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Sala Cyril on her last-place finish in the New York City Marathon: 'I was actually excited'

The New York City Marathon, like any race, has one person who finishes last.
/ Source: TODAY

On Nov. 1, nearly 49,466 people finished the 26.2 miles that comprise the New York City Marathon, after months of training, both physical and mental. Like any race, there were runners who won medals, and there were those who finished at the end of the pack — and one person who finished last.

Sala Cyril was that last-place finisher - 49,466th place - to be exact. But Cyril, who crossed the finish line at 7:30 p.m. that Sunday, says she thinks the real win is in the simple triumph of finishing the race.

“I define success by reaching or surpassing the goal that I’ve set out for myself,” Cyril told “There’s a beauty and a pride that comes from knowing that you did the thing you set out to do.”

That stick-to-itiveness is exactly what inspired Cyril to run a marathon in the first place. She said she wanted to prove to herself and to her community that goals are achievable with perseverance.

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Cyril is the director and lead teacher at the Little Maroons Childcare Cooperative, a parent-led pre-school in Brooklyn that emphasizes teaching African heritage, culture and history to their students. These children and the school motivated Cyril through all 26.2 miles, setting up a fundraising site, showing up in person to support her during the race and empowering her to continue running.

“Their open hearts and the light that they have reminds me who I want to be every day,” Cyril said of her students.

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Cyril’s mother and grandmother both worked in education, encouraging her to pursue a mission in African-centered teaching and activism in her own right.

In running the marathon Cyril said she hopes to inspire her students and community in the same way they’ve impacted her.

“[The marathon] made me feel powerful and reminded me of the power of people, the power of one person and then how that can ripple through the community,” Cyril said.

That power and spirit fueled Cyril forward to finish the race. Cyril says that much to her surprise, it was her noteworthy placement that made the eight hours and 28 minutes of running well worth it.

“It did not bother me at all to be last, I was actually excited. It was a distinction…I said I finished, how many people were able to do that. Last was never a loss,” Cyril said. “My advice to all of the ‘losers’ out there is to change the game. Make your win.”