By Cormac Gordon Staten Island Advance
To view a slideshow of photos from the final Jeff’s Run, please click here.
Sunday morning’s Jeff’s Run, at the far end of Hylan Boulevard, was an upbeat swan song with no regrets; a jogging-shorts-casual end to an era, one that came without even a hint of remorse.
“It was just time,” Marie Giordano explained after the final running of the Island’s 5-K Triple Crown race that bears the name of her late husband. “It was wonderful, and there’s still a lot of energy around the race thanks to all the runners and volunteers. But it really is a very emotional time every year. It brings it all back up.”
So it was the curtain call for the 12th Father’s Day edition of a race that traced firefighter and competitive runner Jeff Giordano’s favorite neighborhood training stretch.
Now begins a graceful retirement for a very solid Island sporting event which was founded in the wake of 9/11 for all the right reasons. And just because the race is ending, it’s not like anyone is about to forget.
Not 9/11, obviously.
And not the man for whom the run was named either.
“If you knew Jeff, you loved him,” laughed retired firefighter Mike Tobin Sunday at the race finish line.
Then Tobin, a longtime long-distance runner, recalled how he first got to really know Giordano.
Tobin told the tale of calling the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation back in 1998 to ask if they could help him organize a way to raise money for the Center by competing in a 165-mile two-day run in New Jersey.
“You have to talk to Jeff Giordano,” he was told. “He’s the guy who helps out here and knows everything about road running.”
The two got in touch, and Giordano explained how he’d been a volunteer at the burn center even before he’d joined the department in 1987.
“He hooked me up with all the info I needed,” said Tobin.
In typical Giordano fashion, the energetic member of Ladder 3 in Manhattan’s East Village did even more than that.
Out on an expanse of New Jersey highway a while later — and dozens of monotonous miles into the grueling run — a car pulled alongside Tobin.
“Jeff jumped out of the passenger seat,” Tobin recalled yesterday with a big smile. “He said, ‘C’mon, I’ll run with you for a while.’”
The veteran marathoner then proceeded to put in about 20 miles right alongside Tobin.
“He was always doing something for the Burn Center,” said Marie Giordano, a nursing instructor at the College of Staten Island who met her future husband in grammar school.
“He asked me to marry him when he was 14,” she smiled later, standing on the grounds of Mount Loretto, where the race ends. “Even when we were kids, he was pretty sure of what he wanted.”
The Giordanos, like tens of thousands of others over the past 40 years, were South Brooklyn kids who came to Staten Island to build a family and a life.
It all worked, right up until the day it didn’t.
But even when things crashed down around their world on 9/11, Marie Giordano refused to allow what they had to be destroyed.
Jeff’s Run was a part of that tenacity.
There were more than 500 runners and walkers Sunday. Boston University graduate student Mike Caputo won the race in a course-record 15 minutes, 55.9 seconds. The 21-year-old finally pulled into a comfortable lead in the last uphill stretch to the finish line.
Recent Rutgers grad Victoria Pontecorvo was the first female finisher, completing the rolling course in a women’s record of 18:41.5.
And it all came off without a hitch. Something Marie worried over each year, day and night, for months on end.
“We’d always wonder ‘Is everything done that has to get done?’” she said. “But, in the end, it would all work out.”
In the 12 years, Jeff’s Run raised more than $100,000 for the burn center. There is now the Jeff Giordano Children’s Playroom at NY Presbyterian Cornell Weill Hospital on Manhattan’s East Side.
“He is with us every day because of that room,” burn center foundation president Bill Leahy said Sunday.
In that way, Jeff’s Run has more than done its part.
Sunday was as good a time as any to make a graceful exit.