On Sunday, Nov. 7, Wilton resident Alex Grano achieved what many runners consider the ultimate goal: successfully completing the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon.
GOOD Morning Wilton checked in with Grano to see how he was doing the day after the race.
“I am over the moon and just reliving every single second of the last few days,” Grano said. “It was an unbelievable experience.”
Grano, a 2011 graduate of Wilton High School, has earned hometown hero status for his courage and persistence in dealing with significant physical challenges resulting from hydrocephalus, a brain condition with which he was born.
After running his first 5K race just seven years ago, Grano continued to challenge himself, adding 10K races, half-marathons and even one marathon (a virtual version of the cancelled 2020 New York marathon) to his list of running accomplishments.
Grano was among the 24,940 runners who completed the 2021 New York marathon. He was accompanied every step of the way by two other Wilton residents, Kristin Partenza and Jeff Palma.
Partenza and Palma participated as “support runners” who are allowed to accompany a registered runner with a physical or intellectual impairment. Grano was able to petition the marathon’s organizer (New York Road Runners) for the support of two runners through a partner organization called Achilles International, which works to enable people with disabilities to participate in sporting events.
Achilles support runners do not receive an official finish time, but Partenza and Palma have no shortage of their own official times: Partenza has previously run 13 marathons, while Palma has run six.
The duo, who did not know each other before signing on to support Grano, both described an overwhelming emotional experience.
“It’s up there with my wedding day and birth of my children,” said Partenza.
“The support from the crowds, for us, was astonishing,” Palma said. “People would cheer for Alex but I was overwhelmed by that support. I found that to be incredible all the way through.”
“Not once [did Grano make] a negative utterance,” Partenza said. “But at least 500 times, [he said] ‘this is the best day of my life’. I can’t describe him in any other way except a joy bomb.”
Partenza and Palma both expressed how fortunate they feel that Grano chose them to accompany him on marathon day.
“It’s one of those things where you get so much more than you give,” said Palma, as he and Partenza described examples of the many inspiring people like Alex they encountered throughout the day — starting at 5:00 a.m. when they departed from their hotel and lasting until they left Central Park after dark.
Grano said it was difficult to find the words to describe the support he felt from Partenza and Palma, but he simply said, “They are truly amazing friends.”
In fact, Grano used the word “amazing” several times, to describe the crowds, the music, and the support from the NYPD, NYFD and other city services.
Alex’s official time for the 26.2-mile race was 7 hours, 29 minutes — a roughly 17-minute mile pace, though his pace for much of the first half of the race was faster, averaging 13- to 15-minute miles.
Palma said the second half of the race was slower, in part due to some extra stretching that was needed, but also because “there was more to enjoy” — like stopping to see the many familiar faces in the crowd and catching some live music along the way.
As with Grano, the cheers of the crowds made an unforgettable impression on Partenza and Palma.
“There were a few moments where the noise we went through, Kristen and I couldn’t even hear each other. It was just amazing,” said Palma.
Partenza added, “I felt like [the crowd] knew how hard it was for [Alex] and they were all just cheering for him, and I was just watching him float. He was on cloud nine.”
For Partenza, the best moment came in the final moments of the race, watching Alex run toward his mother, who was waiting for him within clear sight of the finish line.
“I don’t know how to put that into words,” Partenza said.
Palma agreed completely, and also recalls saying, “Now let’s go finish this!”
They reported Grano had later texted both of them, saying “Let’s do that again.”