When the New York City Marathon broke from the cocoon of its Central Park loop course into the wider world of a five-borough race in 1976, it needed a city-wide communications system. Fred Lebow, the race director, went looking for volunteers to help. He found Steve Mendelsohn.
A ham radio operator, Mr. Mendelsohn put together a corps of volunteers to line the course and assembled a communications system—critical in the days before mobile phones and still a vital component—for race day. For 36 years, Mr. Mendelsohn rode with the race director in the lead vehicle of the event he grew to love almost as if it were a member of his family.
He was, most certainly, a member of the marathon’s family. Yesterday, 67-year-old Steve Mendelsohn, communications director of the ING New York City Marathon, died at home in Dumont, N.J., 16 months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Still a volunteer, Mr. Mendelsohn was almost certainly the only person to have been on the course for every mile of every ING New York City Marathon since it grew into a five-borough race.
“Steve had a way of making us all laugh with his crazy, intense passion about ham operator perfection,” wrote Mary Wittenberg, president and CEO of New York Road Runners, in an e-mail to the staff yesterday. “Over the years, we have come not only to recognize the value of all of the hams but, really, to recognize Steve as the epitome of what NYRR is all about: Crazy, passionate people who care so much, not only about our purpose and our important work but about being part of the amazing team we work with every day.”
According to an obituary in today’s New York Times, Mr. Mendelsohn grew up in Amityville, N.Y., and built his own ham radio when he was 14 years old. He served as a cryptologist in the Navy and then worked in radio and television for CBS and ABC as a communications technician, helping to design the mobile production trucks for large news and sports events, including “Monday Night Football.” For more than a dozen years, he served as the game-day frequency coordinator for the New York Jets, making sure the coaches’ headsets and walkie-talkies worked.
Frail and undergoing chemotherapy, Mr. Mendelsohn worked his last ING New York City Marathon in November, after defying his doctor’s prediction that he would live only a few months after receiving the cancer diagnosis in January 2011. In a New York Daily News article written by Wayne Coffey in the days before last year’s race, Mr. Mendelsohn said, “The marathon means everything to me.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg