Nicholas Marshak was a man who went the extra mile — in life, and even as he neared death.
Marshak died Sunday of heatstroke at the Whiteface Sky Race in upstate Wilmington. He was a half-mile from the finish line when he collapsed, race organizers say. Temperatures were in the 90s at the time. He was 30 years old.
The Merrick resident was an extreme runner described by those who knew him as someone who would go the distance, not just on strenuous trails like those he encountered Sunday, but also for his loved ones and social justice issues.
“Although we are sad that he is gone, this is not sad,” said his sister, Kymberly Napolitano, 33, of Mastic Beach. “Not many people get such a poetic death.”
Her brother, an activist and fitness enthusiast who worked as a physical trainer at Equinox fitness, died doing what he loved, she said.
“And that is because he would not give up,” Napolitano said.
Sunday’s race involved running up and down the steep trails of Whiteface Mountain Ski Center and included three loops: two up and down the mountain and one on the Flume Trail System in between. Marshak was descending the Lower Parkway ski trail on the final loop — about a half-mile from the finish line of the 15.5-mile race — when he collapsed about 2 p.m., according to Ian Golden of Red Newt Racing, which organized the event.
On Wednesday, Red Newt Racing shared news of Marshak's death on its Facebook page.
"While we'll continue to struggle to process it, we find solace only in understanding that Nick died doing something, and surrounded by a community, that he loved," the Facebook post said.
An ambulance took Marshak to Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid, where he got CPR and was placed in an ice bath, his family said. His temperature was 108 degrees by the time of his death, his partner, Danielle Asher said.
“There is no way you get heatstroke without feeling the effects of heatstroke,” Napolitano said. “He had half a mile to go and he would not let himself not finish.”
That was how her brother was in every respect of his life, she said.
“He loved deeply. He lived fully,” she said. “He was the word ‘extreme.’ ”
Marshak grew up in Stony Brook, the middle of three children. Napolitano was three years older, his brother, Matthew three years younger. He was recently accepted into Stony Brook University, where he planned to enroll to finish his bachelor’s degree with a focus in pre-medicine, Asher said.
Asher lived with Marshak and said the two met several years ago at a protest for equitable housing. Their passion for social justice was one of their many shared interests, she said, along with travel. They had planned to visit Cuba later this month. The two had dated for about two years and they considered each other life partners, Asher said.
Asher and Napolitano said they are confident that race organizers did everything they could to save Marshak.
“That’s the thing with ultra running — it’s extreme,” Asher said. “He’s also run in blizzards before. Being that he is so health-conscious, I trusted that he knew what he was doing.”
Marshak had successfully completed a few dozen extreme races in recent years, she said.
A little more than half of the 83 entrants finished Sunday’s Sky Race. Marshak was the nearest to the finish line of the 35 who did not.
“He had to die the way he lived,” Asher said. “Even though it was a million years too soon.”
In addition to his siblings, he is survived by his parents, Ronald and Lucille Marshak of Temecula, California, where Matthew Marshak also lives.
Viewings will be held Friday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Claude R. Boyd/Caratozzolo Funeral Home in Deer Park. A memorial will be at 8 p.m. at the funeral home.