricity and running water since the storm hit nearly a week earlier.

Some seniors and disabled people living in the buildings weren’t able to walk down the stairs to get help, water or other supplies. Some did not speak English, only Russian or Spanish.

Fleishman was among the first somewhat organized group to help. On advice from the building’s superintendent, they carried pallets of water and blankets and started knocking on doors, starting with the 21st floor and working their way down to the 16th.

At one point, more help arrived — a group of men in suits, including New York State Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who represents a district in the Bronx. They had organized a group of local restaurants to cook enough food for 1,200 people.

Fleishman helped carry the food down dark, cold corridors to the apartments.

“Everyone was very grateful,” he recalled. “One guy tried to pay me for the food.”

Fleishman returned home Nov. 6, just in time for a Pismo Beach City Council meeting. Since then, he’s continually checked for updates on the building at 711 Seagirt Ave.

One website, http://cyclistsinternational.com, reported Friday that four people are believed to have died in the building.

Before he left New York, Fleishman ran around lower Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge and through Central Park. He snapped photos of the flooding and of the furniture, electronics and other flood-damaged items that people had hauled outside.

He said the air smelled of bleach as people tried to scrub their homes clean.

“It was emotionally draining to see all that,” he said. “I was exhausted.”

Fleishman said he still wants to run in New York. He’s run more than a dozen marathons, including the pinnacle achievement for many road runners, the Boston Marathon.

Fleishman’s training for New York — about three months, during which he logged 40- to 60-mile weeks — won’t have been in vain. He’s already signed up for the Tucson Marathon on Dec. 9.

Cynthia Lambert and Gayle Cuddy write the South County Beat column on alternating Wednesdays. Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.