Zeke Petrie slowed down as he pushed Andre Travis toward the finish line of Saturday’s Akron Marathon.
He wanted to let Andre savor the moment — the crowd cheering inside Canal Park, as he and his wheelchair rolled into history.
The two — called Team Andre and Zeke — are believed to be the first “push-chair” partnership in the 26.2-mile race.
“Andre just rocked the house!” stage announcer Creigh Kelley said moments after the two crossed the line.
Andre beamed. An exhausted Zeke caught his breath. He had never run a marathon before and had pushed Andre the entire way.
Zeke, 40, had started the race so strong, some observers wondered if he would be able to finish the taxing, rolling course winding through the streets of Akron.
“Today is all about Andre,” Zeke said when a stage announcer asked him to comment on completing the race. “He got a tough deal and he handles suffering with grace.”
The two crossed the finish line Saturday with a time of 4:53:53, beating their goal of five hours.
“Thank you, Lord. ... Thank you all. Anything is possible,” Andre, in his strained speech, told the crowd moments after finishing.
Andre, who lives in Akron, has severe cerebral palsy. He has never been able to walk and cannot wheel his own chair.
Thousands of spectators were in the baseball park, watching runners arrive at the finish line. Stage announcers, using information from texts and a GPS system, had updated the crowd on Team Andre and Zeke’s progress in the race.
Zeke and Andre, in a racing chair, served as a test case Saturday as the marathon, now in its 11th year, had no division for “push-chair” teams.
Longer and longer runs
Zeke, who lives in Barberton, is a health aide for Andre and also drives a van, shuttling Andre and others to a day program. Last fall, Zeke took Andre on a short run, and soon the two were training for the marathon, with Zeke pushing Andre on longer and longer runs.
Andre, 32, a big sports fan, was eager to participate in something athletic and give people a chance to see “more than a wheelchair.”
Zeke said while finishing the race in five hours was a goal, he was hoping the two could muster a 4:30, maybe even 4:15 time.
“I thought we could have made a record [for a push-chair duo] that no one could ever break,” he said.
The team traversed the first 17.5 miles in three hours.
“We were moving,” Zeke said.
Around mile 16, Zeke said, his legs began to tighten and he had to run slower.
“Going up those hills was tough,” he said.
Earlier, the race course took the two to Howard Street, north of downtown, where they were greeted by residents and workers from the nearby group home where Andre lives. About a dozen members of Andre’s family also were on hand.
“I hope they do it again next year because it’s been an inspiration to so many people,” said Andre’s cousin, Lakisha Lewis, an Akron Public Schools math teacher.
At the end of the race, Zeke draped a Haitian flag over his shoulders, a tribute to the country where he spent years off and on working as a “fixer,” transporting journalists, translating for them (he taught himself Creole), taking them to the impoverished country’s slums, and working for various missionary groups and nongovernmental organizations.
Read more about Zeke and Andre’s marathon journey at www.ohio.com/news/local/barberton-man-aims-to-push-friend-in-wheelchair-for-entire-akron-marathon-1.431096.
The Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board — which provides services to Andre — posted the team’s progress Saturday at Facebook.com/SummitDD and on Twitter at SummitDD, #AndresLegacy.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.