By Jessica Meditz
For Raymond Choy, nothing quite beats the tranquil feeling of being in “the zone” while running.
For the 24th time in his life, the 71-year-old Elmhurst resident will soon be one of the 50,000 runners in the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon — but it was no easy feat.
Born and raised in Lower Manhattan near Chinatown, Choy always had an interest in sports and athleticism, but did not truly see himself as a runner.
“We played basketball and touch football in the streets because everybody played, but I was never really good at anything,” Choy said. “I was never one of the fast runners.”
He grew up admiring runners who competed in famous marathons, such as the New York City Marathon and the Boston Marathon, and quickly added it to his bucket list.
Back in 1993, Choy was a union carpenter working at a construction site in Downtown Manhattan.
His life changed when he and the crew were unloading materials off a truck when the materials tilted, knocking him off the truck and landing on his leg — leaving him permanently partially disabled.
“The funny thing was I was the foreman of the safety and protection crews for the job site, and I got hurt. It’s a difficult injury to come back from,” he said.
“I was in the hospital for 57 days, and from my hospital window, I could watch the building site go up. It was very depressing, watching the job go up without me.”
Choy spent the next two years learning how to walk again. In fact, he later found out that doctors were once concerned he could possibly lose his leg.
Although traumatic, the experience as a whole made Choy realize how important his health truly is, motivating him to live a healthier lifestyle.
“When I was in the hospital, I learned that I wasn’t as healthy as I thought I should be. So part of the incentive was to not ever be in the hospital again, because I was there a long time,” he said.
“I made a commitment to my family to live healthier, so that’s kind of what motivated me to start running. Now that I started, it’s kept me in shape.”
After the marathon in 1996, Choy saw a news story about Achilles International, an organization that brings the largest field of runners with disabilities to the New York City Marathon.
He said that the team’s founder, Dick Traum, who became the first amputee to complete the marathon, has been very motivating and inspiring as he goes through his running journey.
He’s also thankful for his support runners, who run alongside him in the race, encouraging him and ensuring his safety.
“I never would have finished without their support, they just kept me going, telling me, ‘You can do it.’ I can’t thank Team Achilles enough; it’s a part of my life,” he said.
Choy is proud to participate in his 24th consecutive run in the New York City Marathon, and one way he marks the occasion each year is sewing a new patch on his Nike windbreaker he purchased for the first marathon in ‘97.
“Every marathon since then, I’ve been able to find a patch that I sewed onto that jacket. Now, I have this 25-year-old jacket that has a patch from every marathon that I’ve run on it, so that’s really nice,” he said.
“I really like to wear that jacket every October. It’s not a bad habit to pick up.”
Choy trains for about eight months prior to the marathon.
His routine consists of getting off work in Chinatown, jogging up the FDR Drive, then to Grand Central to take the 7 train back to Elmhurst.
On Sundays, he drives to Central Park to run the six-mile Central Park loop.
Choy takes pride in advancing to the 70-74 age group in the marathon, and says that “by hook or by crook,” he will continue to complete it annually until he physically can’t anymore.
“After the first marathon, I did a second, and then a third and a fourth. Once I got a streak going, and I said to myself, ‘This is something that kind of special.’ Not to pat myself on the back, but it’s something that my kids and my grandkids can say that their father or grandfather did this thing, even though he has his disability. It’s something to be proud of,” he said.
“I’m a marathoner, and I like the sound of being a marathoner. Not to be not to be morbid, but sometimes when someone passes away, they say, ‘He was a marathoner,’” Choy said.
“When I’m gone, I’d like to be thought of as a marathoner, rather than ‘just a nice guy’ like everybody else. Marathoner sounds good.”