This morning’s Achilles Hope & Possibility (5M) in Central Park proved that road races really are for everyone. More than 3,300 runners, walkers, hand-cyclists, and wheelchair athletes came from around the five boroughs, the tri-state area, and even the world to meet their personal goals, or in some cases, to cross their first finish line.
Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show, greeted the field at the start, offering some words of encouragement before sounding the horn and hopping into the race.
Now in its 13th year, the Achilles Hope & Possibility (5M) is a marquee event for Achilles International, a non-profit founded in 1983 by Dick Traum to provide athletic opportunities to people with disabilities. From its humble origins in New York City, Achilles now boasts 65 chapters throughout the U.S. and abroad.
For many Achilles athletes, this race in Central Park is the year’s main event. Jason Dunkerley was one of 13 Achilles athletes who came to New York from Ottawa not just to run the race, but to compete: With PRs of 4:07 for 1500 meters and 15:34 for 5K, the Canadian Paralympian is living proof that disability is no match for determination.
He and his guide, Sam Lynch, finished today’s race in just under 28:40, a pace of 5:44 per mile. “It’s an awesome race, awesome energy,” Dunkerley said at the finish. “It’s good for us.”
Others came from even further afield. D. Cortina, a Peruvian in New York this week on business, was enticed by the chance to run around Central Park. “It felt like home,” he said, noting park’s lush foliage and the humidity. “I wouldn’t say it was like the jungle, but a little piece of paradise.”
Freddy Tiburcio, a hand-cyclist, was the event’s top finisher today, crossing the line in 19:46. Among the runners, Ayele Megersa Feisa took first place in the men’s race, in 23:53, and Erika Olivera led the women’s field in 29:21.
As thousands more athletes streamed across the finish line, a palpable sense of accomplishment filled the air. Among them was Tracy Andrews, a blind runner from Cheshire, CT, who credits Achilles International for her love of the sport.
Completing today’s race in 54:38, a sub-11:00 pace, today's race was only the beginning of working toward a larger goal. Andrews said she just started training for her first marathon—the TCS New York City Marathon on November 1. “I wouldn’t do it anywhere else,” she said.
Thanks to the opportunities Achilles has provided athletes with disabilities for more than three decades, many more athletes like Andrews can chase their dreams and lead healthy, active lifestyles for years to come.