2021 TCS NYC Marathon: 91-year-old volunteer Barbara Rubenstein offers comfort to runners at finish line
“There are people that come from Europe who look at me and say ‘I’ve been doing this for 20 years, or however many years, and every time I come, I see you,'” Rubenstein said.
At the age of 91, Rubenstein is the oldest volunteer at the 2021 TCS New York City Marathon, but it’s not just her age that sets her apart.
“A lot of people, they see me and they say, It wouldn’t be a race without me,” Rubenstein said.
Over the course of 31 years, she has become a welcome fixture at the finish line where Rubenstein encourages runners through the final steps of the grueling race.
“Sometimes they just need a helping hand, a soft shoulder just to lean on for a few feet. So I’m there,” Rubenstein said. “I just tell them to ‘hold on’ and they don’t have much further to go and ‘it will be alright.'”
Despite being a staple at one of the world’s most famous races, Rubenstein has never been a runner herself.
“I think it was 1989, was my first marathon. There was a sign up in my building looking for volunteers and it seemed the marathon was becoming so big I figured ‘gee, that’s how I could become part of such a big event in New York City.’ I’ve been here nearly every single weekend practically since then,” Rubenstein said.
As director of volunteer operations, Mary Haskins has become close friends with Rubenstein, but as a former runner, Haskins knew her long before they actually met.
Every race that I ever ran through the 90s and early 2000s, there was this iconic figure at the finish line, high-fiving everyone, congratulating everyone, checking in on them,” Haskins said. “It felt like I was coming home, like, there was my big sister waiting to greet me and make sure that I was okay. She’s so committed to our mission of inspiring people through running.”
Barbara recently became one of the first inductees into the New York Road Runners Volunteer Hall of Fame.
“I was actually very humbled by it because I didn’t think I was doing anything all that special,” Rubenstein said.
After all her years with the marathon, she said one moment, in particular, stands out.
“Some man called out, ‘hanks for all the years,’ and it’s just something that hit me so emotionally. I actually had to stop and recompose myself to go on and I never found out who said that,” Rubenstein said. “It just meant an awful lot. I was really touched by that.”
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