If someone told Volodymyr Gogilchyn that he would be running 26.2 miles in the 2017 New York City Marathon he would have said “impossible,” as just two years ago he was suffering from asthma, never really exercised and wasn’t able to run further than a quarter of a mile.
But on November 5, in four hours, 50 minutes and 11 seconds Mr. Gogilchyn did the impossible. He finished the 47th annual NYC Marathon, carrying a Ukrainian flag the whole way.
It was a similar story for Kate Osadchuk. Even though it was on her bucket list, two years ago she could not have imagined running 26.2 miles nonstop. But this year she did it – in 4:08:02.
So what changed for Ms. Osadchuk and Mr. Gogilchyn in those two years? They both joined the Ukrainian Running Club New York, or URC for short. The founder of the club, Anya Shpook, created the running club in 2008 for just this reason. Being Ukrainian and an avid runner, Ms. Shpook wanted to find other Ukrainians in the New York area to run and race with, as well as to inspire other Ukrainians to do the same.
Besides Ms. Osadchuk and Mr. Gogilchyn, URC members Iryna Palinchak, Andriy Stadnyk, Alex Lobash, Tetyana Solopchuk, Mila Iakovenko and Darya Karelina were also inspired to run their first marathon ever here in New York.
This year a record number of 44 URC members ran the NYC Marathon; only nine did so last year. Participation in the marathon is growing, as is membership, which currently boasts over 70 active members who, if they were not running on Sunday in the marathon, were supporting those who were.
URC had two large support groups – one on Fourth Avenue and 50th Street in Brooklyn at mile 4.5 and then the whole group made its way to continue to cheer at mile 23.5 on Fifth Avenue and 90th Street in Manhattan. One URC member, Roman Pyasta, came all the way from Milwaukee to help cheer URC on. The group held handmade signs with various messages of encouragement in Ukrainian and English from “URC U ROCK,” to “My dear Son U can do anything! Keep GOING!” – held by Mr. Gogilchyn’s mother.
The supporters stayed out there for hours just to get a glimpse of a fellow URC runner. And when they did, it was a party: yelling, screaming, hugging, waving flags, snapping pictures and taking videos, but most importantly giving the runner energy to continue.
URC member Danielle Buchma said that push of energy was exactly what she needed to run 12 minutes faster this year. This was her third NYC Marathon, and she ran a personal record of 4:23:21. Though it wasn’t a personal marathon record for him, one of the fastest URC runners, Dmytro Molchanov, completed his first NYC Marathon in under three hours at 2:53:47. A seasoned marathoner, Mr. Molchanov said “Most marathons feel like I am running by myself, but this time it felt like I was running it with my family… my URC family.”
Tetiana Samokysh, one of the URC organizers, was the fastest URC woman to complete the marathon with a time of 3:30:53. She said she was so moved by all the love and support that she was crying tears of joy all along the course.
Many of the URC marathoners, like member Andriy Konderevych wrote Facebook posts mentioning the power of the blue and yellow along the course that gave them strength and encouragement. Mr. Konderevych, who ran the NYC Marathon last year, said all those colors helped him shave seven minutes off his time to finish at 3:49:44.
But for some, time was not the goal, but enjoyment was. URC member Anastasiia Shkolna “Beynz,” who was running her second consecutive NYC Marathon, said “Sometimes it’s okay to stop somewhere on Mile 21 in the Bronx and just do some salsa dancing.” She danced her way to the finish line in 5:44:10.
Dancing at the finish line is where all that Ukrainian power actually began on Friday, November 3, at the Parade of Nations of the opening ceremonies for the NYC Marathon. This is a parade of all the different runners’ countries that take part in this international marathon.
In years past, Ukraine was represented by only one person carrying the Ukrainian flag or at most six people, but this year was very different. There were almost 40 Ukrainians marching in the parade, including two Ukrainian dancers in Ukrainian costumes (Angelina Boyko and Nikita Zhukovsky) leading the delegation. Even more Ukrainians cheered and waved Ukrainian flags from the grandstand seating. Ukrainian pride was everywhere. This writer also is a proud URC member and a nine-time NYC marathoner, twice running it blindfolded. This year I did not run, but had the honor and privilege to be part of the opening ceremony parade, which I had never attended before.
One of the parade marshals came up to us and said “Ready Ukraine?” We yelled, “Yes!” The announcement came: “Here is Ukraine!” Ukrainian dance music began to play and the parade began. It was led by URC’s imposing flag bearer, Yuri Conrat, a multiple NYC Marathon finisher, in a beautiful authentic Kozak Hetman outfit with a “bulava” tucked into his belt. Everyone in the delegation had at least one Ukrainian flag, if not more, so it was truly an explosion of blue and yellow.
As we moved forward, my heart exploded with such Ukrainian pride that I cannot describe. While the dancers were dancing, the music was playing and we were all jumping up and down, yelling, screaming, celebrating being Ukrainian, tears began to roll down my face. I was touched because it brought to mind that, as one struggles through a marathon, our Ukraine also is struggling to finish its own marathon to true democracy. And here I was surrounded by the future of Ukraine, my fellow URC members, many of whom have arrived here in the last 10 years and have a deep love, influence and stake in Ukraine’s future. At that moment I knew Ukraine is in great hands and hearts. We will finish that darn marathon to democracy no matter how long it takes, no matter what Vladimir Putin throws at us.
And remember Volodymyr Gogilchyn who overcame his asthma to run the marathon? With URC behind him once again, guess what impossible event he is training for now. The Half Ironman in 2018 and the Full Ironman in 2019.
So if you are Ukrainian and want to accomplish some “impossible” athletic feat or just go for a friendly jog with friends, as the URC does regularly, come join us. URC members not only run marathons, but do triathlons, Ironmans, ultra-distance runs, Spartans, Ragnar runs. Maybe you do something that we can join you in. Look for us on Facebook under Ukrainian Running Club New York to join our weekly runs and events, and to get information about the club.