More than 200 runners signed up to compete in the inaugural Belleville Main Street Marathon Saturday. Only one of them was the first to cross the finish line and only one of them completed the 26-mile course in a wheel chair.
It just so happens it was the same person who did both.
Stoked by his mother's enthusiasm for running, Donovan McBride, 15, of Waterloo, completed his first marathon in a custom-built wheelchair with a time of 2 hours, 20 minutes and 21 seconds.
"The best part of competing in my first marathon is being finished," McBride said. "The course was unbelievably hard and I hurt like heck. But I feel good now that I'm done."
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McBride was born with spina bifida, a class of birth defect characterized by an underdeveloped spinal cord. The severity of its effects are wide ranging, but it cost McBride the use of his legs.
He started distance running barely two years ago in "a regular, everyday manual wheelchair," and has developed quickly as an athlete, his mother said.
The course was unbelievably hard and I hurt like heck. But I feel good now that I'm done.
Donovan McBride, first to cross finish line at Belleville Main Street Marathon
"It started about three years ago when wanted to do a color run with me in St. Louis," said Kim McBride, an avid runner. "He got mad at me because I wouldn't let him just take off. I was like 'no, uh-uh ... there are 10,000 people down here.' He just wanted to take off and do this.
"But he had such a good time that when it was over he asked if he could do another race."
McBride has since done a pair of half marathons (13.1 miles) and "a bunch" of 5-kilometer races. His enthusiasm for the sport warranted an investment in a competitive chair, his mother said.
With the help of the Variety Club of St. Louis, the family financed a custom-built racing chair from Atlanta-based Xcalibur Sports Chairs.
It has a single, smaller wheel in the front, and two larger tires supported by light-weight carbon fiber discs in the rear. McBride powers the chair wearing specialized gloves to protect his fingers.
The chair cost in the neighborhood of $6,000 and it won't be his last one.
"The chair that Xcalibur builds is specifically made for the athlete, so he's custom fit, measured and then the chair is built to his frame," Kim McBride said. "As he grows, obviously, the chair won't grow with him so we're going to be working toward a new chair soon.
"Hopefully the growth spurts are going to stop. Hopefully."
We got him a chair and then hooked up with DASA (Disabled Athlete Sports Association) and got him going into track racing. He's just bloomed as an athlete ever since then.
Kim McBride, mother of wheelchair athlete Donovan McBride
With his competitive chair, McBride trimmed his time in 5K races from 35 minutes to under 16.
He's competed in wheelchair track events in Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis across a range of events from 100- to 5,000-meter races.
"We got him a chair and then hooked up with DASA (Disabled Athlete Sports Association) and got him going into track racing," said Kim McBride. "He's just bloomed as an athlete ever since then."
The United States Paralympic Committee recognized McBride as a high school track All-American last year.
Saturday's Belleville Main Street Marathon was a certified qualifier for the more famous marathon held annually in Boston. McBride is not among those how will make the trip east, however. His time was 20 minutes short of the qualifying minimum for wheelchair athletes at the Boston Marathon and he's three years too young for any division.
But he's circled the 2020 Boston Marathon on his calendar. He's also set the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics as a goal.
"I do this for me, because I like running with my mom and I like seeing my times get better," he said. "I guess I just like racing."