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Mary Wittenberg, the president and CEO of New York Road Runners (NYRR)—the largest not-for-profit road race organizer in the U.S. which stages the TCS New York City Marathon and dozens of other events—is leaving her post after 17 years with the organization and 10 years as president and CEO. After Sunday’s massive AirBnB Brooklyn Half-Marathon she will lead the launch of a new company called Virgin Sport, a new division of Richard Branson’s massive Virgin business empire focused on participatory fitness events and programs. She will become Virgin Sport’s Global CEO and continue to be based in New York where she lives with her husband and two children.
Wittenberg, 52, an avid runner who as Mary Robertson won the Marine Corps Marathon in 1987, joined the NYRR in 1998 becoming its first chief operating officer under her predecessor, Allan Steinfeld, one of the NYRR’s founders. In 2005 the former law firm partner with Hunton & Williams in Richmond, Va., became president and CEO.
“Mary’s been a trailblazer in our industry and the positive impact she’s had on New York Road Runners and the TCS New York City Marathon has been historic,” said NYRR board chairman George Hirsch. “Mary has proven that she is one of the top sports executives in the world and we’ll miss her vision and leadership.”
Under her management, the NYRR enjoyed strong growth in their events. In 1998, the TCS New York City Marathon had 31,333 finishers. It has since grown by 61% to 50,432 last year, making it easily the world’s largest marathon. Wittenberg also oversaw the creation of several new events which are popular with both recreational runners and top athletes. Those include the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, founded in 2005; United Airlines NYC Half, founded in 2006; and AirBnB Brooklyn Half-Marathon, which was re-invented as a mass-participation race in 2012 and will be America’s largest half-marathon this year.
Virgin Group, the Branson family-owned investment group, today announced the formation of Virgin Sport, an active lifestyle company that aims to revolutionize health and wellness through participatory fitness events and programs.
Virgin Sport seeks to grow a global community by re-imagining “sport” and expanding the reach of mass participatory events in running, cycling and other formats. Virgin Sport will deliver unique experiences for participants and spectators alike while having a positive social impact on local communities.
Via a new digital platform, Virgin Sport will supplement its events with training and social opportunities providing support to people of all ages and abilities in leading active, healthy lives.
Headquartered in New York, Virgin Sport will launch initially in the UK, and focus on core Virgin territories including the U.S., South Africa and Australia through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth. Virgin Sport will also consider entering other markets of interest which have potential for growth.
While at the NYRR, Wittenberg also helped found the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a super-league of the world’s top commercial marathons, in 2006.
Perhaps most important to Wittenberg was her initiative to expand the NYRR’s involvement in youth running programs. Now with school-based programs like Mighty Milers (a running program for children of all fitness levels from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade), and Young Runners (a running program designed for children of all fitness and athletic levels in grades 3-12), the NYRR has approximately 200,000 children enrolled in running programs, both locally and nationally.
With Wittenberg’s departure, two NYRR veterans, Michael Capiraso and Peter Ciaccia, will lead the organization going forward. Capiraso assumes the title NYRR President and CEO, while Ciaccia, will have the title NYRR President of Events and will also be the race director for the TCS NYC Marathon. Hirsch will remain board chairman. Both Capiraso and Ciaccia will join the Board of Directors.
“I look forward to working with Peter and the entire staff as we take the next step in the evolution of NYRR’s mission,” said Capiraso through a statement. “With the support of our board of directors and our many stakeholders from runners to partners to city leaders, we are excited to build on the NYRR legacy and get more people of all ages to Run for Life.”
In addition to her accomplishments as a sports executive, Wittenberg became a tireless proponent of running for people of all ages and abilities. In many ways, she became the face of running in the United States.
“My days at NYRR have been fueled by the inspiration all around me and it has been an immense privilege to serve our runners and community while working side-by-side with so many amazing partners and talented and deeply committed staff, volunteers and Board of Directors,” said Wittenberg through a media release. “NYRR is fortunate to have Michael and Peter ready to take the baton with the invaluable benefit of George Hirsch, with his many years of experience, working closely with them as he and the Board have with me these past ten years. I am predicting this next leg of NYRR’s run will be the best yet.”