By Natnicha Chuwiruch
BU News Service
There are many famous duos in the world, Batman and Robin, Bonnie and Clyde, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And in Monday’s Marathon, there will be no shortages of dynamic duos on the race course. Big Al’ and Pals and In the “Nick” of Time are two duo teams that will be competing alongside well-known father and son duo Team Hoyt.
Duo team racing is a way for athletes with disabilities to compete in the Boston Marathon. For instance, a team could be comprised of one able-bodied person pushing a permanently disabled person in a customized wheelchair. One of the biggest challenges is that the able-bodied athlete must be able to qualify with the standard time set for their age and gender at a certified marathon, according to rules set by the Boston Athletic Association.
Big Al’ and Pals was formed by Craig Welton, 32, and Alosha O’Brien, 29. O’Brien was born in Gomel, Belarus, which was affected by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986, causing him to grow up with a physical disability. O’Brien was adopted and moved to Massachusetts 11 years ago through the Chernobyl Childrens program. He joined the Best Buddies program, an international non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities find work, as well as friends. Last year, in the Best Buddies program O’Brien met Craig Welton who asked O’Brien if he wanted to compete in a marathon. And the partnership was born.
O’Brien and Craig trained through Boston’s grueling winter and were able to qualify for the Boston Marathon. It will be the first time Big Al’ and Pals run as a duo team.
“This winter was brutal for people who were training,” said Welton in an interview in his office. “But the cool thing about it is that I was not running alone. You don’t feel like it’s a difficult task when you get out of bed at 6 a.m. and there’s still snow on the road from two days ago. It would be pretty miserable if you ran by yourself.”
Another duo team, In the “Nick” of Time consists of Ted Painter, 42, and Nick Draper, 25, both members of the New England chapter of Team Hoyt. Draper was born with a rare health condition called Pelizaeus Merzbacher Disease, which causes an inability to form the covering that protects nerves and promotes the efficient transmission of nerve impulses. This disease impairs motor function development. In Draper’s case, he was left with extremely limited mobility.
Painter has been racing for years but only teamed up with Draper last September. Painter was at a party when a friend who was a supporter of Team Hoyt approached him. Painter was wearing a Boston Marathon t-shirt at the time, which led to a discussion of the possibility of him running with Draper.
“At that time I was doing a lot of soul searching,” said Painter in a phone interview. “There has to be more to life than just staying fit or running for my own personal enjoyment.” When the opportunity to run with a disabled athlete arose, Painter’s response was, “when can I start?”
Painter recounted how he had to contact Draper’s mother for her consent before the team could begin training. He said that she was very nervous about allowing a stranger to take her son out in a customized racing chair and run, however when In the “Nick” of Time trained for the first day, she changed her mind and became an avid supporter. The duo-team competed in Plymouth in November but did not meet the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. But they trained harder for the Hyannis Marathon in February where they managed to qualify for Boston with time to spare.
“I don’t feel disabled when we run,” said Draper to Painter after their first training session together. Painter explained how honored he feels to be Draper’s legs. “A friend told me that Nick has been waiting for someone like me to push him,” said Painter. “To be able to give something like this to somebody, to be that kind of example for my kids, it means the most to me.”
Robert M. Hensel, The Guinness World Records holder for non-stop wheelies in a wheelchair, inspires many of the duo runners. He says: “Placing one foot in front of the other, I’ve climbed to higher lengths. Reaching beyond my own limitations, to show my inner strength. No obstacle too hard for this warrior to overcome. I’m just a man on a mission to prove my disability hasn’t won.”
“We’re not just there to run, we’re there to compete,” said Painter. “Boston’s a very different course to get through, but we’re going to give it a shot.”