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Woman running NYC Marathon with Israeli soldier who helped search for her brother after condo collapse: "It's like family"

Running the NYC marathon with purpose
Running the NYC marathon with purpose 07:31

The 50th annual New York City Marathon is returning this Sunday and 30,000 runners from around the world are expected to participate. Two of those runners share a special bond, forged in tragedy. 

Micaela Naibryf and Amnon Leibowitz met in the painstaking days after the Champlain Towers South, a high-rise condo building north of Miami Beach, collapsed. Naibryf's brother, Ilan, was staying in the building so that he could attend the funeral of a friend's father. 

When news of the collapse spread, Naibryf traveled to Surfside and recalled to CBS News' Dana Jacobson what she saw.  

"I saw a building in shambles. I knew that they were on the eighth floor, so I just tried to count the floors. And it was just, like, sand and rubble, it was destruction," Naibryf said. 

Leibowitz was a member of an Israeli Defense Forces team that traveled to Florida to help with what at the time was a rescue mission. 

Naibryf said she remembered Leibowitz's smile and felt an instant connection with him. "I think we kind of just clicked, we were speaking the same language. ... We're both engineers ... we're both, I think, very logical, and I think that's how we first started to bond," she said. 

Naibryf would often give Leibowitz suggestions during the search. She said it was a way she could cope with what was happening. Leibowitz said he would listen to Naibryf and give her time and space. Shortly after, a friendship was formed between the two. 

For more than 20 years, Leibowitz, a lieutenant colonel with the Israeli Home Front Command, has been helping with rescue and recovery missions around the world. He said this was the first time in his career that he ever talked to family members of the missing. 

"We try to totally make like a wall between the rescuer and the families because you can't concentrate and be focused on your work when you have an emotional thing," Leibowitz said.  "But Mica is different. It's like family." 

Their bond was forever forged in a moment where few words were exchanged — hours before Naibryf learned her brother Ilan was among the dead. 

"I remember saying hi to him. And, you [Leibowitz]  gave me a hug. And I knew based on that hug that they had found him. I didn't have proof. But I just knew. And then a couple of hours later, we got the call," she recalled.  

Naibryf and Leibowitz have built upon that bond with regular calls and a pact to run the New York City Marathon as a tribute to Ilan. 

They've been training together — Naibryf from Chicago and Leibowitz from Israel, exchanging their stats and keeping each other accountable. 

"I feel like sometimes, you know, I'm running, I see a leaf fall and I think, the building fell and I go back to the point in time where I'm thinking, 'How did my brother feel those five seconds when the building was falling?'" Naibryf said. "And I know it's not healthy but being able to talk about this with Amnon and tell him, you know, 'I'm not having a great day,' he gets it. And I think he relates it all back to the running and says, you know, 'You're not a quitter. You're strong.' So it gives, it definitely gives me that strength." 

They're both running in honor of Ilan but Leibowitz is also running on behalf of first responders around the world. On marathon day, Naibryf will wear shoelaces from a pair of running shoes her brother gave her, so she can keep him close and both Naibryf and Leibowitz will be wearing matching shirts designed by his daughter. 

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