Queensbridge Houses resident completes lifelong dream of running in NYC Marathon

Marathon pic
Ceil Witherspoon (left), a Long Island City native, completed a life-long goal of crossing the finish line of the NYC Marathon. (Photo courtesy of City Harvest)

A Long Island City native had been watching the NYC Marathon outside her window for 56 years, feeling like the opportunity to race was out of reach. With the lottery system to enter and her struggles with asthma, it seemed impossible — but this year, Ceil Witherspoon finally got to participate with the help of City Harvest food pantry. 

“I would look out the window; everyone was looking at the marathon on TV and I was watching them cross the bridge,” Witherspoon said. “I always wanted to run it. I’m a New Yorker. That’s just one of those things you always want to do.”

Every year, the City Harvest partners with New York Road Runners to build a team for the NYC Marathon. This year, they had a total of 75 runners, including Witherspoon.

As Witherspoon started to train for the occasion, she said the thought of running through the city was a bit daunting, but she wanted to complete this goal nonetheless.

“I’m used to biking everywhere in New York City but I’ve never run through New York City,” Witherspoon said. “It’s going to be a nice adventure.”

City Harvest Volunteer Programs Manager Olivia McMahon said they were pleased to give Witherspoon the opportunity to run. 

“Volunteers are at the heart of City Harvest’s work, and Witherspoon is a perfect example of just that,” McMahon said. “She has been an incredibly dedicated volunteer for over five years. She is always there rain or shine and with a smile on her face.”

Witherspoon said her asthma was a real barrier for years, but she didn’t want to let that stand in the way once she started to feel better.

“My asthma was really bad, but being tethered away with COVID, and wearing my mask constantly I haven’t had an attack,” Witherspoon said. “I’ve been training and I noticed I can handle it. But I still have my emergency inhaler.”

Witherspoon, a volunteer for City Harvest, raised $3,500 for the food pantry by running.

A Queensbridge Houses resident, she used to be on the other side of the line, receiving food, after being hospitalized in 2014. 

“Good things happen when you need them to come along,” Witherspoon said. “I started out on that side of the line and moved over. There are people who just need a little extra help.”

McMahon said City Harvest is grateful to have her as a volunteer and would be happy to have her on the team next year. 

“She is the true embodiment of the unmatched New York City spirit — incredibly positive, dedicated and always willing to lend a hand to her neighbors,” McMahon said. “We are thrilled that she was part of Team City Harvest this year, and were honored to see her cross the finish line in her City Harvest team shirt.”