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Sri Chinmoy race brings in dozens of marathoners

Runners from all over the world recently gathered at Flushing Meadows Corona Park to brave the cold, wind and rain to compete in the races held in honor of Sri Chinmoy, a spiritual leader from Briarwood who died several years ago.

The six-day and 10-day races sponsored by the Jamaica-based Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team attracted 68 runners from 17 countries to the Queens park. Sri Chinmoy, who died in 2007, moved to Briarwood from his native India in the 1960s and emphasized the spiritual benefits of physical fitness.

Rupantar Larusso, the head race director who grew up in Whitestone and lives in Jamaica, noted he expected 80 runners but a number of individuals were unable to fly to the borough because a volcanic eruption in Iceland canceled thousands of flights for more than a week.

“This year was rainy, windy and cold, but the runners still can transcend themselves and achieve goals,” Larusso said. “There’s a real warmth at these races. It’s like in life, when people gather together, cheer each other on, they can do anything.”

It was not until last Thursday, the last day of both races, that the intimidating weather gave way to warmer temperatures, but race participants still managed to run hundreds of miles during the six- and 10-day events. Individuals run around a 1-mile course in the park.

“This year, I have to say, was one of the most challenging for me because we had maybe one nice day and then it rained, got cold and then windy,” said Dipali Cunningham, a Jamaica Estates resident who won first place in the women’s six-day race. She ran 446 miles.

Cunningham, 51, originally hails from Melbourne, Australia, and is one of the world’s best distance runners, having won 25 of the 30 multi-day events she has entered since 1992.

Despite the weather, Cunningham said she and the other runners enjoyed the race that teaches individuals about “perseverance.”

“The outer challenges make you want to stop, but you learn about the inner strength that makes you go on,” said Cunningham, a fitness trainer in Queens. “It teaches you how to go on.”

Many of the runners agreed the event was not so much about the final outcome but rather the lessons learned during the race and camaraderie between participants.

“It’s a physical test of endurance, but it also tests your mind’s capacity to find resources to get through it,” said Slava Dodonu, who grew up in Moldova and now works in Switzerland for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, an organization that was once part of the World Health Organization.

Andrey Somov, of Russia, and Chanakhya Jakovic, a former Jamaica resident who now lives in Slovenia, agreed runners were able to draw strength and inspiration from their colleagues.

“It helps you to connect with people in a very positive way,” said Somov, an engineer who lives in St. Petersburg.

Jakovic, who is starting his own coffee roasting business in Slovenia, said all the runners felt they were competing together instead of against one another.

“There’s no one here saying, ‘Oh, I have to beat that guy no matter what,’” Jakovic said. “It’s an opportunity to learn so much — from yourself and from others.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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