2023: A Big Year for Disabled Marathoners

Blog: NYC Wheelchair Marathon

Two athletes from Switzerland broke records in the New York City Marathon’s wheelchair races last weekend.

New York’s annual race is the largest marathon in the world and one of the World Marathon Majors.

In the women’s wheelchair race, Catherine Debrunner won her first NYC Marathon finishing in 1 hour 39 minutes and 32 seconds and breaking the race’s all-time record by more than three minutes. Debrunner won $35,000 for winning her division and another $50,000 for setting the new course record.

In an ESPN interview, quoted by the New York Times, Debrunner said: “I knew it was the toughest marathon and it was my first time. I came away much earlier than expected and I did the whole race by myself. It means the world to me. I won the whole marathon series and that’s so insane. It’s been a fairy-tale season.”

Marcel Hug, aka the Silver Bullet, won the men’s race for the third time in a row, breaking the record for consecutive wins in the NYC’s men’s wheelchair marathon. Hug ran the course in one hour and 29 seconds, just three seconds short of his 2022 record. The NYC marathon win – Hug’s sixth — also broke Kurt Fearnley’s record five NYC Marathon wins. Hug is also the first person to win all six World Marathon Majors in the same year. He was awarded $35,000 for winning his division.

After the race, Hug told ESPN that his win was “incredible. At the moment, I’m just so, so tired. It was really tough. But I’m happy as well.”

The 26.2-mile NYC Marathon has included wheelchair races since 2000. The first races were won by Kamel Ayari and Anh Nguyen Thi Xuan.

Hug and Debrunner aren’t the only disabled marathoners who made headlines this year.

Back in March, Alex Roca, a runner with cerebral palsy, became the first person in the world with a 76 percent disability to complete a full marathon. A native of Catalonia, Spain, the 32-year-old runner completed the Barcelona Marathon in 5 hours, 50 minutes and 51 seconds. Roca developed CP after contracting cerebral herpes as a baby. The condition left Roca with impaired mobility on his left side, and the athlete communicates exclusively through sign language. Prior to the marathon, Roca told Spanish newspaper El Mundo, “the limit is up to you, and if you want to achieve an objective, whatever difficulties you have, with attitude, willpower, perseverance and resilience, you can achieve everything you propose. And if you do not achieve it, you will have given everything and must feel gratified.”