Chicago Marathon: This weekend's elite wheelchair racers

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Adam Bleakney

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Adam Bleakney

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Adam Bleakney

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Adam Bleakney

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Aaron Pike

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Aaron Pike

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Adam Bleakney

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Adam Bleakney and David Grassi

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Amanda McGrory

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Amanda McGrory

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Amanda McGrory and Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Amanda McGrory

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Joshua George

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Joshua George

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Joshua George

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Joshua George

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Joshua George

  • Courtesy KurtFearnley.com

    Kurt Fearnley

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Amanda McGrory

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Amanda McGrory

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy Illinois Wheelchair Athletics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

  • Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

    Tatyana McFadden

Courtesy U.S. Paralympics

Adam Bleakney


While the best non-wheeled racers are hoping to finish the marathon in two hours and change, the elite wheelchair racers will be out ahead of them, pulling down times well under two hours. Below are bios of some of the best racers on wheels—spectators, watch for these competitors to be the very first faces you see blur by you this weekend.

Kurt Fearnley (Australia)
Age 30
Career highlights Chicago Marathon wins in 2007, 2008 and 2009; nine medals in the Paralympics. Additional marathon wins in New York City, London, Seoul, Paris and Sydney.
Insider info A truly influential wheelchair racer, Fearnley has his own website—where’s he’s posted a gnarly crash video.

Heinz Frei (Switzerland)
Age 53
Career highlights 14 gold medals at the summer and winter Paralympics Games (he competes at both road-racing and sit-skiing). Frei has competed in every Summer Paralympics from 1984 to 2008.
Insider info Last year, at age 52, Frei competed in the Chicago Marathon for the first time—and won. In doing so, he set a new course record time, 1:26:56, beating the record set by Kurt Fearnley three years earlier.

Adam Bleakney  (United States)
Age 36
Career highlights Won the 2002 Chicago Marathon, earned a silver medal in the 800m at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
Insider info Bleakney is the head track coach at University of Illinois’ prestigious wheelchair athletics program. 

Joshua George  (United States)
Age 27
Career highlights Three Chicago Marathon wins (2003, 2004, 2006); gold medal in the 100m at the Paralympic games in Beijing. He was also part of the gold medal–winning wheelchair basketball team at the 2008 Parapan Games in Brazil.
Insider info Adam Bleakney was George’s coach and training partner at U of I. The two will go head-to-head at this year’s race.

Aaron Pike  (United States)
Age 25
Career highlights The recent U of I grad took sixth place in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon last year, and won the Bolder Boulder 10k in May. He just qualified for his first national team, at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand.
Insider info Pike spent his high school years in Germany, living with his family on a military base there. When he’s not racing, Pike is an avid camper and fisherman.

Christie Dawes  (Australia)
Age 31
Career highlights Dawes has represented Australia three times in the Paralympic Games (1996, 2000, 2004). In 2009, she took fifth at the Chciago Marathon, three seconds behind winner Tatyana McFadden.
Insider info Dawes is coached by her husband, Andrew—who also coached fellow Aussie Kurt Fearnley.

Tatyana McFadden  (United States)
Age 22
Career highlights McFadden has six Paralympic medals and won the Chicago Marathon in 2009. She’s currently a student at the U of I—where she’s coached by Adam Bleakney.
Insider info McFadden was born in Russia and, because of her spina bifida, was sent to an orphanage. She spent her first six years there, walking on her hands for lack of a wheelchair. In 1994, McFadden was adopted by Debbie McFadden, then a commissioner for disabilities at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Amanda McGrory  (United States)
Age 25
Career highlights This year’s defending champion, McGrory has also won the London, Paris and New York City marathons and earned four medals at the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing. If she wins this year, it will be her fourth Chicago victory in five years. 
Insider info As a U of I graduate, McGrory is another one of Adam Bleakney’s mentees. Her website links to her sassy Twitter feed.

Diane Roy  (Canada)
Age 40
Career highlights This two-time Paralympian has won three Paralympic medals for Canada. In the 2009 Chicago Marathon, she finished second to Tatyana McFadden by two seconds.
Insider info In the 2008 Paralympic games, Roy won the gold medal for the 5000m race. However, after the medals were awarded, several countries appealed because of a mid-race collision involving several other competitors. The original race’s results were invalidated; the race was re-run, Roy came in second place—and she was forced to exchange her gold medal for a silver.


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