A Family of Volunteers

May 11, 2014 by Sarah Wassner Flynn

Growing up in Queens, and crazy about the New York City Marathon, Ellen and Jim Cunningham were regular volunteers on Marathon Sunday.  They marshaled athletes, pitched in at water tables, and helped runners at the finish. Jim, who’s 10 years Ellen’s junior, served as a “gopher” for his sister when she became one of NYRR’s first elite athlete coordinators, back in the 80s.

“I could always trust him to get things done,” says Ellen. 

Jim is now known as Father Jim, the pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church on Prospect Park West, and there, just outside the church, the siblings will once again team up to manage a fluid station at the Brooklyn Half. 

“Working alongside my brother is a great experience,” says Ellen, of Jersey City. “If you want something done, and you want it to be perfect, you go to him. He doesn’t lose his cool, and he just works so well with people."

Cool is the operative word for the dozen or so volunteers recruited by the Cunninghams to man the station. They’ll provide thousands of cups of water and Gatorade to runners. “It’s definitely an art,” says Ellen of managing fluid stations. “You have to figure out where the sun is going to be so that the water doesn’t get warm; you don’t want the leaves to fall into the cups; you can’t be too far into the road; and you have to be careful stacking the cups just so. It takes practice.”

Ellen learned from the best: the late NYRR president Fred Lebow. “No matter your job, you were strongly encouraged by Fred to work a water station at some point,” she recalls.

She in turn taught Jim, who has recruited volunteers from the parish. “So many people who live in my parish are runners,” says Jim. “This is a nice way for us to give back to our community and it’s truly a thrill to welcome so many runners into Brooklyn.”

Categories: Half Marathon News