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Zephyrhills official huffs, puffs, finishes

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Chugging along the streets of New York on Sunday, Steve Spina picked up some new nicknames.

"Go, Steve-o!" spectators shouted from the route of the New York City Marathon. "Go, Stevie! Go, Stevarino!

"Go Steve from Florida!" they called.

"Go Gators!" said others, throwing in the score of Florida's football upset over Georgia on Saturday.

With his name and his favorite college team emblazoned across his chest, Spina completed the New York City Marathon _ his first _ in 5 hours, 43 minutes, 32 seconds. He placed 31,082 out of 34,662 runners.

"It was an experience," Spina, who turned 50 in July, said Monday from his hometown of Peekskill, N.Y., 30 miles north of New York City.

He said he woke up at 5:30 Sunday morning after a good night of sleep. He was a little nervous.

About 6 a.m., he met his friends, including training partner Tim Linville, near Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street to catch the bus to the starting line on Staten Island. Within minutes, the place was throbbing with people.

"They just moved you in, got you on a bus and got you out," he said.

When the gun fired and the crowd began to surge forward, Frank Sinatra's voice boomed from loudspeakers.

"Start spreading the news "

The runners sang along.

Spina ran through all kinds of neighborhoods. Children reached out to slap his hand. The Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg watched but were mostly quiet. A choir in Harlem greeted him with gospel music.

The route was packed with people nearly the whole way.

"You were always in a crowd," Spina said. "You looked up, all you saw was runners. You looked back, all you saw was runners."

At mile 10, he felt a twinge, a pull, in his right hamstring. He wondered if he could endure 16.2 more miles.

"For 2 miles, I thought, "I'm not gonna make it,' " Spina said. "So I hobbled on and finished."

He and Linville ran together, as they have four days a week all summer long. But at the end, Linville was hurting and wanted to walk. Spina charged ahead.

He walked some, too, during the race. Across the 59th Street bridge. At the water stations.

His Manhattanite niece, Kate Brennan, watched and waited for him at Finnegan's Wake, a bar at First Avenue and E 73rd Street. Spina gave her a sweaty hug and continued on.

Later, he passed by some cheering friends from the University of South Florida.

And finally, he could exhale.

"Just relief," he said of the moment he reached the finish line in Central Park. "Relief and then, "Man, you did it.' "

No matter that the tape was broken long before he got there. The winners, the race veterans, rap star P. Diddy and the other big names who finished ahead were not on his mind. He was out there to beat the course, and he did.

Sunday night, Spina had a hamburger and a beer at the Carnegie Deli. He tried one of the restaurant's famous knishes.

He called his wife, Judy, who had to watch the race from home because of a broken leg and arm. She never saw him on television.

Then he bought the Sunday New York Times, went back to his hotel room and crashed.

His intention was always to run one marathon, to be able to say he did it, to fight the demons of aging.

But with the fatigue wearing off, Spina wonders whether he has another race in him.

"(Sunday) night, I said, "This is it _ I'm never doing another one.' " he said. "Today, I'm rethinking that."