Local men Andre Travis and Zeke Petrie again are preparing to lead by example.
It has been about eight months since Andre, who has severe cerebral palsy, and his wheelchair rolled into history at the Akron Marathon, with Zeke pushing him. They are believed to be the first “push-chair” partnership in the Akron race.
Now they plan to team up for the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, expected to attract about 20,000 runners Sunday.
Andre, who lives in a group home in Akron, again wants to experience the rush of being involved in something athletic, hearing folks clap and cheer from the sidelines.
Most of all, Andre said in his strained, halting speech, “I want to show people like me they can do anything they put their mind to, you know.”
And, he said, smiling and peering out from under his Miami Heat ball cap, “I want to see if we can beat our time” posted in Akron last September.
The two almost decided to skip the Cleveland marathon. They are focused on competing in a triathlon (running, biking, swimming) this summer. That event would require Zeke, 41, to swim 1.2 miles — while holding fast to Andre, who has no use of his arms or legs.
But Andre, 32, who never has been able to walk, insisted on racing Sunday, Zeke said.
“Andre’s the reason we’re doing the Cleveland marathon,” said Zeke, who met Andre in 2012, after he began driving a van for an agency and shuttled Andre and others to a day program. Zeke, who lives in Barberton, later became a health aide for Andre.
Zeke said he thought about talking Andre into just doing a half marathon — 13.1 miles instead of 26.2 miles.
“But you know Andre,” Zeke said while visiting with him at his home this week. “He’s not trying to get a half medal for anything ... He’s trying to get a whole medal.”
Also helping to persuade Zeke to participate this weekend was Jonathan Schulz, a Cuyahoga Falls resident who last year began a group called Dream Days (www.dreamdaysohio.org) that seeks to involve people with disabilities in a wide range of activities. He heard about Zeke and Andre while putting together push-chair teams for the Cleveland marathon.
Zeke and Andre will be joined Sunday by a push-chair team that will include Barry Winovich, a resident of the Cleveland area afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The plan is to organize more teams next year for the marathon, Schulz, 28, said.
“This really is a unique opportunity,” he said.
Andre is all about pushing the limits of his disability. Shortly after the Akron Marathon last year, he embarked on another dream: to inspire others by sharing his life experiences. He spent much of his youth in foster care and often felt isolated.
He has spoken at about half a dozen events, receiving a small payment through the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities. Earlier this week, Andre spent much of the day speaking to classes at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, the alma mater of LeBron James, now of the Miami Heat.
“That’s my favorite job,” Andre said of speaking to teenagers. “I love motivating kids.”
Zeke said that “some of the kids were in tears” at the high school. “Look at [Andre]. They see his physical condition ... He doesn’t act out of fear. He doesn’t whine. They’re inspired. He is inspiring.”
Andre interjected, “They need somebody like me to look up to. I don’t think we’ve got a lot of role models.”
Andre did have a down period after the high of the Akron Marathon last fall. The winter was long. He spent a lot of time inside.
“The winter was hard on everybody,” said Jennings Cross, a service and support coordinator for Summit DD who works with Andre.
“Andre is doing better,” Cross said Thursday. “I saw him a couple of days ago. ... Andre seems to be back on track ... and ready to embrace another season of racing, of competition.”
Zeke plans to wear an image of a Haitian flag on his right arm while he pushes Andre on Sunday. The day marks two years since he was arrested in Haiti.
An adventurous sort, Zeke spent years on and off working in Haiti as a “fixer,” transporting journalists and translating for them, he said. He left Haiti for good in July 2012 after he and another American spent two months in prison.
They were incarcerated after getting caught up in a pro-army demonstration in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, he said.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.