Fearnley Sprints for Fifth Wheelchair Victory

By Barbara Huebner, NYRR

When Kurt Fearnley prevailed in the sprint finish of the 44th TCS New York City Marathon, it was his fifth time breaking the tape in Central Park. The 33-year-old Australian, a nine-time Paralympic medalist, won four-consecutive men’s wheelchair races here from 2006 to 2009, setting the still-standing course record of 1:29:22 in 2006.

But he called today “the most interesting wheelchair race I’ve ever been involved with, and this will be my 56th or 57th marathon.”

In a move prompted by strong and gusting winds, race organizers moved the start of the wheelchair races to the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, at the three-mile mark of the course.

“The right call was made,” Fearnley said. “I was concerned last night [about coming down that bridge]. And even during that race, my front wheel would be lifted up by the wind and moved like two feet to its left.” In a pack of 10 wheelchair athletes on a bridge, he said, “someone’s going over the side. If anything happens to these guys, I want to be the reason why they hurt.”

With no one prepared to brave the wind on his own, the pack remained a dozen strong for most of the race. Six athletes—Fearnley, Ernst Van Dyk (South Africa), Tomasz Hamerlak (Poland), Masazumi Soejima (Japan), Kota Hokinoue (Japan), and Pierre Fairbank (USA)—were still together with 600 meters to go, making the final turn at Columbus Circle toward the finish. Fearnley timed a surge perfectly in the final meters, taking a one-second, 1:30:55 win over Van Dyk and Hamerlak, both timed in 1:30:56.

On the abbreviated, 23.2-mile course, the time had little meaning. The victory, however, had plenty: it was Fearnley’s first as a father, and his 9-month-old son, Harry, was here to see it.

“I think he’s my lucky charm,” said Fearnley. “I’m going to pack him in my backpack for every New York Marathon now. He’ll never remember it, but I won’t forget it. It’s the best.”