Army Veteran and Runner Andy Neidnig of Sag Harbor Dies At 93 - 27 East

Army Veteran and Runner Andy Neidnig of Sag Harbor Dies At 93

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authorColleen Reynolds on Aug 7, 2012

Fleet of foot and strong of body, the runner Andy Neidnig of Sag Harbor had a champion’s endurance that powered him for miles—around collegiate tracks, through cross-country courses, past plenty of finish lines and atop many medal stands.

He fell in love with running as a boy and never stopped going the distance, marathoning into his 80s and cementing his status as a local legend in his sport until his death this week.

Mr. Neidnig died of natural causes at about 3:30 a.m. Monday at Southampton Hospital. He was 93.

“Everybody knew who Andy was,” said Jaime Kosinski, a Sag Harbor native transplanted to Chicago who used to put on a 5K race in Sag Harbor. “All the timers, all the coaches, all the runners. Everyone always said, ‘We want to go out like Andy.’”

She recalled how in his later years, often only the ambulance would come in behind him in the local races, but he always persevered and would always tip his hat to the crowd at the finish.

Born in Brooklyn on July 3, 1919, Andrew Ernest Neidnig rose quickly in the running world, specializing in the distance- and middle distance disciplines.

He excelled early, earning his first running medal at the age of 11. As a teenager, he was one of the top-notch high school runners in New York at John Adams High School, a public school in Queens.

In the late 1930s, he competed for Manhattan College and broke the national intercollegiate record for the 2-mile with a time of 9:18–a time that, these days, is matched by elite high school runners on more advanced track surfaces and wearing more sophisticated running shoes. He made a name for himself as one of the fastest runners in the nation as a college athlete, clocking times of 1:54 in the half-mile and 4:13 in the mile, when the mile world record stood at just 4:06.

The 1941 graduate’s accomplishments have since been enshrined into the college’s Hall of Fame, where he is listed as a champion in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track and field.

“My running career at Manhattan was very good,” Mr. Neidnig told The Press in a 2005 interview. “But when I ran races, I never ran for time. I ran the race to win or to place the best I could. If I ran 16 miles all week in training, that was a lot. For God’s sake, when I was 62, I was running 40 miles a week out here. So whatever we ran, it’s remarkable we ran that well.”

The distance star earned a bachelor’s degree at Manhattan and, later, a master’s degree at New York University, and initially planned to teach biology, but went into construction and made a career as a steamfitter after realizing that teaching was not for him, said his only child, daughter, Jan Neidnig, 60, of Manhattan in a phone interview on Tuesday. He moved to Sag Harbor after he retired.

But first, he went to war.

Mr. Neidnig was drafted into the United States Army in August 1941, where he served for five years, fought at the Battle of the Bulge and ran all the while.

“As long as I could run, I would run,” he told The Press in 2005. “I always said that in the war, I ran against the Germans, and I ran away from the Germans.”

As a member of the Army track team, he sped down the homestretch in an 800-meter race in Nuremberg, Germany, to what he later described as the loudest roar of his life among more than 5,000 American soldiers.

“What happened was they announced that Japan had capitulated—right at the time I finished this race,” he said in that same interview.

His death this week coincides with the Olympic track and field competition in London, but Mr. Neidnig himself never got a chance at Olympic glory, as the games were canceled from 1938 to 1948 because of World War II.

“Running was always a big part of his life, and I think that’s why he made it to 93,” his daughter said this week. “How many 80-year-olds do you know who can do the New York City marathon?”

Her father was one.

He entered elite events throughout his 30s and 40s and logged many a marathon, right up until he was 80 in 1999, crossing the finish under the darkness of night.

His times may have slowed, but achievements never dimmed.

“The first time I beat him in a running race, I was about 15. It was a big deal to beat Andy, but of course, he was almost 80,” said a friend, Frankie Venesina, now 37, reflecting on the high esteem to which Mr. Neidnig was held.

Mr. Neidnig would often stop by Mr. Venesina’s family’s restaurant, the Main Street pizza parlor Conca D’oro, after runs, and chat for hours. Mr. Venesina recalled how his new iPad amazed Mr. Neidnig and that the pair would spend plenty of time using it to look up old buddies of Mr. Neidnig.

He was inspiring, he really was,” Mr. Venesina said.

Mr. Neidnig is survived by his wife, Jean Neidnig of Riverhead and a daughter, Jan Neidnig of Manhattan.

Visiting hours were set for Wednesday, August 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Yardley and Pino funeral home on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor.

A funeral service was set for Thursday, August 9, at 11 a.m. at Oakland Cemetery.

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