By Grace McGuire
It was 7am and among the tired eyes there was only clapping and cheering as Erin Spaulding’s megaphone battled the loudspeaker to exclaim that the Connecticut Chapter of Achilles International fundraised over $16,000 as an Official Charity Partner of the Eversource Hartford Marathon, Half Marathon and Charity 5K. They exceeded their $10,000 goal as a Gold-Tier Charity, and also gave back to the race by recruiting 30 volunteers from the community to serve as course marshals along the marathon route.
“The Eversource Hartford Marathon is the largest event here in Connecticut in which Team Achilles CT participates each year, and it serves as our major fundraiser through our Official Charity partnership,” said Chapter President, Erin Spaulding. She and her volunteer-led Events Team started planning for the October 8th event back in July.
“We received corporate sponsorships, individual and in-kind donations, held an online raffle, and had our athletes, volunteers and charity runners fundraising together to help us hit our goal. It was a true team effort”, said Spaulding. Achilles CT athlete Tanmay Athreya single-handedly raised over $2,000 for the event, his first-ever marathon. Cheered on by all his family members, he only beamed and clapped when Spaulding announced he was the top fundraiser. She also announced that Team Ultra Possibilities (made up of Cat Aniballi, Mike Feinberg and Lufeng Zou) was the top fundraising team!
The event was more than just fundraising, though. Each Achilles athlete and guide still had to run, walk, push or crank their race distance, for which they spent months training. With 16 athletes and 20 guides participating, Achilles Connecticut had an amazing turnout of both veteran and first-time racers.
Stuart Sherman, who finished the marathon in his new handcycle (fashioned with a license plate engraved with 26.Stu) had done the marathon three times previously and was still just as “excited, happy and energized” as Heather Cohen was. Heather, a member of the Achilles Freedom Team who lives in Vermont, finished her first marathon in Hartford in her push rim racing wheelchair.
Sherman was “just grateful to be able to do this race,” and Cohen was just grateful the Connecticut Chapter of Achilles had “adopted” her a couple months prior. She had driven about three hours the day before and stayed in a hotel all so she could beat her previous marathon time of five hours and 25 minutes…which she did. Looking to help bring her luck was her racing chair named Mushu, after the Disney character, and the plush Mushu that adorned the frame as “he brings me luck,” Cohen said.
Not everyone had support from a sentimental stuffed animal; others relied on their guides to help them safely navigate the course. Mike Tubiak, who had run the half marathon several times, ran with guide Traver Garrity who had not raced with Achilles since before COVID-19 struck in 2020. She also had only a week to prepare herself to guide Tubiak as she was called to be his guide after his registered guide, Thomas Kimball, was deployed with the American Red Cross to help hurricane relief efforts in Florida.
As Garrity is training for the TCS New York City Marathon on November 6th, that Saturday was just another day of training for her.
“I am supposed to get a half (marathon) in today anyway,” Garrity said. “It’s good to be back.”
Garrity was not the only one whose weekends were full of running and training. Monte Wagner, the guide for visually impaired runner Jim McCollum, faced his third race weekend in a row.
“It’s been a good month so far,” Wagner said. He was guiding McCollum for the half marathon, and in preparation the duo ran the Hogsback half marathon just two weeks prior.
“All the training will pay off here,” Wagner said. “Running the race is actually the easy part.”
For all these athletes and guides, the running is rewarding due to the community and the support, making it impossible not to run more.
“As soon as you’re done running you say, ‘Oh, this was not good. I don’t want to do it again.’ Then a day later you say, ‘Ok, what other races are out there?” Wagner said.
But in that environment, in that happy chaos where people had awoken at 5 am or earlier, stayed in hotels overnight, watched the sun rise as they donned their bibs, clapped to keep their hands warm in the 50 degree weather (perfect racing weather),the sole focus of the day was conquering the Eversource Hartford Marathon, Half Marathon or 5K.
Athletes were jumpy with nerves and excitement when the loudspeaker and rock music finally cut out for the singing of the national anthem. While they wanted to put their months of preparation to use and start, they stilled in the crowd for the anthem. After, there were the last whispers of “have fun” and “good luck,” and “have a great race.”
Then, finally, it struck 8 am and the first wave started and the race was underway. With each pounding footstep, the Achilles’ athletes made their way from the starting line to the iconic finish under the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch in Bushnell Park.