Beloved Merrick runner dies in upstate mountain race


Nicholas Marshak, of Merrick, was an advocate for social justice and healthful living and an extreme runner who pushed himself toward ever-greater feats. He died on July 1, while running what would be his final mile, in an upstate Wilmington mountain race that was the most challenging Marshak had ever attempted.

The 30-year-old was remembered this week as a positive force on all who knew him, and someone who never accepted less than the absolute best from himself.

“He was an extremely determined, ‘all-in’ person,” Marshak’s life partner, Danielle Asher, said on Tuesday. “He was extreme and intense, but he loved as big as he played and trained.”

Marshak’s sister, Kymberly Napolitano, 33, said on Monday that he also had a strong belief in the connectedness of all things, living and otherwise, that would stay with her even after his death. His extreme races, she said, were some of the times he could most feel that connection.

“He had a depth to him that just surpasses everybody else I know,” Napolitano said.

The July 1 Whiteface Sky Race wound a steep and taxing 15 miles up and down the inclines of the Whiteface Mountain ski resort while 90-degree sunshine hammered runners from an almost cloudless sky. Marshak was on his final mile when he collapsed from heat exhaustion, according to Red Newt Racing officials.

Only 48 of the 83 runners finished the race — 34 stopped out of self-preservation — according to a July 8 article by Adirondack Daily Enterprise Managing Editor Peter Crowley.

“While we’ll continue to struggle to process it, we find solace only in understanding that Nick died doing something, and surrounded by a community, that he loved,” Red Newt organizers wrote in a July 5 Facebook post. “That his mind, spirit and resolve carried him further than his body ended up allowing, shutting down in the — and his — final mile.”

Asher met Marshak eight years ago when he volunteered at a public school-funding advocacy organization with her. Marshak was “passionate about equity and justice in general,” she said.

After Marshak spent some time in California doing advocacy work — at times living out of his car — he returned about two years ago to live with Asher.

Asher was “his great love,” Napolitano said.

As a child, growing up in Stony Brook with his parents, sister and brother, Matt, Marshak developed some of the qualities that would define him as a man.

He was a dedicated baseball player from elementary school through high school, determined to play for the New York Yankees, and he would obsessively videotape his swing, over and over again, to critique and improve his technique, Napolitano said.

On the family’s annual trip to Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla., Napolitano said, Marshak had no use for even “the most spectacular fireworks.”

“The kid would close his ears and cover his eyes every time,” she said, laughing. “He didn’t like loud; he didn’t like in-your-face.”

Marshak thrived in connecting with others, preferring to interact one on one rather than being in large crowds, or loud situations.

“He was always a very sensitive kid — sensitive to people’s feelings around him,” Napolitano said. “He was very in tune with how other people felt in an environment . . . He liked being intimate with someone else. He was able to organize things and rally when there was a clear purpose, when there was a camaraderie with people, but if he was trying to convince someone or grasp someone else’s viewpoint, he would very much like a one-on-one, or a smaller group.”

Marshak decided at the last minute to enter what would be his final race, Asher said. She didn’t join him — “unfortunately, or maybe fortunately,” she said — instead enjoying a “girls’ weekend” with her friends on Fire Island.

A trainer Marshak had been speaking with recommended the race to him, and Asher said that she teased him about his choice of recreation on such a hot summer weekend.

“I was like, ‘I’m gonna be just sitting on the beach this weekend, soaking up some sun,’” she said, adding that Marshak knew how difficult the Whiteface Sky Race would be.

Still, he had done 50K’s, 100K’s and other races, and he felt the need to challenge himself further, Asher said.

And that challenge ultimately ended his life. According to the Daily Enterprise report, the Essex County coroner’s office said that there were no underlying medical conditions, and that no one shouldered any blame for Marshak’s death.

Napolitano said that he died while living out his personal driving philosophy.

“Part of his running, and extreme running, was that it was his clarity and connection to the Earth,” she said. “He could be one with the sky and the trees and the animals. He would connect with everything he saw, whether he was running, or riding his bike or swimming.”

Marshak is also survived by his younger brother, Matt, and his parents, who live in California.