Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

NYC Marathon trip honors Largo High pal, lifts friends' grief

LARGO

They started out as high school buddies who got to know each other through Largo High's Band of Gold before graduating in 1987.

They ended up joined together again as Wendy's Warriors, whose mission was to pay homage to the kind, powerful spirit of their friend Wendy Wrucha, who died suddenly this year.

Wrucha, a speech therapist at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, died in March after she contracted a bloodstream infection that caused meningitis.

On Nov. 6, five of her friends — Tom Bronson, Tracy Feinsilver, Michelle Drum Inman, Madeline Ankenbauer Bisesti and Bobby Collins — ran the New York City Marathon in her name.

Wrucha's death at age 42 sent those who knew her reeling in grief and shock. Several hundred people attended her funeral at Hyde Park Methodist Church in Tampa. It was there that the idea of Wendy's Warriors was first hatched, said Bronson, who is now a middle school math teacher in Tampa.

To run in the New York City Marathon, one of the largest in the world with about 45,000 runners each year, participants must either gain a spot through a lottery system or run in support of a charity. Wrucha, who had been an avid runner, ran the 2010 marathon for the national charity Autism Speaks. She raised about $3,000 for the organization and she finished in 5 hours, 31 seconds.

"Michelle and Tracy were the first ones to come up with the idea of us running like she did for her charity," Bronson said. "They said, 'Come on, let's do it for her,' and we all got on board right away.''

After the funeral, they all headed back to their homes. Bronson, Bisesti and Collins still live in the Tampa Bay area. Inman lives in North Carolina and Feinsilver in Delaware.

Through emails, they spent the next six months planning the trip. They each began their fundraising. Autism Speaks required each runner to raise $2,700.

The group rented a three-bedroom apartment in Spanish Harlem for six days. "We wanted to stay all together, and it made the event's purpose even more clear,'' said Feinsilver, who is now vice president of retail banking for WSFS Bank.

Also staying in the apartment were Bronson's parents, Milton and Mickey Bronson, who had been active band parents when their son was at Largo High. They agreed to come on the trip to help care for Bronson's son Carter, a toddler.

"The funny thing was that my parents had been so involved with the band when we were in high school that having them there seemed to cement the feeling of it being about our great times together,'' Bronson said.

The group spent time seeing the sights of Manhattan. They toured the Empire State Building. They ate dinner in Little Italy.

"But we talked about Wendy the whole time, too,'' Bronson said. "We did fun things like create a secret Wendy hand gesture. We'd hold up our three fingers to make a W and throw it up randomly to each other.''

There was one event on race day that Bronson felt bordered on the supernatural.

"It was 5 a.m. We all climbed on the subway for Staten Island and the train was pretty much empty except for us," Bronson said. "Out of nowhere, a man walked up to us and said, 'Welcome, runners.' ''

The man, a UPS employee with a severe speech impediment, told the group that he was going to be assisting runners during the race. Then he proceeded to give them advice on how to stay properly hydrated, and he encouraged them to keep their warm-up jackets with them because the Queensboro Bridge would get chilly.

"When we got off the train, we all looked at each other and said, 'Okay, don't you think that guy was sent by Wendy?' " Bronson recalled. "We just came to the conclusion that Wendy, who had made her living as a speech pathologist, made sure to let us know she was with us by sending us a guy with a severe impediment. She also probably wanted to make sure we knew what we were doing.''

At the starting line, everyone split up according to the section they were assigned by marathon organizers. Bronson was the first of the group to finish, at just more than four hours.

"Then Madeline came in after Tom, about an hour later, and then I hung back with Michelle and Bobby,'' Feinsilver said. "It took the three of us a little over seven hours, and I tell you, the soreness I experienced the next several days was worse than what I remember after childbirth."

Bronson's parents secured a perch near the finish line and, despite the crowd, were able to hand Bronson his son, Carter, to carry over the finish line.

"It was a great day for everyone, and I know Wendy was watching,'' Bronson said. "I'm very, very confident that she is so proud of how we all did in the race.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or pcastillo@tampabay.com.

NYC Marathon trip honors Largo High pal, lifts friends' grief 11/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Straz Center parking squeeze infuriates patrons, motivates search for solutions

    Transportation

    TAMPA — When the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts opened 30 years ago, it welcomed just 30,000 patrons its first year.

    Fireworks shoot into the sky over the David A. Straz Jr. Center For The Performing Arts. [SCOTT MCINTYRE, Times]
  2. Video shows naked man who stole swan sculpture in Lakeland, deputies say

    Crime

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office is searching for a naked man who stole a large black and white swan sculpture from a Lakeland storage facility last weekend.

    The Polk County Sheriff's Office says this naked man stole a large black and white swan sculpture, upper right, from a Lakeland storage facility last weekend. Surveillance video showed the man walking into Lakeland Cold Storage. [Polk County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Fennelly: Dirk Koetter's apology no way to keep this fidget spinning

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It all began with a fidget spinner.

    This tweet from the Bucs, mocking the Falcons' 28-3 lead they lost in the Super Bowl against the Falcons, prompted a public apology from head coach Dirk Koetter, who called it "unprofessional and not smart."
  4. Jeb money trickles into Putnam's bid for governor

    Blogs

    Money from a Jeb Bush super PAC has made its way into Florida’s 2018 governors race.
     
    A year ago, Bush’s Right to Rise PAC put $1,171 in money

  5. Men have body image issues too

    Health

    I have lost and gained weight several times in my adult life. It wasn't a problem when I was younger and working construction. An "ideal" office job 30 years ago started the yo-yo effect. I don't have any more weight to lose, but the potential of gaining it back is always there.

    Andrew Meacham, September 2005