One moment Susannah Scaroni, a Paralympic gold medalist, was cruising through a training session on a road she had traveled so many time before.
The subsequent she was lying on the side of road, thrown freed from her wheelchair, staring up on the sky and an unknowable road back to her life at the highest of the gap racing world.
A 31-year-old native of Washington State, she had been rear-ended during an early morning solo training session. Paralyzed below the waist since she was 5, Scaroni fractured three vertebrae and her knee in that crash last September.
In some way, she was training with a handcycle two weeks later and would go on to set a world record within the 5,000 meters — to back up her gold medal on the Tokyo Paralympics in the gap — eight months after the accident.
At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, she is going to attempt to earn her third marathon medal in three weeks, capping off a third-place finish on the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 25 and a second-place finish on the London Marathon on Oct. 2.
“No pain!” she said Tuesday from her home in Champaign, Ailing.
None of this has surprised Adam Bleakney, Scaroni’s coach, who also leads the wheelchair track and field team on the University of Illinois.
“If there’s one true thing you may say about Susannah and this population it’s that they’ve already undergone so many things, traumas really, simply to get to the starting line,” Bleakney said in a recent interview. “People like Susannah can sustain any such adversity and leverage it.”
Scaroni didn’t spend an excessive amount of time occupied with the roller coaster of the last 13 months as she pushed through the flat and fast course in Berlin. She, Debrunner and Manuela Schӓr, one other Swiss racer, broke from the sector after successfully traversing some railroad tracks across the five mile mark. They spent the subsequent 20 miles taking turns bearing the brunt of the headwind before the sprint to the finish through the Brandenburg Gate.
“I felt really strong on the market,” Scaroni said last week from London.
That sensation would have been hard to assume last September, after Scaroni tumbled out of her chair onto the side of Wheeler Road not removed from her home. Scaroni normally trains with the a bunch of wheelchair athletes on Illinois’ vaunted team, which has produced stars like Tatyana McFadden, the eight-time Paralympic gold medalist. A pack of eight or 10 wheelchair racers are far easier to see than simply one, especially on the roads near the university where the wheelchair athletes are a well-known site.
On that Thursday morning last September though, Scaroni, who’s completing her master’s degree in nutrition science and kinesiology at Illinois, needed to get to her shift at a neighborhood clinic and needed to coach before her teammates.
She remembers cruising along at roughly 17 miles an hour after which suddenly moving in a short time.
“I assumed, ‘that is going to be bad,’ and the subsequent thing I knew I used to be within the dirt and someone was walking toward me and asking if I used to be OK,” she said.
She was not. She had scrapes and burns across her legs and arms. Scans revealed the fractured vertebrae. Doctors put her in a clamshell-shaped back brace that she would wear every moment she was not sleeping for the subsequent 4 months. Her racing chair was off limits.
After two weeks though, doctors cleared her to start doing a little aerobic training together with her arms, so long as she didn’t strain her back. Bleakney rigged a handcycle to a workout bench, which allowed Scaroni to lie on her back and pedal together with her hands and arms. She began with 20 minutes a day and eventually worked as much as 90 minutes.
“That woman just loves training,” Bleakney said of Scaroni. “In case you told her she could never race again, it wouldn’t matter. She would still train on a regular basis.”
Perhaps, but Scaroni has also been hooked on competition since her journey in wheelchair sports began when she was in elementary school. She has few memories of her life before she was paralyzed.
She sustained her initial injury when the automotive her mother was driving slipped on ice and collided with an oncoming vehicle. She was within the back seat. Her oldest brother, Jesse, who was within the front seat, suffered a brain injury. Doctors feared he wouldn’t make it through the night. He survived, and so did her mother. Scaroni’s father had died of brain cancer when she was an infant.
Scaroni was paralyzed and have become the one person in a wheelchair in her tiny town of Tekoa, Wash., population 800. After her accident, the town cut the curbs at street corners into ramps and installed an elevator within the local highschool years before she would enroll. Those efforts, she said, all the time made her feel included in on a regular basis activities.
She didn’t, nevertheless, like playing basketball in gym class as students needed to follow rules to incorporate her in the sport. It felt patronizing, she said.
So she was somewhat leery when her mother insisted on taking her to a sports clinic at Shriners Hospital in Spokane an hour away when she was in fourth grade. But on the court with other kids in wheelchairs she felt integrated into the sport and quickly became obsessive about the game. Soon her mother was driving her two hours round-trip to practice every week, and when a chance to compete on a track team arrived, she joined that, too, and thrived.
She desired to attend Illinois out of highschool, but Bleakney didn’t have a scholarship available for an out-of-state student athlete. When he did two years later, Scaroni transferred from Carroll College in Montana in 2011. The subsequent 12 months she competed within the Paralympics in London.
Since 2017, she has balanced the lifetime of a full-time skilled racer together with her graduate studies. She collects about $16,000 a 12 months plus medical health insurance from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and a few additional support from sponsors. Prize money from racing, which brings in roughly $50,000 a 12 months, pays the majority of the bills.
“After the accident, I told myself, ‘if there’s a race, wherever it’s, I need to do it,’” she said.
In January, she was finally capable of get back in her racing chair. She needed to rebuild the core strength needed to sustain the upright position that pushing within the chair requires. Last 12 months’s crash made that tougher because her spine is now pitched further forward. But she was determined to get back on a starting line as fast as possible, even when she had not regained her fitness, because so many races had been canceled in the course of the first 20 months of the pandemic.
Thus far, so good. The ten-kilometer Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on July 4 offered a $53,000 bonus for runners who broke the course record to share, in honor of the 53rd 12 months of the race. Scaroni was the just one to set a course record.
Now comes the Chicago Marathon, a race that’s something of a house game for the Illinois team. Bleakney, who now prohibits training alone on the roads, could have some 15 athletes within the race. It offers $25,000 to the winner and prize money for the primary 10 finishers, making it one of the lucrative wheelchair marathons on the planet. The race shall be streamed on Peacock and telemundochicago.com starting at 8 a.m.
Three weeks later, Scaroni will race within the Latest York City Marathon, which takes place on the form of rolling, hilly course she favors.
Carey Pinkowski, the Chicago race director, said every competitor could learn something priceless from the athletes within the wheelchair field. Last 12 months, a lot of them competed within the Chicago and Boston marathons on consecutive days. Travel for anyone in a wheelchair has its share of challenges. Consider the logistics of two major marathons in 24 hours — plus shipping a chair price greater than $30,000 in some cases, and it was enough to rattle anyone’s nerves.
A few of them weren’t attending to Boston until near midnight, after which that they had to rise up at dawn and race and yet they were just rolling with it. “Adversity is just not a problem with them,” Pinkowski said. “It’s refreshing.”