Athletes with Disabilities Provide Inspiration to Miami Marathon and Half Marathon Racers


Achilles Participants To Kick Off Race at 5:45 a.m. On January 29

Their stories are unique and inspirational. When the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon begins at 5:45 a.m. on January 29, more than 75 athletes with disabilities will be the first across the start line representing Achilles International, a worldwide organization that encourages people with disabilities to participate in running with the general public. The group will include a large contingent of international athletes as the Achilles organization has chapters in more than 70 countries.

Domestic Achilles athletes come from eastern seaboard states such as New York, Connecticut, North Carolina and Georgia, while international participants hail from as close as Cuba and as far away as France and Germany. There is also a large South American group from Colombia and Ecuador. They are lured by a picturesque course that is largely flat and first-timer friendly and a race committed to the experience for disabled athletes.

A disabled athlete was actually directly responsible for the creation of the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. A 12-year-old double amputee from California named Rudy Garcia-Tolson, in town visiting Co-Founder Frankie Ruiz and his high school cross country team in 2002, said something in a meeting with former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas about wanting to return to Miami to run in a Marathon some day.

There was just one problem. There wasn’t a Marathon in Miami.

So the Mayor’s office collaborated with Ruiz to start one, which led Ruiz to contact future partner Robert and Gaby Pozo, who had been trying to get an elite South Florida distance race off the ground. The Miami-Dade County Mayor’s office, along with Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, helped them work through all the red tape and civic cooperation they needed and the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon was born a year later. Garcia-Tolson is returning to Miami this year for the 15th Miami Marathon and Half Marathon to shoot the starters gun and run in the Saturday Tropical 5K.

Each of the local disabled athletes from Miami-Dade and Broward counties have heartwarming stories to tell of their trek to the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon start line.

“It doesn’t matter if you come in first, second, third. If you complete it, you are a winner,” said Francisco Abreu, a Miami Gardens resident who will be hand-cycling his seventh Miami Marathon.

Here are the stories of six Achilles athletes from South Florida who will be among the first group to take off from the start line at 5:45 am. More information is available upon request..

  • Lance Benson – Benson, a 43-year-old married and father-of-three corporate real estate executive, will “run” the Miami Marathon on a skateboard — the veteran marathoner was born without legs. Benson has been an athlete from birth despite his disability. As a youngster growing up in Raleigh, NC, he wrestled for his high school varsity team and competed in weightlifting. At 118 pounds, he could bench press 336 pounds.
  • Helman Roman – Helman Roman is a part of the Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, a program that brings hand cycling and other forms of racing to disabled veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans will never forget September 11, but for 48-year old Miami Beach resident Roman, the day has added significance. On September 11, 2009, while commanding an Army IED vehicle in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb under his vehicle took his legs below his knees.
  • Jimmy Crews – It was raining heavily on the night of August 12, 2008, and young Jimmy Crews was on his way to the movies. When his car hit a puddle and hydroplaned, he lost control, spun and rear-ended a tree. When he regained consciousness, the teenager learned he was no longer in life’s fast lane. Now, he faced a traumatic brain injury to his cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls the integration and coordination of movements. He met a former Achilles regional coordinator at a rehabilitation center several years after his accident and was encouraged to try hand-cycling.
  • Francisco Abreu – Abreu, 63, was paralyzed in 1988 when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a Miami-Dade County Florida Turnpike booth. A staff member at the Federal Corrections Institute in Miami, Abreu had departed the prison at 9:30 pm, stopped to eat and had a couple of drinks. It took 45 days for Abreu to be upgraded from critical to stable condition, and another two months of rehabilitation before he could leave the hospital. He was drawn into the Achilles group in 2009 by one of its quadriplegics. Now he’s anticipating hand cycling his seventh Miami Marathon. He has also competed in the New York and Los Angeles Marathons.
  • Raphael Martinez – Raphael Martinez’ life changed abruptly on Feb. 11, 1995, when he flipped his car while running late for work in Hesperia, Ca. He has not walked since. Martinez trains at the Homestead Air Reserve Base with Achilles athletes. He will be racing in his second Miami Marathon.
  • Jacqui Kapinowski – Jacqui Kapinowski has run, walked and competed in marathons in a racing chair. An elite runner before a double dose of bacterial meningitis in her 20s led to a rare neurological disorder that took away her ability to walk, Kapinowski is one of the most successful parathletes on the planet. As her health declined in 2005 to the point where she could no longer run, Kapinowski used a walker to slowly navigate the entire 26.2 miles of the final three marathons she “ran. In Miami, she will compete in her 81st career marathon- all but 20 have been in a race chair.


About the Miami Marathon

The Miami Marathon is Florida’s elite distance race with 25,000 runners representing all 50 states and more than 80 countries converging on Miami and South Beach to experience one of the most unique courses in the world. The race has come a long way since 3,400 runners participated in the first Miami Marathon in 2003. Now proudly celebrating its 15th year, race participants include elite runners, top age-group competitors, and many thousands who run for charity and to achieve their own personal goals. Together they enjoy the tropical views and the sounds of South Florida, with a diverse array of entertainment blended into the experience, and generate more than $50 million in total economic impact for the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.

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