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Wheelchair racer can’t wait for Chicago marathon

Wheelchair marathchampiAmandMcGrory shares her winning spirit words advice patients RehabilitatiInstitute Chicago Thursday. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Wheelchair marathon champion Amanda McGrory shares her winning spirit and words of advice to patients at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on Thursday. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:25AM



Amanda McGrory gets itchy if she spends too much time out of her racing wheelchair.

“I was in the Cayman Islands on vacation scuba diving three weeks ago, and I’m down there thinking, ‘This is so nice, but I really wish I could just go for a push,’” said McGrory, who’ll defend her Bank of America Chicago Marathon title on Oct. 9.

McGrory, bent forward at the waist and pushing for dear life, is seeking her fourth wheelchair gold medal here — and its $5,000 purse.

“I’m actually living off of prize money,” said McGrory, 25, while sharing some inspiring words with a group of disabled people at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Thursday.

She just bought a condo near her alma mater, the University of Illinois, where she trains.

Wheelchair racers start the marathon 10 minutes ahead of the runners.

McGrory can be found wheeling up and down the ramps at the Illini football stadium, or hanging upside down by her ankles while climbing stairs with her hands on one of the many contraptions at the school’s workout facility designed for disabled people.

There are war wounds on her hands, which operate inches from spinning carbon spokes that resemble the blades of a lawnmower. Her 80-pound frame atop her 19-pound wheelchair has reached downhill speeds nearing 50 miles an hour. Her specially designed wheelchair costs $5,000 but is worthless during the four minutes it takes her to change a flat. And the fact her wheelchair is pink probably doesn’t help the egos of the men she regularly competes with, and sometimes beats, while training.

Her trophy shelf includes gold, silver and bronze medals in wheelchair events from the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

“I’m really happy with where I am today, and don’t think I would change anything even if I had the option to,” said McGrory, who’s best marathon time is 1:39:30.

But it’s been a long journey since the day she woke up at age 5, waddled downstairs to the couch and never walked again. She was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, a disease that can suddenly attack the spine.

“I was feeling pretty lost and alone in the world. All of my friends could walk and they were riding their skateboards and their bikes,” said McGrory. Things changed at age 7, when she attended a camp for kids with disabilities and saw what they accomplished.

“As soon as I found racing ... my life did a complete 180,” said McGrory, who noted that Oct. 19, the 20th anniversary of the day she last walked, is fast approaching.

“Maybe I’ll make a cake,” she said.



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