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A run for a cause

Kaplen JCC on the Palisades brings out the best in its racers

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The Rubin Run attracts a crowded field. Participants have fun and stay healthy as they raise money for people with special needs. photos supplied by Kaplen jcc on the palisades

First, it’s spring. The flowering trees have just peaked, tulips are gloriously unfurled, and the whole world is bright flowers and blue sky and translucently green grass and fluffy white clouds. (Unless, of course, it rains, but it can’t. It mustn’t. And the colors shine even through the rain, when the sky glows with steel and everything is reflected in the road.)

It’s a day for community, for families to gather, for fitness exercises led by professionals, for a carnival in the morning for kids, for music and food.

It’s Mother’s Day.

And it’s a time when the Kaplen JCC’s on the Palisades’ combined DNA – its high-tech, state-of-the-art, luxurious amenities and its social-action soul, entwined like a double helix – shows clearly.

It’s the Rubin Run, the 32-year-old road race – a half-marathon, a 10K run, and a 5K run/walk – that begins in Tenafly and functions both as a fun day, and a major fundraiser for JCC programming for people with special needs.

“My parents always had a very special interest in children,” Daniel Rubin of Engelwood said; the race is named after his late parents, Syril and Leonard Rubin. “They dedicated the nursery school in the JCC, which bears their name, because of that interest. This was an extension, raising money for children with special needs.

“This year, we are hoping to have over 1,200 runners; we hope to raise over $50,000.

“I run,” Rubin continued. “The race is for children in strollers through senior citizens. I will have four of my children and five grandchildren there.

“It is one of the oldest continuous road races in Bergen County. We are as committed to it as we ever have been. We will continue to support it and participate in it as long as we are physically able to, and when we cannot, there will be a generation behind us. We look for it to continue to grow.”

His sister, Leslie Weinberg of Tenafly, agreed. “I’ve walked it; I’ve jogged it, pushing a stroller; I’ve run it pregnant; I’ve run it alongside my kids, and now my kids run alongside me.

“For 32 years, either my husband and I have run in it together, or one of us has run and cheered the other.”

People run in the race for a variety of reasons.

Suzette Josif has lived in Tenafly for 2 ½ years. “This is my third year at the Rubin Run,” she said. “It combines two of my favorite areas in the JCC, health and recreation, and special services.”

Josif, who is 43 and in real estate management, has three children; her middle child, Melanie, 12, has autism. “She has been involved in the special services group from the day we moved here. It’s been an unbelievable resource for us. There is nothing they won’t try to help us with.

“The people at the JCC are so kind! Everybody in the building knows my daughter by her first name. She’s the type of person you could look past – but they don’t. They stop and say hello. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone – from the health and recreation department, to the trainers, to the people who manage the front desk, to the security guards, to the people who work in the café. Everyone takes a moment of their time to get to know my daughter and say hello to her.”

“We are so fortunate.

“I will run in the Rubin Run for as long as I can. I’m not really a runner. I have bad knees; I had a ski injury long ago. But I run once a year, for the Rubin Run. That’s because I don’t really like thinking that I can’t do anything. My daughter really inspired me.

“There are things that she cannot do yet, but I don’t like hearing that there are things that she cannot do. Hearing that I can’t do something really hits a nerve with me.”

Josif’s younger daughter, 6-year-old Sydney, will run with her mother. “She is very determined,” Josif said.

Her oldest child, Eli, rode in a bike race with his mother to benefit Melanie’s school. “We feel very fortunate to be part of the JCC,” Josif said.

Bonnie Federman of Tenafly has been on the JCC’s special services committee for more than 15 years, at times serving as its chair. She’s also been involved with the Rubin Run – “I’ve run intermittently, for health reasons,” she said.

Last year, for the first time, participants were allowed to do their own fundraising – the registration fees pay for the costs of the race, and the sponsorships provide the special needs money. Federman and her team raised money for iPads – research has shown that tablets are useful for people with autism. “We originally bought 10 and now we have about 15,” she said. “We are able to download programs – for communication, for teaching life skills. These kids are in school all the time, so we wanted to find a program that would be fun and help them learn.”

Last year, a local chapter of Achilles – a group that teams able-bodied athletes with athletes with special needs – was formed. “The Rubin Run was the first venue for it,” Federman said. “I think about five or six special needs people ran last year. I completed the 5K with two of them, two teenagers, both with autism. One of them was my friend Gabe. This year, I’ll be running again.”

The partnership with Achilles illustrates one of the JCC’s strengths, its seamless integration of seemingly disparate elements – in this case, running and people with special needs.

Kimmy Chedel had lived in Englewood with her husband, Frank J. Doyle, and their two young children, Zoe and Garrett, for less than two years when their world exploded. That was on Sept. 11, 2001, when her husband, a risk arbitrageur, died in the attacks on Tower 2 of the World Trade Center.

Both had been athletes – Chedel a ski racer, Doyle a hockey player – but neither had run in a race until the previous May, when both had done the Rubin Run. They had been joined by her brother, Christian Chedel, and four colleagues from Doyle’s firm, Keefe Bruyette & Woods. His friends died along with Doyle.

His widow and their children moved back to her hometown, Montreal, two months after the attacks.

A grief counselor told her that she should pick two days a year to honor her husband, and she did. One of them is the Rubin Run; the other is a triathlon, to mark the only time he had run one, in Quebec, in August 2001 – a month before his death.

Every Mother’s Day weekend, Chedel and Team Frank – including her brother; his wife, Amelie Chedel, a professional runner; and her 76-year-old father, who either runs or walks the course – come to Tenafly. They stay at the Clinton Inn, carb load the night before and picnic the day of the race, and run.

Team Frank, meanwhile, has expanded. Marked by T-shirts bearing Doyle’s image, they have run races all over the world, made it to the base camp at Mount Everest and to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Team Frank also includes Matthew Posh, a professional runner who represented Canada in a recent competition in New Zealand. “I hope he wins,” Chedel said.

“I have run the 5K a bunch of times, maybe 3 or 4 times over the last few years,” Michael Kollender of Closter, an investment banker and JCC vice president and board member, said. “I train at the JCC most days, with a great friend of mine” – JoJo Rubach of Tenafly – “and we decided to create a spring challenge for ourselves. I hadn’t run more than five or six miles at one showing ever in my life, so it became the challenge.

“I’m 47, and I train with a personal trainer and exercise at the JCC four or five days a week. Now every weekend I run 10, 11 miles at a clip each Saturday or Sunday; probably twice a week I run.

“And now this is my personal challenge – keeping fit, and having fun while keeping fit. Doing it at the JCC ties into the rest of my life.”

As glorious as the day of the race might be, it is held in the real world, a place where foot races now signal possible danger, after the Boston Marathon bombing. Don’t worry about it, said Captain Michael deMoncada of the Tenafly police department. The force is on the job.

“There might be a visible enhancement of security,” DeMoncada said. “You might need a little more time checking in, but not hours. You definitely will see a difference from last year.

“Don’t be afraid. We’re taking it very seriously.”

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