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Wheelchair field filled with intrigue

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Running Of The 117th Boston Marathon

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Updated: September 12, 2013 12:21AM

Paths change with spinal injuries.

Then again, sometimes paths twist around afterward.

Take Bob Swanson, who had athletic connections to Adam Finney and Geoff Kent before a snowmobile accident changed his direction.

Swanson will race his first Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13 as part of the largest wheelchair field ever with 69 entrants.

Plus, it will be a historic race in other ways. Tatyana McFadden, a three-time champion in Chicago, is trying to become the first to win three consecutive marathons. She has already won the Boston and London marathons.

‘‘It is going to be tough, there’s a stack of women,’’ McFadden said.

That includes Amanda McGrory, another three-time champion in Chicago.

‘‘When Tatyana commits, I go out and find the best athletes I can,’’ executive race director Carey Pinkowski said. ‘‘She is not going to have it easy.’’

McFadden, a University of Illinois student who grew up in Maryland, has become sort of an adopted Chicagoan.

Swanson was a three-sport star at Round Lake High School, good enough to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in May.

He was then a quarterback at St. Francis before his snowmobile accident. Bob Ward, Swanson’s high school basketball coach, moved to Wheaton North where another basketball player, Geoff Kent, had a spinal injury in a skiing accident.

Kent, who is racing his sixth Chicago Marathon, got Swanson to take up racing.

Swanson’s connection to Finney, who was injured in a car accident, was through Round Lake, where his uncle was athletic director.

Athletics run through Swanson.

‘‘Once you are an athlete, it never goes away,’’ he said Monday evening at a news conference at 31st Street Harbor. ‘‘I need to go after something.’’

Now it’s just in something different.

Racing chairs use three wheels instead of the ‘‘every day’’ chair’s four.

‘‘These are racing wheelchairs, not a hospital wheelchair,’’ Kent said. ‘‘[It’s] a sophisticated device.’’

Most racing chairs only weigh about 20 pounds. They are commonly made of aluminum, though there has been movement toward carbon fibers.

The propulsion is generated by the arms. Tatyana said a racer can thrust upward of 2,000 strokes per marathon.

The reason the Chicago Marathon is favored is because it is flat, which Kent said means racers can build a rhythm.

Racers are allowed to draft, but only in their class.

Like with all racers, there is some despised weather. Wheelchair racers aren’t keen on wet or cold conditions.

‘‘An ideal race is 60 degrees and flags hanging straight down,’’ Kent said.

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