How Daniel Romanchuk, a Top Wheelchair Marathoner, Moves Through New York City

One of Daniel Romanchuk’s most frequent challenges, it turns out, is at the finish line.

Tearing off the tape — which Romanchuk does with surprising regularity — can turn into a bit of a mess. If it’s too high, it might hit him in the face. If it’s too low, it could catch the front wheel of his wheelchair. And then there are photographers and event officials just feet from him as he looks across the line at speeds that can exceed 20 miles per hour.

As Romanchuk described a scenario that could easily fail, his brother-in-law Sam Pratt stopped him. “Such a Daniel problem,” he said. Win it all.

Romanchuk, a 24-year marathon veteran, has spent most of his life at the top of the sport. He was born in Maryland with spina bifida, a condition in which the spine and spine do not develop properly, and began participating in adaptive sports programs as a toddler.

Romanchuk, who now lives in Champaign, Ill. Lives and trains in, began competing in the wheelchair division of marathons at age 14. He has won the race. BostonChicago, London and New York. He has a Paralympic bronze medal in the marathon, which he won in Japan this past summer, and a gold medal in the 400 meters.

So in terms of inconvenience, finishing tape is not rated highly. The big problems come after the win, when the road race red carpet is rolled out and Romanchuk returns to a world not often made for a handicap.

That juxtaposition was never more evident than on a sunny day in November 2018, when Romanchuk became the first American and the youngest athlete to win the men’s wheelchair division of the New York City Marathon. He was confident in his fitness, having won in Chicago a few weeks earlier, but it was still a pivotal moment in his career.

He had a few hours to celebrate before the champion took over his duties, and he and his mother decided to check out his sister’s new apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. His mother, Kim Romanchuk, found the nearest subway station. There was an elevator from street level to the ticketing area, but no elevator from the turnstile to the platform.

“Maybe it was construction?” He said remembering the day. His mother intervened. “No, there was no elevator!” That said, she was as surprised in 2022 as she was in 2018.

“It was going downhill from that high,” she said of her son’s joy at the win and the frustration of their travel woes. The station attendant tried to help them, instructing them about marathon-related road closures and subway construction. But reaching her sister Catherine’s apartment would be nearly impossible.

The bystander was apologetic, Kim Romanchuk recalled: “He looked at Daniel and said, ‘You’re the one who won the race?’ And he was like, ‘I’m so sorry – I’m so sorry that public transit can’t let you meet your sister.’

She admits that her son can handle these situations in a way that she can’t. Sure, she’s his mother, and his manager, but she’s also fed up with the lack of simple housing.

“It was a little disappointing not being able to meet them and not go, but I knew it wasn’t the last time I was going there,” Danielle Romanchuk said. “People with disabilities, we’re very good at adapting. A lot of everyday life is planning extra time into things and adapting where necessary.

This is something that Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, an accessibility advocate who is also an engineer at Google Maps, has experienced often. Blair Goldensohn, a native New Yorker, has used a wheelchair since a debilitating accident in 2009, and only then, she said, did she realize her whole life had been “hiding in plain sight.” .

“Many things are made inaccessible,” he said. “You don’t have to sit in a chair to realize that a lot of people can’t get on the subway, but you don’t see us when we’re not there.”

In June, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it would add elevators and ramps. 95 percent of subway stations by 2055 As part of a settlement agreement in two class action lawsuits.

Romanchuk said subway stations are better now than they were a few years ago. He made the observation on Sunday, a few days before the race, as he approached his sister’s new apartment in Queens. He started his morning in Central Park with a training session and a tour of the children’s race, and then fulfilled some media obligations and visited the High Line and Little Island — all before 5 p.m. .

His family says the emotion is uniquely Daniel. He will adapt, pivot and re-adapt. He has spent his adult life “teaching kids that they can before anyone says they can’t,” he said.

When he was young, his family would travel across the country from their home in Maryland for competitions. He loved visiting national parks near the events, and Romanchuk was always determined to see everything he wanted to see, regardless of how inaccessible those attractions were. So he’ll put on knee pads and gloves. “We’ll go hoping that I can push wherever I want to go,” he explained, “but if it gets too hard, I’ll crawl.”

It’s something he actually says, as a person who exists in a world that wasn’t made for him, that wasn’t made for a disability.

When asked how his days in New York went before going to the marathon — could he get everywhere he wanted to go? – He answered bluntly: “I’m here, so it’s all right.” The elevators worked, the sights were very accessible, and there was only one incident in which an open closet door prevented him from entering a restaurant. And, he was able to get an accessible Uber to the Marathon Expo at the Javits Center and an accessible taxi back to his hotel. All in all, a win.

On Saturday, Romanchuk was asked to reverse the roles and hold the finish line tape. Emily Sisson, who holds the American women’s marathon record for three races in Central Park. It was more stressful than expected, he said, because it could be dropped, misplaced or break prematurely. “Everything went well,” he said reassuringly.

Then on Sunday it was race time. Romanchuk took the lead, before powering the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in Brooklyn. Marcel Hug of Switzerland. Hugh caught him on Fourth Avenue, and Romanchuk spent the rest of the race in no-man’s land, occasionally looking over his shoulder to make sure the third-place competitor didn’t catch up.

He wasn’t a tape-breaking racer this time. That would be Hague, who finished his fifth New York City Marathon in 1 hour 25 minutes 26 seconds, breaking Kurt Fearnley’s course record by nearly four minutes. Romanchuk also beat that 2006 record time, setting a new personal course best by nearly nine — yes, nine — minutes. He finished in 1:27:38.

Romanchuk was already on his way back to Illinois Sunday night. “I’m recovering well,” he said by phone on the street.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *