McGrory is Grandma's Marathon women's wheelchair winner
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Like every other day growing up in Kennett Square, Pa., 5-year-old Amanda McGrory awoke in the morning at the family home and headed downstairs.
Only this would be the final time.
“I woke up in the morning and I was OK, then I started losing sensation in my legs,” McGrory said Saturday after winning her seventh Grandma’s Marathon women’s wheelchair race. “I walked down the stairs, sat on the sofa and never got up.”
After 2½ weeks of MRIs, CT scans and spinal taps, McGrory was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, a rare, fast-acting disease that often disables its victims within an hour. Similar to multiple sclerosis in its effects to the body, though not a degenerative disease, it afflicts approximately one in six million.
At that age, McGrory found it impossible to comprehend what had happened to her.
“It’s difficult as a 5-year-old, and particularly difficult in my situation because there was no trigger event,” she said. “I think it’s easier to understand if I had gotten in a car accident or if I had fallen out of a tree. But it was like any other day.”
McGrory started recreational wheelchair racing at age 11 and found there were others in similar condition to her.
“I found a whole new community of friends, and, in addition to that, I turned out to be a pretty good wheelchair athlete,” she said. “So I stuck with it after that.”
McGrory began her string of Grandma’s victories in 2006, winning four straight, and then took gold in the 5,000 meters and silver in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. She returned to win Grandma’s again in 2011 and last year, when she set a course record in 1 hour, 36 minutes and 39 seconds.
The 27-year-old from Savoy, Ill., won Saturday in 1:38:57, nearly 4 minutes ahead of runner-up Susannah Scaroni of Champaign, Ill., for the second-best time of her career.
“I felt fantastic,” McGrory said. “I started out strong and I just cruised.”
Four of the five women entrants train with the University of Illinois program, where McGrory serves as a volunteer assistant coach.
“I graduated a few years ago, but the training is so good that I can’t leave,” she said. “It’s maybe the best program in the world. We breed Paralympians out there.”