November 13, 2014 | By Erin Spaulding
I had the honor to witness the magic of Achilles International from the front lines of the
2014 TCS NYC Marathon. To be behind-the-scenes of the world’s largest marathon, with 50,000 runners and 244 Achilles athletes from around the world, was indescribable! I hope to capture some of the inspiration that occurred through 5 boroughs on a cold, relentlessly windy Sunday in New York City.
I first got the word back in the spring from Achilles International that the Achilles CT Chapter would receive four sponsored registrations for our athletes. More than four athletes wanted to take on New York, so fundraising efforts went into high gear! Thanks to successful events with Fleet Feet Sports Stamford, and proceeds raised and donated from the Half Full Brewery’s Hop, Skip & A Run 5K in June, the remaining funds were available for us to send three additional CT athletes! Tony Allegretti, Joe Dowling, Krys Zybowski, Tom Stearley, Tom Branchaud, Rob DeLuca, and David Alejandro were the “CT 7” who began to train for 26.2, along with guides Jon Romeo, Michelle Currier, Dave Hayes, Alex Silverman, and Sue Grigely! John Plata, who resides in the Springfield MA, area, and has raced with the CT Chapter, also raced. John completed an impressive 26 NYC Marathons and even more inspiring, 47 lifetime marathons, which earned him free entry into the marathon!
Following behind John was Joe, the kind-hearted hand cyclist from Greenwich who would have raced his 16th NYC marathon were it not for the bitter cold and unforgiving winds. Tony, the mentor of the team, was in for his 4th, and David, the team cheerleader, was ready for his 3rd! Rob, who last ran NYC in 1986, was running as an Achilles athlete 25 years later! Krys, Tom S., and Tom B. were the first-timers, the ‘newbie’s’, and their enthusiasm was contagious!
Race day began in the dark, early hours on Staten Island; hand cycles and push rims were carefully loaded and waiting for the athletes at the starting line. Unfortunately, due to the high winds, the wheelchair start was moved from the upper deck of the Verrazano Bridge to the streets of Brooklyn. From there, Tony, Tom S., Tom B. and Krys fiercely fought the winds for the following 23.2 miles. Krys finished his first NYC Marathon in an impressive 2:11:53 and was reunited with his wife and son in the Achilles reunion area at the finish line! Tom S. was blown sideways on the Queensboro Bridge and twice-considered stopping, but he conquered the wind and finished his first NYC in 2:28:19, cheered on by his friends! Tony (who I later learned did the marathon with a broken rib!) finished in 4:31:01 and was reunited with his daughter and granddaughter (and a cup of hot soup) after the finish! Tony is like the “Mayor” of Achilles…he knows everyone and could be seen working the crowd and congratulating the athletes and thanking the staff and volunteers!
Tom B., our only push rim racer, finished his first NYC Marathon in 4:40:01 and was guided from mile 13 to the end by Sue Grigely. Meghann Hurley, his sister and nieces comprised his cheer squad! Tom, only in NYC for his 2nd time in his life, also enjoyed sightseeing while pushing in the marathon!
David Alejandro, Rob DeLuca and John Plata were CT’s ambulatory athletes who raced. David, who is visually impaired, was guided by veteran guides Michelle Currier and Jon Romeo (who also work together at an elementary school in Middletown). David finished in 4:33:03 and ran into the arms of his wife Tracey in the reunion area! Rob, guided by CT guide Dave Hayes and a guide from the NYC Chapter, crossed the finish line in 5:17:49! Rob’s wife Anja was there by his side and beamed with pride! John, along with guide Alex Silverman, stayed strong on the course and finished his 27th NYC Marathon in 9:58:23! Congratulations John on this amazing accomplishment!
In between cheering for our CT athletes as they finished, I was humbled watching some of the Achilles legends finishing their race. I got to congratulate Dick Traum, the CEO and Founder of Achilles (and trade a few jokes). I gave Sarah Heller a warm cup of soup. I helped get “Backwards Bill” Reilly’s wheelchair out of the van. Did you check him out in the latest edition of Runner’s World and see his interview on the news? The Achilles staff and countless volunteers worked tirelessly and like a well-oiled machine. The AWD Family Reunion area was busy, crowded, emotional, cold, and inspiring. And I was honored to be part of the magic!