Thousands of runners battled blisters, fatigue and hills to cross the finish line of the fifth annual Road Runner Akron Marathon Saturday.
But only Joe Booth Jr. of Akron also had to deal with a flattening tire, saddle sores and a broken steering mechanism.
He was among three wheelchair racers who were allowed to be testers of the race course. He was the only one to roll the full marathon.
The other two “wheelers” were 10-year-old Tyler Esposito, who was pushed by his mother, Lauri Esposito, of the Akron area and who finished the half marathon, and Kevin O’Connor of Akron, who took part on a five-person relay team.
Booth, 48, was a budding 18-year-old professional moto- and supercross racer when an accident sent 12,000 volts of electricity through his right leg. It was so severely burned it had to be amputated. His right hand was partially paralyzed.
Booth continued to race, driving Formula 5000 and stock race cars for years. But the marathon was a new experience in a new vehicle. Booth received his professional grade three-wheeled racing chair on Monday with help from Miller’s Medical & Home Care Equipment and Eddy’s Bike Shop and trained intensively for three days.
“I’m a newbie, I haven’t done other (marathons) but this course is beautiful. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s challenging but perfect for wheelers. There isn’t anything about the course that needs to be changed,” he said after the race.
But Booth’s experience was not without pitfalls. He rolled the race at a 9:47-minute pace and finished with a final time of 4:23:28. He said he would have shaved several minutes off his time if he hadn’t had to navigate through the two-legged runners at the start of the race.
Booth also opened a few new sores on his left knee due to friction, began to lose air pressure in his left tire near the finish and lost about half an hour when his chair suffered “a mechanical failure” -- the steering mechanism broke -- at around mile 19 in front of the home of an elderly couple.
“The woman came out and said ‘What do you need?’ and her husband went and brought me tools and said they would help me any way they could. I thank God for good people like that because they didn’t know me,” Booth said.
All three wheelers will be asked to provide feedback on the course. Race director Jim Barnett is optimistic There will be at least one official wheeler division next year.
Barnett said the marathon has excluded wheelchair racers due to basic safety concerns. “We had to establish a solid foundation and a good infrastructure for the race to make sure we could handle the wheelers and their needs,” he said.
Also interested in the needs of wheelers was medical director Dr. Nilesh Shah, who peppered Booth with questions immediately following the race.
Shah, also a marathon runner, said he was worried about the terrain on the Towpath and the turn from Howard Street onto MLK. But both fears were allayed by Booth’s enthusiasm.
“Many runners think the course is too hard, but if these people on two wheels can do it, the people with two legs shouldn’t complain,” Shah said.