It's race day.
I went to bed early on Saturday knowing that I had to be at 4:30 am at a specific location to meet Lorena, the athlete I was going to be guiding. I always prepare all my clothes, gels, phone, but this time I had to make sure also to also wear the "Achilles guide" shirt. After getting dressed it was time to attach my bib number. But this time I did not have my own bib number; this might sound weird since every runner gets a number, but my number was Lorena's. My bib read: "Only valid with 371".
At this point I realized that this day (November 6th, 2016) was not about me, not about my time, not about people cheering my name. I was not even going to be in the official finisher's list... everything was just about the athlete I was guiding, LORENA. And guess what? It just felt right!
On the way to the starting line.
It was still dark cold and a bit rainy but we all were there with big smiles and a lot of good vibes. The adventure was about to begin. There were special buses waiting for the wheelchair athletes and their guides so we hopped on one of them to get to the starting point located at Staten Island. I was happy, excited and nervous at the same time...
When arriving there, we headed to the Achilles special area where we met many athletes with different disabilities from different parts of the world, a wide range of ages with only one thing in common, and that was not their disability, it was their big hearts and determination to 'run' the NYC marathon. I had run NYC marathon 6 times before, and I have gotten to see a few of them during the course, but just being with all of them at the same time was amazing. Suddenly a man called me: "hey, you, yes, you... would you be so kind go hold my wheelchair and help me secure my legs?" I just followed his instructions and I was more than happy to had been helpful.
Then everyone gathered outside the tents. It was time to approach the starting line. I walked next to a lady who had a special wheelchair with a hand crank mechanism. She was over 80 years old as I remember and she had finished the NYC marathon more than 20 times. I was amazed by her toughness and consistence.
We began walking with Lorena along with tens of other athletes and guides. While passing the runner corrals, people would clap and cheered all the Achilles athletes. I just felt privileged to be there. We got to the starting line. Nobody else was there, not even the professional elite runners. "Are we the first ones to start?", I asked another guide. "Yes, we have all New York City for us, how cool is that", he replied.
Ok, so the gun went off, and all the Achilles team started running the marathon. As many know, NYC marathon begins with a long uphill on the Verrazano bridge that extends about a mile. I started my Garmin, yelled "Vamos Lorena!' (Go Lorena) and there we went. Many racing wheelchairs were rapidly moving forward and disappearing in the distance. Lorena's was not a racing pro wheelchair. She did not have money to get one of those. Her gloves were not "sports gloves", her helmet was not even hers, a friend lent it to her since she didn't have one. But all of these drawbacks were not an issue. Her heart was bigger than anything I've seen. And she was ready to tackle those 26.2 miles.
José (Lorena's other guide) and I walked next to her. Wind was blowing strong, cold was getting into our bones and we could see her struggling to move forward. We were tempted to push her, but we did not. We were not there to push her to the finish line, that would've been cheating, but also because it was HER RACE! We were just there to take care of her every step of the way.
For now, being an Achilles guide was simple. Walking next to Lorena, shooting photos (and lots of selfies), cheering her and enjoying the day! But I knew the first mile was a way to measure her overall marathon time, so as soon as she passed the 1 mile mark and I saw my watch with over 18 minutes, I knew it was going to be a long long race! Not 4.5 hours as she had anticipated but over 6 hours at least. Little did I know about how hard this race would be.
And so a few minutes later, we enter Brooklyn...
To be continued...
About the author:
Jorge Euran. I am an amateur runner, entrepreneur and father of two amazing children. My "BELIEVE&TRAIN" personal story began many years ago by taking running as my number #1 hobby. After 12 marathons (and counting), a few half-marathons and many other races, I strive to inspire people to be active, run, smile and enjoy life one step at a time!
About Achilles International.
The mission of Achilles International is to empower people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events in order to promote personal achievement.
Specialized programs include the Achilles Freedom Team which serves wounded military personnel and veterans; Achilles Kids which provides training, race opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities; the Achilles Para-triathlon Team which expands our running program into biking and swimming; Achilles Chapter workouts, plus our signature race Hope & Possibility which takes place in several cities worldwide.
Achilles International brings the largest field of athletes with disabilities (AWD) to the TCS NYC Marathon and is the recognized authority in shaping AWD divisions in marathons nationwide.