More than 100 runners gathered in Sag Harbor on Saturday morning to compete, and also honor a local legend, taking part in the inaugural Andy’s 5K Run.
The race, put on by the Sag Harbor Lions Club, was created in memory of Andy Neidnig, a Sag Harbor resident who died in August 2012, at the age of 93. Neidnig was a legend of sorts in the village, known for his lifelong dedication to distance running.
He was one of the best runners in the nation as a college student at Manhattan College in the late 1930s, and continued to race and even compete in marathons well into his 80s. Neidnig was a fixture in local 5Ks and road races, often finishing last in his twilight years but never wavering in his dedication and love of the sport.
Fiachra Hallissey, 42, of East Hampton was the overall winner, in 18:38 (6:00 mile pace). It was the first 5K win for Hallissey, a native of Ireland, who is in training for both the New York City and Boston marathons.
He was followed by James Moore, 29, of Montauk (19:22). Jorge Bautista, 24, of Sag Harbor was third, in 19:24, followed by Dermott Quinn, 44, of Sag Harbor (19:48); Tom O’Donoghue, 46, of Sag Harbor (20:12); Brendan Clavin, 24, of East Quogue (20:24); Paul Hamilton, 53, of East Hampton (20:31); Shaun Golden, 38, of Sagaponack (20:45); Sharon McCobb, 50, of East Hampton (20:57), who was the first female finisher; and Harrison Yardley, 15, of Sag Harbor (21:45).
Complete results are at island-timing.com.
Lions Club members Robert Arcs and Ernest Schade said they decided to put on a 5K this year to raise money for the organization, which provides a number of services for needy members of the community, and in particular has a mission of working with the visually impaired. They said they hoped to raise enough money to pay for a guide dog from the Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation.
Arcs said he decided that a 5K would be a good fundraiser, so he began asking people in the community for ideas in terms of who the race should honor or recognize.
“The name ‘Andy’ always came up,” he said. “He was an icon in this area. If you were a runner, you knew Andy.”
Arcs said he didn’t fully understand just how illustrious Neidnig’s career was until he got a phone call from a stranger recently. The man, who had purchased Neidnig’s home in Sag Harbor Village, contacted Arcs and asked him to come over to the house.
“He said, ‘I bought Andy’s house, and I’m going to knock it down, but there are a ton of trophies and awards here,’” Arcs recounted. He went to the house, and he said he was shocked by what he found in the basement. “There were plaques all over the walls, and in the garage there were boxes full of trophies. I had to come back with my pickup truck. That’s when I began to realize what he really was. I was blown away.”
Arcs cleaned up several of the awards and plaques, which were on display at the race on Saturday. Neidnig was a star runner at Manhattan College in the late 1930s, breaking the national record in the two-mile race with a time of 9:18, while also running a 4:13 mile when the world record at the time was 4:06. Neidnig served in the U.S. Army in the 1940s, and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. He likely would have had a shot at competing in the Olympics if they hadn’t been canceled at the time due to World War II.
In his later years, Neidnig was a familiar face in Sag Harbor, known not only to runners who saw him in local races but also anyone around town. Neidnig would walk to the post office every day, and also frequently visited the local pizza place and Italian restaurant, Conca D’Oro, where he would sip red wine, eat bread and chat with the owners.