For the running world, the fall is the time when goals are reached, mountains climbed and distances eclipsed around the country. From grand events like the Bank of America Marathon in Chicago, Ironman in Kona Hawaii and the upcoming ING New York City Marathon, to the hundreds of 5K and 10K events on the New Jersey road race calendar, anyone with a pair of running shoes and a desire to achieve a new personal competitive goal seems to be gearing up and getting ready.
One of those ultra competitive athletes is Matt Long. Although Long will not be experiencing firsthand the marathon or an Ironman competition this fall, his spirit and his desire to strive and overcome great obstacles makes him the poster person for what distance running and elite competitions are all about.No, Matt is not an Olympian or Marathon champion. In reality he is a thirty-something New York City Fireman and serial entrepreneur whose story, detailed in his just released book "The Long Run" (Rodale, 256 p.) is an inspiration not just to runners but to anyone who has dealt with or struggled to overcome hardship in their lives. The book, which is co-written with Runners World editor and longtime New Jersey resident Charlie Butler, details the Queens, N.Y., native's rise through the New York City Fire Department, where he was a 9/11 survivor, as well as all the physical tests he pushed himself through as an athlete, from walking on to the men's basketball team at Iona College to competing in an ever-growing series of marathons leading up to becoming a triathlete.
However, all that work paled in comparison to the battle Long faced after he was run over by a bus during the New York City transit strike and miraculously lived to return to competition. It is that harrowing ordeal — the dozens of surgeries, the unprecedented repair and restoration that his team of doctors (many of whom call New Jersey home) painstakingly undertook to rebuild an elite athlete who was nearly cut in two by his own bicycle, and the devotion of his friends and family as well as his faith — that make the Matt Long story so unique. With a body rebuilt after having been given less than a five percent chance of survival, Long returned to complete both the Ironman and the NYC Marathon and he is now working on telling his story and inspiring others to strive high after they have gone through such a torturous experience through his recently launched "I Will" Foundation.
Long still trains with some running and swimming at Asphalt Green in Manhattan, with the hope to return to some form of competition at the 2011 World Fire and Police games which will be held in the area. He is also helping the FDNY firemen get ready for the Marathon and their annual battle with the NYPD for the Mayor's Cup, as well as growing the foundation and doing motivational work throughout the tri-state area.
Even with all he has been through, Long remains positive and very upbeat for those he is helping to do the same. "My ordeal really taught me that we have to take every day and find ways to help those around us, no matter how tough that may be," he said. "Our Foundation has set out to do just that — assist those who have been injured or had some catastrophic event occur in their lives. They are down but they are in no way out, and we all must work to find ways to get them up and leading healthy and productive lives as best they can."
Also tied into Long's message is one of unfailing public service, a thread that runs throughout whatever he does and that many who make up the thousands of volunteers in EMS and Fire Departments throughout the Garden State can relate to. "I like the feeling of self gratification you get, like those in medical field, when without question you help others," he added. "I tell young kids today to follow their dreams. Whatever they decide to do in life they should give it all they have and stay positive no matter what comes their way, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for all those who serve in a field, be it full time or as a volunteer, to assist others. It is such an admirable quality that is forgotten in the world we live in today, but it is essential to be successful, I believe."
While he remains competitive in every aspect of his life from business (he and his brothers are close to opening up another bar in New York to compliment the successful work they have put in at the Upper East side watering hole, Third and Long) to athletics, the life altering experiences he has gone through has not been lost in the mix. Rather it is infused in everything he does and the people he touches, and all that spirit and drive is captured in his recent book.
Yes, the fall is marathon season, but Matt Long has turned it into a year-long race through his experiences, a race to help others and push beyond the boundaries of what some think is possible in an every day existence.
That is what continues to drive him and everyone he encounters along the way, and what makes him a hero among us, whether he is competing or not.