DOBBS FERRY, N.Y. -- Some of Michael Rubinfeld’s most important life markers come connected to the TCS New York City Marathon. This year is no different for the veteran runner from Dobbs Ferry.
Rubinfeld, a 69-year-old fitness trainer at Burke Rehabilitation in White Plains, will run the race on Sunday for the 23nd time. He learned in April that he suffered a recurrence of prostate cancer, five years after he first fought the disease. “My goal is to be able to finish and enjoy the effort,’’ Rubinfeld said. “Time is not a factor.”
Rubinfeld, who has run 71 marathons, has an especially unique history in New York. He ran it for the first time in 1980, finishing in 3:10:26. He returned a year later and finished in 2:54:31, his best time in the event.
“It’s my hometown marathon,’’ said Rubinfeld, who was born in the Bronx and raised in Queens. “It’s something that everybody in your universe can relate to. You can run a marathon in Pennsylvania that might have 51 runners, and it’s the same distance, the same challenge. But people always make New York a much bigger deal.”
Rubinfeld finished the 1993 race in 4:13:03, several months after a virus that attacked his heart threatened his health. “I got approval from my cardiologist,’’ Rubinfeld said. “I asked him if I could run, and he said ‘Why you want to, I have no idea, but you are medically cleared.’ I was told I was healthy, but I believed it a lot more when I finished the marathon.”
Rubinfeld stopped running for a while, and in 2002, watched the race on television. “I became obese and was up to 242 pounds,’’ Rubinfeld said, who now weighs 159. “I told my wife, ‘Look what I used to do, and be quite good.’ She told me, ‘Well, you know what to do.’ I started running again, and it took me two years to get back to New York. It was the race that got me going once again.”
Rubinfeld has run every New York since 2004 (2012 was canceled after Super Storm Sandy). He even ran in 2011, six months after radical prostate cancer surgery. “I was slow, but I was back and I did it,’’ he said. “New York has always seemed to be my personal test to prove that I’m OK.”
Rubinfeld had committed to this year’s race before he learned that the cancer returned during a routine exam. He has endured hormone therapy, radiation and loss of muscle mass and bone density. “Those are things that are not good for you to lose in endurance running,’’ he said. But he has persevered, trained for the race and will step on the starting line Sunday morning. He even ran a marathon in September. “My training was good,’’ he said. “I didn’t take it lightly. I wasn’t not going to do it.”
"It's pretty amazing to see the fire that he has,'' said Kathleen Edsall, the Director of Community Health and Wellness ad Burke. "He's determined to not let anything take away something that he loves. It's amazing to see his dedication to fitness. I think it sends a message to others that are dealing with chronic illness or disease that you can live a fulfilling life and do everything you want to do."
Once extremely competitive, Rubinfeld’s health issues and age have slowed his pace considerably. But he’s also proving to Burke patients, however, that exercise as part of a routine can help people physically and emotionally. That’s a legacy that is far more impactful.
“I think hard work helps all diseases,’’ Rubinfeld said. “That’s why I’m here. If I can show them that exercise is beneficial, then it’s worth it. You don’t have to be the best athlete. You just have to be satisfied with your own effort. I like to live by example. I don’t believe running will cure my cancer. It will give me a better shot and feeling, even if it’s a pretend one. It shows that I’m in control. That’s all you can ask.”