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Bleakney's optimistic he can be a big wheel in race

By Jim Greenidge, Globe Staff, 4/12/2002

Adam Bleakney has raced in the wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon every year since 1997, and placed in the top 10 in 1999 (10th, 1 hour 31 minutes).

"That was a real good race for me," said the 26-year-old Bleakney, a Savoy, Ill., resident. "I was able to get the maximum out of my potential."

Bleakney has had his share of problems the last couple of years, though, with flat tires in his last three marathons, including Boston and Los Angeles.

"My goal is to finish among the top six finishers, if everything goes right for me," he said.

Bleakney has been coached by Marty Morse since 1996. "Marty is a tremendous coach," said Bleakney. "He's trained Olympic athletes in the past, including Jean Driscoll, who has won the Boston wheelchair division eight times."

Bleakney, originally from Mason City, Iowa, is an avid sports fan.

As a college freshman, at age 19, he wrestled at the Division 3 level at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul), putting together an impressive 10-2 record in the 150-pound division.

He was set to transfer to Buena Vista University (Storm Lake, Iowa) when he was involved in an accident.

In the summer of 1995, he went mountain biking with a friend from Colorado, and "I don't recall exactly what happened, but my friend told me I was going downhill when I ran into a tree in a wide, wide area, and landed on my back," he said. Bleakney's 10th vertebra was crushed, resulting in paralysis. It was during his rehabilitation in Colorado that he was introduced to wheelchair racing.

"Then a year later, I went along with a friend wheelchair racing, going about 30 miles, and I really enjoyed it," said Bleakney. "I started training, working out quite a bit. It just seemed to be a natural fit for me, so I ordered a racing chair for myself."

His first marathon took place in Chicago in October 1996. "I had been working out regularly for two or three months before that race," Bleakney said. "I came in around two hours in that race, better than I expected."

Then, three weeks later, Bleakney took part in another marathon, this one in Columbus, Ohio. "The conditions were tough for that race, and so I came in 15 minutes slower than I wanted to," he recalled.

"Racing gives me things that I missed in my life," said Bleakney, who is going for his master's degree in journalism at the University of Illinois. "I was always competing in sports until I was injured. This is an important part of my life."

Bleakney recalled his first Boston race. "I got beat up pretty good my first time out there in Boston while climbing Heartbreak Hill, about 21 miles into the race," he said.

In addition to 10- and 15-kilometer racing, Bleakney competes in four marathons each year -- Boston and Los Angeles in the spring, and Columbus and another marathon in the fall.

"I'm not surprised at the kind of shape I'm in," Bleakney said. "My endurance is better than I thought it would be. The thing I love about Boston is the entire atmosphere, with all sorts of fans turning out to watch it, as well as the history behind the marathon.

"Racing fills a hole in my life, something I didn't think I would fulfill when I became disabled. This is such a big part of my life."

This story ran on page F8 of the Boston Globe on 4/12/2002.

Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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