The 2015 TCS New York City Marathon is this Sunday, channeling runners through the five boroughs on a course 26.2 miles long.
It's no surprise that most who train for the grueling race — the average finish time for which was 4 hours and 28 minutes in 2013 — consider it a challenge. But for some, training demands more than just setting aside the time to run and finding the willpower to log the miles.
Out of the 50,000 expected finishers in this year's race, 330 are athletes with disabilities, according to a by-the-numbers sheet prepared by its organizers. Many prepare for the race with the New York City chapter of Achilles International, a nonprofit organization that offers runners with disabilities support and community. The group pairs its athletes with able-bodied guides who run alongside them and keep them on track.
Here are three New Yorkers with disabilities running this year's marathon and putting all us couch potatoes to shame:
Bill Reilly, 63, Kew Gardens
Bill Reilly may spend most of his days getting around in a motorized wheelchair, but he's competed in more than 35 marathons.
The Kew Gardens resident, who has cerebral palsy, a disorder that limits his ability to control his movements and speech, pushes himself backward in a specialized manual wheelchair on the race course. A guide typically runs on each side of his chair, which has no brakes or steering device. Reilly works the hardest when it comes to summiting hills, but his guides have to pick up their pace when he coasts down them. His fastest New York Marathon time ever is 6:41.
The athlete entered his first road race on a dare. A friend challenged him to do the Riverdale Ramble, a 10K race in the Bronx, in his manual wheelchair, and he made it through most of the hilly course by himself.
He's struggled this year to find enough time to train, citing the demands of his job (he works as an accountant for the Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State) and his marriage — the latter he mentioned with a conspiratorial smile.
Asked his age at a practice on Saturday, Reilly instructed his guides Harold Chayefsky and Juliana LeBlanc not to tell his wife he was 63.
"She thinks you're 21?" Chafesky inquired.
Chimed in LeBlanc, "Yeah, you look it."
John Pierre, 45, Williamsburg
Pierre, a Williamsburg resident who lives with a traumatic brain injury, was supposed to run his first marathon in 2012, when it was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy.
He ran 26.2 miles around Central Park instead, because he had to live up to name given to him at his first 5K: "Ultimate Running Machine."
The Ultimate Running Machine was on his way to work in 1999 when four men robbed him and kicked him until they fractured his eye socket, he said. It wasn't until 2007, when he started suffering from headaches, blackouts and seizures, that doctors diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury.
Organizers of a walking group for physical therapy suggested Pierre might like running, and the hobby became his life. After joining Achilles in 2012, he trained for the 2013 New York City Marathon (unfortunately, a spinal injury impacting his right side prevented him from running that year.) In 2014, he and his guides, Valerie Kenney and Rebecca Noriega, wore bright orange capes at the New York City Half Marathon.
"It's just like I'm flying," he said of wearing his. Pierre also ran the full marathon that year.
When he isn't practicing for this year's race, Pierre volunteers with the New York Road Runners and Run4Fun, a youth running club in Park Slope for children ages six through 13.
His motto is taken from a T-shirt that Kenney and Noriega bought him for his past birthday: "I eat miles for breakfast."
Charles Edouard Catherine, 27, Upper East Side
Catherine, who grew up in France and lives on the Upper East Side, is running his first marathon Sunday.
Suffering from retinitus pigmentosa, a condition that progressively kills the light-receptive rods and cones in the retinas of one's eyes, Catherine became legally blind three years ago — just as he was moving to the city to marry his wife.
His condition and his new surroundings left him isolated and insecure, so his wife suggested he start running with Achilles.
Catherine's biggest challenge in working up to a marathon, he said, was "just starting the process — accepting that I was blind, that I needed a guide, which was really hard, because it was like a slap in the face. I hated my guide the first day. I was like, 'I don’t want to be with you, I want to run alone.' I was full of anger and resentment."
He now enjoys the companionship offered by his guides, one of which always runs beside him with a tether attaching their waist bands.
"It just feels like running with a bunch of buddies," said Catherine, who is also the director of a non-profit called Surgeons of Hope, which brings heart care to developing countries.
Alongside working a full-time job, Catherine spends about 15 hours a week, he estimates, running, swimming and cycling. (He hopes his projected marathon time of 3:35 will qualify him for the Boston Marathon, and he has ambitions of entering a grueling Ironman triathlon, which entails swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.)
He'll continue pushing himself to inspire new runners — and he probably already has, having appeared in an ad for the Champion sportwear brand — and "to keep this really positive dynamic of accepting I can do the same things just with different conditions," he said.
"Also I think I’m addicted to the runner’s high and everything that comes with it. I love medals."