Wheelchair Athletes Ready To Roll At Boston Marathon

Look for two tightly contested races on Monday as both reigning champions are back to defend.   

With all the focus on the likes of defending champions Geoffrey Mutai and Caroline Kilel at Monday’s Boston Marathon, the men’s and women’s push-rim wheelchair division of the world’s most famous marathon tends to get overlooked.

For all the excitement of last year’s close finishes on Boylston Street in the marathon’s main events, the men’s wheelchair race was even closer and perhaps more exciting, as Japan’s Masazumi Soejima came from behind to defeat South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk and Australia’s Kurt Fearnley by one mere second.

More on Competitor.com: 2012 Boston Marathon Race Coverage

This year’s elite wheelchair field is comprised of 39 competitors from six countries. The men’s race is going to be a fiercely contested, three-way repeat of last year between Soejima, Van Dyk, and Fearnley. Of the three, Van Dyk is the most experienced at Boston, having won the race a record nine times. It was Soejima who broke his impressive streak.

For Fearnley, it’s all about finding that elusive win. The 30-year-old has big city victories like New York (4x) and Chicago (3x) under his belt, but he has yet to wear the laurels in Boston.

“I’d love to win Boston, I wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the goal,” he says. Since last year’s narrow miss, Fearnley has focused his training on Boston. He says he’s logged 200 kilometers a week on the roads and, like a runner, has gotten on the hills and done harder sessions on the track. Earlier this week, Fearnley was in Tampa, Florida, attending a wheelchair manufacturer’s workshop, “giving the old beast [his wheelchair] a service.”

“I’m as ready as I could be,” he says.

If Fearnley doesn’t win on Monday, it won’t be for lack of toughness. He famously won the 2006 ING New York City Marathon after getting back on his wheelchair following a terrible crash. And three years later, he crawled the entire length of the 96-kilometer-long Kokoda Track in New Guinea in eleven days to raise money for Beyond Blue, a charity that seeks to increase awareness and improve the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders. “Kokoda was a once in a lifetime thing and there’s nothing on the horizon that will come close,” he admits.

On the women’s side, it’s Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida’s race to lose. A five-time winner of the Boston Marathon, Tsuchida returns to Boston as the defending champion, but Christina Schwab of the United States isn’t going to make it easy for her. Schwab, who started competing in wheelchair races while in college in 2003, won Boston in 2003.

Schwab also played basketball while in college and discovered that her good mixture of speed and endurance on the court complimented her long-distance racing. “I had dabbled in racing after trying it out at wheelchair sports camps and doing local races (5K and 10K) as a teenager,” she recalls.

Along with racing, Schwab is a Paralympic gold medalist in basketball. “I enjoy the endurance training aspect of long-distance racing,” she says. “I think that playing basketball for so long helped me to be pretty mentally tough and has given me a big taste of success. I hope to have the same type of success in racing.”

Schwab has now decided to concentrate solely on wheelchair racing and no longer will compete in basketball. “ I love the team aspect of basketball, but this sport fits into my life better as I get older,” she admits. “I enjoy the endurance training aspect of long-distance racing. I think that playing basketball for so long helped me to be pretty mentally tough and has given me a big taste of success. I hope to have the same type of success in racing.”

Like Fearnley, Schwab has been putting in the right mixture of miles and tougher workouts. She logs 80-100 miles a week on the roads (with some twice-a-day workouts) and incorporates interval training under the supervision of her coach, Marty Morse. To prepare for the undulating nature of the Boston course, Schwab has been doing hill-specific workouts. A Colorado resident, Schwab says finding hills to hammer isn’t particularly hard.

Schwab is grounded about her chances going into Monday’s marathon. “I guess I am always chasing another win,” she admits. “My goal for this year is to be better than I was last year.”


About The Author:

Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, will be released in June.



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