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October 30, 2013

Amanda McGrory


AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ The course here in New York is completely unique.テつ A lot of other city courses are similar with the way it twists and turns through the city.テつ But they tend to be quite a bit flatter.テつ I've never done a city course that has nearly as many hills as New York.
Boston is a hilly course although Boston's hills go the opposite direction, which is a bad thing for me.テつ I'm tiny.テつ So the more I can go up versus going down is better.

Q.テつ Can you talk a little bit about your training and how you're feeling coming in.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ I'm feeling pretty good.テつ I've had a pretty strong marathon season so far this year.テつ Third in Boston after a pretty gnarly crash. テつSecond in London.テつ Second in Chicago‑‑ sorry.テつ Third in Chicago just a couple of weeks ago, doing a lot of training.テつ Training with Tatyana McFadden, which is always fantastic, as well as the rest of the athletes at the University of Illinois program.
Coach Adam Bleakney is just the best in the world, and I think we're up to maybe 12 or 15 marathoners right now.テつ That's a big group going out to push with every day, and it's nice having someone there for you to push them, them to push you, not being out there on those long 20, 30 mile pushes all by yourself, looking around.

Q.テつ Is that something new for you?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ The program at the University of Illinois has been growing consistently.テつ When I started doing marathons in 2006, I think that there were maybe three or four of us.テつ So it was a much smaller group.テつ It was far more likely that you would end up out there on the road by yourself.テつ But as the program has had more and more success with marathons, we're drawing in more and more athletes, and everyone is pushing everyone else to get faster.

Q.テつ So the benefits are the same as elite runners that have training groups?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ It's always easier.テつ Even if you're not an elite runner, I think it's just‑‑ those long workouts are long no matter what.テつ I think it's just easier to be out there with a group of people with the same goals that you have.

Q.テつ How does‑‑ I mean, this course obviously, you know, with its inclines is different.テつ How do you train for Chicago and then come from a course which is flat, and then come right back to a race like this?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Adam's training program that he has us all on at the University of Illinois is focused around having a strong base.テつ So we put in a lot, a lot of miles over the summer.
Earlier in the spring, we were doing 30 mile pushes.テつ We were putting in up to 150 miles a week.テつ So with that, we've got this really great strong base, and then coming into Chicago is when we started hitting the hills really hard.
And it's good to train for the hills for us as wheelchair racers regardless.テつ There's a few hills in Chicago.テつ There's a few hills in most marathons.テつ If you can be stronger than everyone else who's training for the flat marathons on those little hills, it's going to give you an extra little push off them.
But for the past few weeks since Chicago, we've been doing the hills really, really hard.テつ For us in Illinois, it means finding a hill and pushing it multiple times, and/or an overpass because it is just‑‑ there's nothing out there.

Q.テつ So where is that spot?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ We have‑‑ we start pushing from the University of Illinois' main campus.テつ And if you go out far enough in any direction, you'll hit a hill.テつ So normally our hill workouts, we will go out, and we'll push five or six miles out, and there's a couple big hills out in the country.テつ So then we'll just do repeats on them, climb up three or four times, and then push the city mare than pace back home, which ends up being a 20‑mile workout climbing five or six hills, which is just the same hill.

Q.テつ You talk about the growth of your group.テつ What about internationally?テつ It seems like the same people are on the podium repeatedly.テつ I wonder, is it a growing sport, or you kind of hit a plateau since you‑‑ in your experience?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Since I've begun doing marathons, it's definitely grown.テつ I think the biggest difference between the wheelchair division and just the daily running division, or even just the runners in general, is that it's kind of‑‑ it's similar.テつ There's probably maybe 20 to 30 men, 10 to 20 women who have a really strong shot of winning every race.テつ They're always at the top.テつ They're really consistent.テつ There's a couple that retire every year, a couple new ones that come up, and it works the same way for the runners.
The difference is we don't have another 30,000 people who just want to run a marathon for fun.テつ So a lot of times it just seems to be the same familiar faces over and over and over again, and I think that's why.

Q.テつ So what did you say the group was for women that sort of‑‑ you know.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Somewhere between 10 to 15, 10 to 20.

Q.テつ What about‑‑ so Tatyana is another interesting storyline.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.

Q.テつ First of all, do you know how many times you've raced each other, and can you compare and contrast your styles a little bit?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ Tatyana and I began racing each other when‑‑ I'm counting back a really long way.テつ She was probably 11, and I was 13 or 14.テつ So we've been racing together for a really, really long time.テつ She focused‑‑ for quite a few years, she focused more on the shorter distances and the sprints.テつ So I didn't see too much of her.テつ We would see each other on the track once in a while.テつ And coming to the University of Illinois, Adam Bleakney does a great job of converting all of his athletes into marathoners.テつ So she started pushing longer and longer distances as she came out there.テつ I think we raced our first marathon together in 2008 in Chicago.

Q.テつ So stylistically, do you‑‑ is she bigger than you?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Stylistically, we're similar.テつ I'm really strong with the tail wind.テつ She's stronger with the head wind.テつ But otherwise, we are both good on the climbs, not so great on the downhills, and really strong on the flats, which works great from a training perspective, and it also works great knowing that she knows that I'll be there, I know that she'll be there, and it's fantastic to have someone to work together with during the race.
A lot of times, we can use our strong hill climbing or something like that to break away a little bit from the pack, and it's always easier to hold that gap if you have someone to work with and someone to share the work with you versus trying to break away on your own and hold off a pack of dogs chasing you.

Q.テつ Can you take me back to the first time you guys raced.テつ Where was it?テつ What was the race?テつ Do you remember?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ We probably‑‑ we're both from the East Coast. テつI started racing with a juniors program out of Philadelphia, and she was at the program out of Baltimore.テつ And so we would just run into each other at regional track meets, things like that.
So we're definitely‑‑ it wasn't anything big.テつ It wasn't anything memorable.テつ But I've known her nearly since she began racing.

Q.テつ Because I would guess back then, even though it's not that far back, but there wasn't that much available for wheelchair racing, yes?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ The community was definitely smaller.テつ It was more difficult to find out about these opportunities, I think.テつ It was before the days of the internet.テつ I remember I came out of rehab when I was 5, after my injury, and did one wheelchair race.テつ The race lost funding, and my mom looked for years and years and years to try to find more information about wheelchair sports or more programs like this for kids and could find absolutely nothing because we didn't have the treasure trove of information on the internet.
She was just calling organizations, looking for flyers, and not finding anything.テつ So because of that, we had this little community on the East Coast, where it's probably somewhere between 20 and 30 kids who just saw each other all the time because there was a race in New Jersey, there was a race in Philadelphia, there was a race in Baltimore, and we would just all spend our springs and summers hopping around to these little track meets, 5Ks, 10Ks, in those areas.

Q.テつ So even dumber question.テつ You started at 5 years old?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ My very first race was when I was 5, then we kind of lost touch with the program.テつ I got my first racing chair when I was 11 and started racing more seriously then.

Q.テつ So where does a person train?テつ I mean, you know, able‑bodied people can just run out on the street.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ That's one of the hardest parts of being a wheelchair racer as well as‑‑ well, that and the expense of the equipment.テつ It's not a cheap hobby, and it's different if you're a kid who wants to start playing soccer, you need a pair of shoes and a ball.テつ It will cost your parents $30.テつ If you're a kid that wants to try wheelchair racing, it's an automatic $1,500 plus investment just to try a racing chair.
So I think that's part of the problem that keeps the sport so small, especially in the young years.

Q.テつ So where were you training, first race at 11, you say?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I would usually go to local tracks around my parents' house.テつ I'm about 45 minutes out of Philadelphia, but it's way out in the country.テつ So there are a lot of roads out there with not too much traffic.
I'd go out with‑‑ I met a man in his like late 30s, I guess at the time, who was a former wheelchair racer, and he got back into the sport to take me out.テつ So the two of us would push out on the roads, keep things a little bit safer that way.
My dad would take me out in the car with the flashers on just to make sure.

Q.テつ So really he would just go slow along with you?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Or follow me usually, yeah.

Q.テつ What made your mother think that you were athletic at 5 years old?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I think it was mostly I was a really, really high energy child.テつ I woke up one day and couldn't walk, went into rehab, and I think she was really looking for a way for me to have a outlet for some of that energy because I couldn't ride my bike anymore, I couldn't go outside, I couldn't run around.
And it was also huge from a social aspect.テつ Up until that point, I had never met another child with a disability.テつ I'd never really met anyone else with a disability besides friends' grandparents or people in nursing homes.テつ So I had never really‑‑ I had never met anyone else who was young and active and successful with a disability.
So that was huge for me just getting involved with this program and meeting people and going to college, people who had started families, people who had jobs, lived on their own, drove their own cars because those were all things I didn't know if it was going to be possible for me to do at that point.

Q.テつ So this brought you right along.テつ You were in this from that age on?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ Like I said, it started out really as a recreational thing.テつ I always had friends in school, but I kind of had my group of school friends and my group of sports friends, which is great.テつ I love my friends from school.テつ I still talk to some of my friends from kindergarten, but it was a different kind of relationship because there were things that I was going through that they couldn't relate to.

Q.テつ Sorry, what was the diagnosis?テつ What happened?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, which is a super, super rare viral autoimmune related to MS.テつ And essentially anti‑bodies attack and cut off the myelin in your spinal cord, which often results in some kind of paralysis.テつ Mine was complete paralysis, in line with spinal cord injury.

Q.テつ So you not only were athletic, but you must have had really strong hands.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I guess so.

Q.テつ And how did you find out about‑‑ I should know more, but I don't.テつ Fill me in on the Illinois thing and how you found out about that.テつ Is that something you became aware of?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Absolutely.テつ The University of Illinois program has been in existence since the end of World War II.テつ Wheelchair basketball was invented at the University of Illinois.テつ So as far as wheelchair sports programs go, especially with the level of prestige and respect that comes with University of Illinois, that's it.テつ That's the only option.
So when I was‑‑ as I was getting older and started racing young, so a lot of the kids who I was playing sports with were going to high school, getting ready to graduate, going to college, and through them I learned about the program out of the University of Illinois.テつ I went to a few wheelchair basketball, wheelchair track camps when I was in middle school and high school out there, just really loved the program.
And it was a unique situation for me as well because I'd go to the Y and use the gym there or things like that, and they never‑‑ they have a full accessible gym, all of the resources you could possibly need, plus this incredible Big Ten world class university as well.

Q.テつ What did you study?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Psychology.

Q.テつ So you graduated?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I graduated in 2010, and I am going back for a Ph.D. this coming fall.

Q.テつ In what?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Developmental psychology.

Q.テつ And then going back to the‑‑
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Hopefully.テつ I was just told I need to retake my GRE. テつApparently, my math scores were a little bit subpar.

Q.テつ We won't tell.
Going back to the diagnosis for a second.テつ Are you paralyzed?テつ What is your range of movement?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I'm a complete paraplegic.テつ My level of function is about T‑10.テつ So that's right around belly button.

Q.テつ So let me ask you.テつ In wheelchair racing, do you think there's a wide range of disability?テつ Does it really help some people?テつ Do you think there should be more classifications or not?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I'm going to give you the most simple answer because it's really, really complicated.テつ There's millions of classifications because everyone's disability is different.テつ As far as wheelchair racing goes, 51 through 54 is the classification.テつ 51s and 52s are quadriplegics, and they have their own class in the marathon.テつ For New York City, it's an open class, and so it's mostly raced by 53s and 54s, and your cutoff line for that classification is roughly your belly button, where my injury is.
So if it's your belly button or higher, your class is 53.テつ If it's lower than that‑‑ that includes below‑knee amputees.テつ Their class is 54s.テつ The biggest difference is the 54s have full trunk control.テつ So they usually have a little bit more because they can use all the trunk muscles when they're climbing uphills.テつ They can use the muscles to tuck low as they're going down the hills.

Q.テつ And those are 54s?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Those are 54s.

Q.テつ What is Tatyana?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ She's a 54.

Q.テつ And what are you?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I'm a 53.テつ But it's one of those things where, no matter how many classifications you make, there's still going to be people that are falling on the borderlines that are‑‑ there's got to be a cutoff somewhere.
And so I am‑‑ I'm on the upper ends of the 53s.テつ Tatyana is probably on the lower ends of the 54s.

Q.テつ So when was your first marathon?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ My first marathon was when I was 20 in 2006.

Q.テつ Where was that?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ It was the Colfax Marathon in Denver, Colorado, and I did it on a bribe.

Q.テつ And so obviously, all these guys out there, they finish a marathon, and they're thirsty, and they're tired, and they're hungry and all that.テつ They might have blisters on their feet or whatever.テつ What do you have?テつ What's a bad day for you?テつ Is it hardest on your hands?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ For me normally, the hardest days for me are the really wet, really windy days.テつ I'm not particularly strong.テつ I get most of my speed from just being super efficient.テつ I'm really little.テつ I'm really strong for my size, and I don't have to put as much strength in getting myself to move as some of the bigger women do.
But on those really windy, really wet days, we use rubber gloves, and our hand rings on our chairs are covered in rubber.テつ So it's just kind of rubber on rubber friction.テつ You kind of punch the wheels to move forward.テつ When you get a little water in there, there's no longer any friction.テつ So there's glues and sandpaper and all kinds of stuff that you can put on them, but it has to change your stroke a little bit.テつ For me, it means putting a lot more force into it, a lot more squeezing.テつ So by the ends of those races, my whole forearms, wrist, they're just absolutely trashed.

Q.テつ So if it's a nice day Sunday, no gloves or what happens?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ We always use the gloves just because it's grabbing hand rings‑‑ like someone would push a regular wheelchair, grabbing the rings, pushing, letting go.テつ Moving your arms, grabbing, it just takes too long.テつ You max out about 7 miles an hour pushing that way.テつ We always push with our hands closed, always push with gloves on because if not, the rubber will absolutely tear apart your hands.
It's just a more efficient way to do it.テつ The ideal place to push is right about here, and you hit the hand rings like this, pull the thumbs around, flick the thumbs off the back, and then come back in, which saves a lot of time of grabbing and letting go and adjusting your hands on the wheels.

Q.テつ So after a marathon, everything up here is sore?

Q.テつ How long does it take you to get over that, about a week or two?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Well, I have for many years done the Boston Marathon, flown to London, six days later, done the London marathon.テつ So less than a week.

Q. テつSo you're nuts too?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ A little bit crazy.

Q.テつ And that's right, you studied psychology.
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ Exactly.テつ For a runner, doing three marathon ins a year would be a really, really heavy year.テつ We can probably triple that just because it's not the same grinding, heel slamming on pavement, high impact that running is.テつ It's a little bit more like this kind of hybrid between cycling and speed skating and running.
So it's more of a gliding motion, not nearly as much force going into it.テつ So you're still tired, and after doing‑‑ there's no way‑‑ I don't think I could do three back‑to‑back marathons, pretty tired after two in a row, but it's not nearly as insane as it would be for a runner to try to do.

Q.テつ Does your pace decline more on the second one?
AMANDA MCGRORY:テつ I try to maintain it.テつ I set it up so one race will be more competitive than the other.テつ I do Boston and then London, or I do Paris and then London.テつ Boston isn't a great course for me.テつ Paris isn't quite as big of a marathon.テつ It doesn't have quite as large of an elite field as London does.テつ So those are my warmup, easier race, and then London's the hard one.

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