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Posted on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

Hurricane Sandy keeps Ann Arbor's Joe O'Neal from running his 25th New York City Marathon

By Pete Cunningham

Before this weekend, Ann Arbor resident Joe O’Neal had run in all but three New York City Marathons since 1985. The streak included 20 straight races from 1985-2004.

Mother Nature kept O'Neal from reaching his 25-race milestone over the weekend as Hurricane Sandy forced race organizers to cancel the 43rd running of the event on Friday.

“It was a bummer,” O’Neal said. “But I understand why they had to do it.”


Joe O'Neal

O’Neal - owner of O’Neal Construction in Ann Arbor - and his wife, Karen, like thousands of other race participants, had already reached New York by the time the race was cancelled early Friday evening. They heard the news in the lobby of their hotel and were shocked.

“I thought it was a joke,” O’Neal said. “Then, I of course went up and watched it on the television and found out it was true.”

In an email to all racers, race organizers explained that the perception that resources used to run the race would take away from storm victim assistance might put racers in harms way and it wasn’t a risk they were willing to take.

“I can understand why they did it. I wish they would have done it on Wednesday, but I understand why they did it,” O’Neal said.

O’Neal hoped that - despite the devastation to the area - the race might serve as a “we must go on” moment as it did in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

That 2001 race is O’Neal’s fondest memory of all the 24 races he’s participated in and he hoped for a similar coming together this year.

“They really had their acts together in 2001. I’m not saying they didn’t this year, but (in 2001) they had two months to plan and the timing of this would have made it pretty tough,” he said.

Without a race to run this year, Joe tagged along with Karen for the museum tour she usually does without him the Sunday of the marathon. O’Neal joked it was “much harder than the marathon.”

According to the New York Road Runners media department, about 100 runners have run 25 or more New York City Marathons and the record for most run is 35.

O’Neal will opt out of the museum tour and hopes to reach the milestone 25th in 2013. And although he’s 80 years old, O'Neal doesn’t plan to stop there.

“Each year, it’s one more,” O’Neal said. “At one time I could do it pretty decently. Now I’m just grateful to get to the finish line.”

Joe O'Neal vs. Joe ONeal

Despite O'Neal's racing tenure, he has many times had to battle organizers over the spelling of his last name.

"Sometime there's a capital 'N', sometime's there's no apostrophe. There's been a few occasions when I thought I wasn't signed up for the race because of it," O'Neal said.

In the race results archive, O'Neal even has times registered under two names. For years 1991-1995 his results are registered under "Joe ONeal" and every other year his results are under his actual name, "Joe O'Neal".

Pete Cunningham covers sport for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.



Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 3:11 a.m.

Bummer, but I bet he'll do it next year.


Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Lots of construction assistance needed in that area, Mr. O'Neal. LOTS of assistance.

Henry Martin Lederman

Wed, Nov 7, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

One can only hope and pray he reaches his goal in 2013, Such a tragedy.