50 Marathons in 50 Weeks
- By Cindy Horbrook
- Nov 25, 2013
Paul Erway races in the marathon in Burlington, Vermont on a less-than-ideal racing day.
Paul Erway is what one would call a “weekend warrior.” He holds a full-time job with Superior Van & Mobility and competes in wheelchair marathons on weekends. This year, he’s spent time in a just about every corner of the United States from Anchorage, Alaska to Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida.
Erway, along with fellow wheelchair racers Aaron Roux and Grant Berthiaume, have taken on a challenge that some would refer to as crazy. The men are closing in on their goal of 50 marathons in 50 weeks. They are not just racing for fun, but also to raise donations for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation benefiting spinal cord injury research.
The three racers from left to right, Erway, Berthiaume and Roux.
“It is quite the challenge for sure,” says Erway. “The first three marathons I ever did I swore I’d never do one again and now look at this, this is crazy isn’t it?”
The challenge has never been done before and depends completely on donations.
“It’d be great if we could get to a million dollars for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation,” he says. “We’re having a tough time getting there, but we’re pretty optimistic.”
Erway participated in his first wheelchair race back in 1982.
“I was only like 10 months post my accident. The gentleman in the college room next to me, we were going to lunch, and he challenged me to a race to a telephone pole that was maybe 20 feet away,” explains Erway. “He beat me half that distance and he’s a little guy, so my determination was to beat this little guy. That’s what got that fire burning.”
The accident Erway is referring to occurred the weekend before graduation in 1980. While on a double date, Erway received a severe spinal cord injury as a result of an auto accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. Erway had another unfortunate incident in July 2006, while speeding down a steep hill in Shelbyville during a training run, he encountered a pickup truck on the other side of the road. While trying to move over, he lost control of his wheelchair and slammed into the driver’s door of the truck. He sustained an open fracture of both scapula and collarbone, two broken ribs, a punctured lung, a spinal compression fracture and the avulsion of part of his scalp.
After that accident, Erway was motivated once again to take up racing, competing in the wheelchair marathon in Oita, Japan in 2010. It was at that marathon that Erway met Berthiaume and began hatching a plan.
“We realized some of the marathoners tried to do a marathon in every state, so then we started talking about well there’s 50 states, 52 weeks in the year, so what if we do it quickly,” says Erway.
Berthiaume then put a schedule of marathons together and they realized the idea was a very reachable possibility.
“We knew this was going to hurt and we had to find a good reason why we need to do this,” says Erway.
Donating money to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation turned out to be that good reason for Erway, Berthiaume and Roux, a former U.S. Marine who joined the 2013 team that started the awareness and fundraising venture on Jan. 5 for the Mississippi Blue Marathon.
Aaron Roux completing the Knoxville Tennessee marathon earlier this year.
The schedule has been daunting and some weekends, there are not one but two marathons to complete; for example competing in the Philadelphia Marathon on the morning of Nov. 17, then flying to Las Vegas for another marathon the same afternoon. Other weekends have involved both a race on Saturday and Sunday.
The final race is scheduled to take place on Dec. 8 in Honolulu. When asked if he thinks he’ll take a break from racing after this challenge is complete, Erway says he and the others have talked about the top 10 marathons that they’d like to go back and do againor taking the challenge overseas, to Poland, London and back to Japan. But for now the focus is still on their goal of raising money for spinal cord research.
“If we don’t reach the million this year for Christopher Reeve, we still have a chance to go back and do speaking engagements about this challenge and our experiences,” says Erway. “Hopefully in two years, we’ll get the full amount if we don’t have it this year.”
For more information, visit 50abilitymarathons.com.
Cindy Horbrook is the associate editor for HME Business, Mobility Management, and Respiratory & Sleep Management magazines.