Andy Neidnig, the runner here whom everyone in the sport looked up to, died Monday at Southampton Hospital at the age of 93.
Aside from a brief period in his mid-40s, Mr. Neidnig, who moved to Sag Harbor when he retired, ran his entire life. The first medal he ever won, he recalled during an interview on the occasion of his 90th birthday, “was when I was 11 . . . it was from home plate straight to second base.”
“Even in the war, when I wasn’t fighting, I ran. I’ve always taken it very seriously. . . . People used to think I was crazy when I ran through the streets of Queens, where we lived, near Aqueduct, every day after work” as a steamfitter.
Howard Lebwith of Springs, who always has described Mr. Neidnig as his hero, said he was known in Sag Harbor as “the old man who runs.”
And boy did he: He competed in more than 30 marathons, beginning with a ninth-place finish at Boston in 1938, and 54 years later he set an over-70 New York City Marathon record of 2 hours and 57 minutes; he was the Amateur Athletic Union’s mile champion in 1938 and ’39; he was a two-time winner of the New York Road Runners Club’s grand masters award; he was the Old Montauk Athletic Club’s athlete of the year in 2006; he is in Manhattan College’s Hall of Fame, along with his teammate, and fellow running proselyte, Dr. George Sheehan, and in all likelihood he would have been a serious contender for the Olympics had not World War II intervened.
In the war Mr. Neidnig, first as a staff sergeant and then as a lieutenant, fought with the Second Armored Division, which saw action in the Battle of the Bulge. “I don’t want to tell you any stories about the fighting,” he said in the aforementioned interview, “except that there were three times I shouldn’t have lived.”
Just after the war ended, Mr. Neidnig beat an Olympian-gold-medalist-to-be, Josy Barthel of Luxembourg, in a half-mile race in Europe. “I was 26, an old man — though I wouldn’t have been today — and Josy was 18. They expected big things from him, and they were right. He won a gold medal at Helsinki in the 1,500 in 1952. He visited me here when he ran in the Millrose Games, and he saw me run in the 1949 Boston Marathon.” (Mr. Neidnig was ranked 136th among the world’s marathoners that year.)
“He was such a sweetheart,” said Mr. Lebwith. “There are 10,000 Andy stories — everyone has one. He was such a kvetch too, always complaining about some nagging injury at the starting line; then he’d go out and leave you in the dust. I remember after that marathon when he broke the record, he just kept running — he didn’t know how to get home on the subway.”
“When he first moved out here, the local races’ oldest age group was 50-and-over. I was one of the race directors and he kept pushing me to extend it. When he was 70, he said, ‘Howard, I’m sick and tired of running against these kids of 50.’ ”
“When I came out here,” Mr. Neidnig said in that July 3, 2009, interview, “Tony [Venesina, owner of the Conca D’Oro pizzeria in Sag Harbor] had a 10K race. I was just 60, and I won my age group. I learned later from The Sag Harbor Express that they were also giving out a trophy for the oldest runner, so I came down to Tony’s place to get it. That was the first time we met. In 1979. Tony and I ran all over Long Island together. He’d win his age group and I’d win mine.”
Mr. Neidnig’s parting words that day were, when this writer said he was still playing tennis, “Good, don’t stop. Nature takes care of that — it will slow you. Meanwhile, don’t think about it.”
He is survived by his wife, Jean, of Riverhead, and by a daughter, Jan Neidnig of New York City.
Burial is to be at 11 this morning at Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor.