Travel & HolidaysWellbeing & Fitness

Matt’s marathon

Matthew King from Bedford, who is about to start his career as a lawyer, completed the New York marathon in 2007 in his chin controlled powered wheelchair, which he uses as a result of a spinal injury. Matt kindly shares his experience of travelling to New York and taking part in the marathon.

My name is Matthew King, and in 2004 at the age of 17 I broke my neck playing in a game of rugby, and have been left paralysed from the neck down and dependent upon a ventilator to breathe at all times and use a chin controlled powered wheelchair for mobility. Following my accident I still wanted to lead as good a life as possible, and therefore decided to enter the 2007 New York Marathon.

Travelling to New York

The flight out to New York was relatively uneventful, if we choose to forget the fact that they dropped my wheelchair off the plane when trying to get it off! Not too much damage was done, and I was able to get back into it after a couple of minutes of minor adjustments (using a hammer that is!)

New York is an amazing, if not crazy place. If you think everything is done at 100 miles an hour in the UK, double it and you’re getting close to the pace things are done in New York! Our hotel was about two minutes from Central Park, and only five blocks from Times Square so we really were in the thick of things!

The marathon day itself was probably one of the most tiring days I’ve ever experienced. We had to be on the bus to the start line at 5:30 a.m. which meant a 3:30 a.m. start getting up. Everybody was at the start line by 8 a.m., which left a three hour delay before the start of the race. Thankfully the weather was on our side meaning we didn’t get too cold, although the wait was becoming tediously boring towards the end.

The marathon

As I had to have two people to care for me as I went around the course (thanks must go to my mum and dad who followed on bikes), the race organisers made our team start at the very back of the main pack. The race started at 10:10 a.m, however we didn’t cross the line until nearer 11 o’clock, but we were soon overtaking runners and making our way through the field.  Almost immediately however I began having problems with the batteries on my wheelchair. By the time we had crossed Staten Island Bridge (the first absolutely massive bridge on the course) my batteries had already lost a third of their power, which not only meant that my wheelchair was slowing down, but also that they wouldn’t make it to the half distance mark where a wheelchair engineer was waiting to swap the batteries for a fresh set in what was effectively a pitstop. Unfortunately, things went worse than I expected, and by the time we hit the five-mile mark, my batteries had almost given up the ghost meaning I was limited to a snail’s pace.

It was at this stage that I gave up all hope of completing the course, and stopped at the side of the road pleading with the other team runners to leave me. Annoyingly for me and the time (as I wanted to return to the hotel) the group of people I was with turned out to be the best team you could wish for, refusing to let me stop and supporting me to eventually reach the 11 mile mark where we planned to meet the wheelchair engineer with a fresh set of batteries! In order to reach this stage of the course, the wheelchair engineer literally took his life in his own hands! Firstly he had to locate a ‘rickshaw’ driver and persuade them to drive both himself and the batteries halfway across New York in record time. The driver took this mission to heart and proceeded to risk both their lives by driving across an American football pitch whilst a match was in progress, and he did the same to a junior game of baseball! Anyway, he arrived at the 11 mile mark just in time to swap the batteries over…

By the time the new batteries were fitted, our team was plum last with only the police behind us who were there to bring up the back of the pack. This was where things started to pick up though, and as soon as my wheelchair was back up to speed we were soon flying back through the pack. The second half of the marathon made up for all the troubles we suffered at the start….

The incredible support and getting to the finish

The crowds were absolutely amazing, and this definitely gave the whole team a boost. Despite the fact that it was getting cold and dark, by the time we entered Central Park we had made our way back past a substantial amount of the field and were still going strong. The final miles around the park proved to be a killer, and were by far the hardest I have experienced, but as a team we managed to cross the finish line in a time of 6 hours 40 minutes.

The crossing of the finish line signalled the onset of a few more problems however. Due to the prolonged time spent out in the cold, my temperature had dropped to a dangerously low 33.2°C rendering me seriously hypothermic and in need of a warm hotel room. In addition, the batteries on my ventilator had run out giving me only minimal time to get back to the hotel and get plugged into the mains!

Despite all the problems, the week-long experience is one I will keep with me forever, and was certainly not something I still thought I would be able to achieve following by accident, and if it helped prove anything to myself, it was that with a little imagination and determination, almost anything is possible regardless of the extent of disability.

By Matthew King

The follow video is a series of video clips which records Matt’s epic journey through New York and includes an interview with BBC News.

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