First the wheelchair racers whooshed past; then the professional runners, sprinting ruthlessly; then Heather Le Var, flushed and exhausted but on pace to finish the New York City Marathon on Sunday in a personal best of just under four hours.
Her husband Jonathan, their two children and his sister Joan shouted her name as she passed. "Hey!" the former Long Beach resident shouted, before the pack carried her toward the Central Park finish line.
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Among the thousands running were people whose jerseys proclaimed they were competing to end cancer or child hunger or a dozen other causes. Le Var and 17 others were raising money for a memorial for Flight 93, the plane that crashed near Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001, after passengers and crew fought back against terrorists who attempted to take over the controls.
Le Var's tie to the group is through her husband, whose uncle, Donald Greene, of Greenwich, Conn., was aboard Flight 93 on his way to a family reunion that day. He ran a family company that manufactured and tested aircraft safety instruments.
"The loss for me isn't what it is for everyone else in this group," said Le Var, 35, of West Orange, N.J., on Saturday night at a team pasta party in Manhattan. "I've always been uncomfortable about that . . . I was injected into a family in crisis, but they were so loving, and I got to watch the family come together."
On the 10th year of the 9/11 attacks, the group has attracted attention from ESPN and Runner's World. "I think all of us feel a bit odd about it," Jonathan Le Var said. He said he didn't want any attention because of his uncle's death; the very idea felt wrong to him. "But it's helped us raise money and, from that perspective, it's good," he said.
The runners raised about $25,000 from friends and family and are continuing the fundraising through their web- site Familiesofflight93.org.
Jonathan Le Var was a dedicated runner himself, he said, and had been shaped by the discipline of running miles every day. "It teaches perseverance, goal-setting, maturation," he said.
But with two children -- Sarah, 6, and Matthew, 4 -- it was impossible for both parents to train, he said, and so he sat this race out.
As Jonathan Le Var stood there watching the multitude stream by, some were limping and looked in agony. One racer was dressed, mystifyingly, like an Aztec god. Some gave high-fives to the well-wishers on the side of the road; they knew they were almost at the end, and some were beaming.
"It makes you want to run, doesn't it?" he said, and hurried off to meet his wife at the finish line.
Reached by phone after the race, Heather Le Var said, "The last 10 miles all I wanted to do was stop . . . When you finish, you're just happy that it's over.