From the moment the gun went off, Melina Buck was in love with the New York City Marathon.
As she was running through the streets of the Big Apple in 2009, she knew she would be back, knew she was compelled in her running soul to return every single year.
But then, caught up in the life of a grad student at Temple University, she missed the registration deadline. Ah, but there was another way in. She could raise money for a charity. That would be her ticket to her second New York City Marathon.
“I screwed something up. I was in grad school and I missed the deadline to apply,” Buck said. “And I was just devastated, which is the reason I ran for charity, which is a really selfish reason to start raising money. But I needed to get in. I just needed to.”
She doesn’t need the charity bib to get into the New York City Marathon any more.
But ever since she got into that one race thanks to hitting her fundraising goals, she’s returned to the charity team Shoe 4 Africa, an organization that works on health and education issues in East Africa. It’s become as intimately part of her New York experience as the Queensboro Bridge and the Central Park hills.
“I keep fundraising because it just means so much to me to run for another purpose besides just my own enjoyment and competition,” Buck said. “To have stayed with the same charity so long, I’ve gotten to know the founder of the charity pretty well and developed a relationship with him. It’s such a great community and it’s a big part of the New York City Marathon experience for me.”
That experience, one that brings together people from diverse backgrounds through running, is what Buck cherishes most about the event.
“I just love the way it brings the city together,” Buck said. “You go through all five boroughs. You get to see so many diverse neighborhoods and the race itself is diverse. You hear all these different languages. And there are all these different flags.
“Everyone is so excited to be there and represent who they are whether it’s on the sidelines representing their neighborhoods or in the race representing their country. I just thought that was really cool. And it’s the biggest marathon and it’s on ESPN now and I like that, too. I like being a part of the biggest and the best race. And I’ve just always loved New York.”
The Amherst native will be running her eighth consecutive New York City Marathon on Nov. 5. She’s run a personal best in her previous seven and is geared up for another quality time. Last year, she led all Buffalo-area runners in the event finishing in 3:05:14. She’d like to break the three-hour mark this year.
And what a year it would be to do it.
The biggest story line is American Meb Keflezighi, who will be running in his final marathon as a professional. The 41-year-old made his marathon debut in New York in 2002 and went on to win the Olympic silver in Athens. He captured the hearts of Americans in 2014 when, a year after the bombing, he won the Boston Marathon.
“Meb is just so gracious and such a great competitor,” said Buck, who describes herself as a “running nerd” who will record the television broadcast of the New York City marathon so she can watch the elite race when she gets home. “He’s had some really incredible performances, but I feel it’s his personality you just love. He’s definitely inspiring.
“One of my favorite things about New York is that some of running idols are in the same race,” Buck said. “It’s cool because the first wave of runners, which I’ll be in, starts with the elite men. Sometimes you can see them warm up. It’s so awesome to be a part of it.