At this year’s TCS New York City Marathon, there was more on the line for the racers in the professional wheelchair field than the standard Finisher Medal or the prize money for the top six finishers.
For the first time ever on the wheelchair division side, the New York City Marathon served as the the U.S. Paralympic Selection Event for the Paris 2024 Games.
The top two American finishers in both the men’s and women’s races became the first athletes in any sport to qualify for Team USA spots for the Paralympics.
“We were thrilled to have had the TCS New York City Marathon serve as the U.S. Paralympics Selection Event for the first time,” said New York Road Runners (NYRR) CEO Rob Simmelkjaer.
NYRR has a long history of supporting and including athletes with disabilities in its races and programs, such as its Rising New York Road Runners Wheelchair Training Program and its decades-long partnership with Achilles International, an organization that provides a community of support for athletes with disabilities.
“We continuously aim to be industry leaders when it comes to inclusion in the running industry,” Simmelkjaer said. “It was the perfect way to shine a spotlight on our professional wheelchair racers, who are at the pinnacle of their careers, and showcase all that New York Road Runners does to support athletes with disabilities—from youth to pros.”
On the men’s side, Daniel Romanchuk and Aaron Pike finished second and fifth overall to become the first American men to qualify for Team USA.
In 2018, Romanchuk became the first American and youngest athlete ever to win the men’s wheelchair division at the New York City Marathon, going on to become the first men’s American wheelchair racer to win both the Boston and London marathons.
He competed in the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, winning his first Paralympic medals in Tokyo. In 2022 he won both the United Airlines NYC Half and Boston Marathon before finishing as the runner-up at the New York City Marathon.
Training on the rolling terrain of Mt. Airy, Maryland, Romanchuk counts climbing as one of his strengths, which served him well on the New York City Marathon course.
“I wanted to get out fast to give myself as much of a buffer as possible so if I had a mechanical problem like a flat tire, I would have time to fix it and still be a contender,” Romanchuk told me. “Starting the race climbing the Verrazzano Bridge gave me a great opportunity to do just that. Now, I can focus on training and fine-tuning equipment over the next nine months.”
This year was special for Romanchuk because his sister and brother-and-law were running the race, as well. And one of the things he’s most looking forward to about the Paris Paralympics is that spectators will be welcomed back, so his family can be in attendance, cheering him on.
Romanchuk studies engineering with the aim of helping make advancements for racing chairs.
Pike is a six-time Paralympian who has represented the U.S. in both Paralympic Summer and Winter disciplines. He raced in four events at the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021, finishing in sixth place in the marathon. Five months later, he competed in biathlon and cross-country skiing at the Beijing Paralympics alongside his girlfriend, Oksana Masters.
Qualifying for the Paralympics is “something you never take for granted,” Pike told me.
“It’s crazy to say it’s your seventh Games,” the Park Rapids, Minnesota, native added. “I’m happy that the training is still inspiring. I’m pumped. I’m just really relieved to know that it’s done already and we can just focus on training.”
As for competing in both summer and winter disciplines, Pike says “it just works for me.”
“I like having two sports, and I’m actually really excited to go jump on snow in a couple of days,” Pike said. “Everyone thinks it’s crazy, but for me it’s refreshing. I always feel the same way in March when I get back in the chair.”
Among the women, Susannah Scaroni and Tatyana McFadden, who finished 17th and 24th overall, were the top American finishers and secured their places on Team USA.
Scaroni won her first New York City Marathon title in 2022 and has been dominant in 2023, winning the Boston Marathon, United Airlines NYC Half, her fifth consecutive Mastercard New York Mini 10K and a bronze medal at the World Para Athletics Championships.
It’s been a special year in her career, Scaroni told me.
“The women’s field was incredibly strong this year as evidenced by several different major marathon winners and bonus points winners,” she said. “While my favorite thing to do is compete against a clock, I absolutely love racing with so many strong women and to have been alongside them on multiple podiums is truly a gift.”
This summer, Scaroni served as an ambassador for NYRR’s Run for the Future program.
“NYRR is incredible in their support of athletes at every level and ability,” Scaroni said. “While I’ve benefitted as an athlete in being treated professionally and with so much hospitality throughout my career, the opportunity to be an ambassador for the NYRR Run for the Future program in 2023 impacted me a lot in that it gave me the chance to work with and celebrate another group of athletes who deserve the opportunity to run and all of the impacts that has on our lives—young girls. This program inspired me to continue encouraging, helping and creating pathways for everyone to be physically active and to make it fun.”
Scaroni, who attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a registered dietitian and is still based out of Champaign with the school’s highly successful wheelchair athletics program.
McFadden is a heavy-hitter—she has the most major wins of any female wheelchair athlete, including 20 Paralympic medals over six Games and 20 world championships medals. She has also won five New York City Marathons, including four consecutively.
“I’m so glad that New York City hosted [the Paralympic qualifier]. I absolutely love racing in this city,” McFadden told me.
“NYRR really does treat the athletes like royalty,” she added. “We’ve had increased prize money and increased media coverage leading up to the race and live broadcast during the race. One of my favorite parts of marathon weekend is the TCS Run with Champions. I remember when they started the children’s wheelchair division and advocating for the importance of including athletes with disabilities.”
McFadden has worked for many years with NYRR Team for Kids to promote track and field for kids with disabilities, and she has donated a racing chair to the program.
“It’s great to see how much the kids’ program has grown, the donations they have received and how many people really believe in it as well,” McFadden said. “I hope that New York Road Runners realizes how many lives they have changed with their work.”
McFadden was adopted by an American family after she was born with spina bifida and left at a Russian orphanage. Her family worked to overturn federal laws that prohibited high school wheelchair racers and able-bodied runners from competing alongside one another.
In 2020, McFadden co-produced and starred in the Netflix
In Paris, McFadden will be trying to become the most decorated track and field athlete (male/female runner or wheelchair racer) in history.
Chantal Petitclerc, the Canadian wheelchair racer whom McFadden considers an idol, retired with 21 Paralympic medals. That record has stood for 20 years, and McFadden is just two medals shy of it. She plans to compete in the 100 meter, 400 meter, 800 meter, 1500 meter, 5000 meter, marathon and mixed relay.
Like her fellow Team USA Paralympians, McFadden is excited and grateful that this year’s Paralympics will be open to spectators.
“Every Paralympics is special. Next year’s Games will be extra special because they’re the first games after Covid, so fans, family and friends are able to attend,” McFadden said.
“I love the uniqueness of the host country’s Opening Ceremony, fostering relationships with athletes of many different backgrounds and representing Team USA. I relish my role as a veteran Paralympian and advocating for our sport. There is still so much work left to accomplish.”