TODAY'S PAPER
32° Good Afternoon
32° Good Afternoon
Sports

Nina Kuscsik of Huntington Station inducted into road racing Hall of Fame

Nina Kuscsik, an international running legend, sits at

Nina Kuscsik, an international running legend, sits at home with her trophies in Huntington Station, N.Y. (Feb. 3, 2008) Photo Credit: Newsday/Sabrina de Sampaio

They won't commence Sunday's New York City Marathon until Nina Kuscsik of Huntington Station pulls the string to fire the starter's cannon on the Verrazano Bridge. One more time that marathon's narrative will follow Kuscsik's lead.

Her induction Thursday into the race's Hall of Fame formalized what the sport has celebrated about Kuscsik for four decades -- as the original trailblazer for her gender at the classic 26-mile, 385-yard distance.

"It was just something I wanted to do all those years," she said, "and, it turns out, it made a difference, especially for women. Now the world is more educated on how good exercise is."

Before Kuscsik, who was the only woman to compete in the inaugural 1970 race and its first repeat female champion in 1972 and '73, the grand pooh-bahs of foot racing banned women from such long-distance efforts. "They thought your uterus was going to fall out," she said.

It took her New York victories, her barrier-breaking first official Boston Marathon women's title (in 1972; she had first run it, unofficially, three years earlier) and her being the first woman to go under three hours to rattle the Old Boys' club.

"People thought I was crazy," she said. "When I won Boston in '72, now they understood what I was doing."

She remains the first celebrity of women's marathoning, someone who used her clout to agitate for the women's first Olympic race at that distance in 1984. (An injury suffered when she experimented with tennis kept her from qualifying for the '84 Olympic trials.)

On her way to running more than 80 marathons, she became such a presence in the growing running community that she once recalled how "people started calling my house for training advice, and if I wasn't home, they'd ask my kids."

Kuscsik, 73, recently retired after 37 years as a patient representative at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital. Her daily runs have been curtailed because of knee replacement surgery, so she merely bikes -- seven times participating in the annual bicycle ride across the state of Iowa -- and goes on long, brisk walks.

Her legacy includes the thousands and thousands of female marathoners who have come after her -- including Thursday's fellow Hall of Fame inductee, Miki Gorman, New York's 1976 and 1977 champion, who remains the last American woman to win the race. (Men's three-time champ Alberto Salazar also entered the Hall.)

Kuscsik has long called herself "the person to blame for there being "no finisher" among women in the city's original 1970 race. She was the only female entrant that year (1.8 percent of the entire field, compared with 40 percent women last year) and, dealing with a fever, dropped out before the finish.

As a child, Kuscsik was a rollerskater, ice speedskater, basketball player, biker. After nursing school and marriage and while starting a family (she has three children), she bought a $1 book about jogging and began running with her husband and his friends at the very beginning of the late 1960s running boom. (She divorced before her running fame.)

"More than running the marathon," she said, "was the training, going out on the streets by myself and just getting into the rhythm of a long run. My mind would be so free, looking at the clouds, thinking of my kids.

"I miss the challenge" of still running marathons, "the challenge of training and seeing the results. But I can do my own individual challenges weekly."

Meanwhile, she can send off thousands more -- almost half of them women -- on Sunday's challenge when she pulls that cannon string.

New York Sports