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'I was a little emotional' - wheelchair athletes delighted to compete in Auckland Marathon for first time

After a 20-year long battle competitors in wheelchairs were able to race in the Auckland Marathon at the weekend in "one of the biggest things to happen to wheelchair sport in New Zealand".

With the catchline being 'Run it your way', it gave a chance for everyone, including people with disabilities, a chance to compete.

Eighteen athletes lined up in the wheelchair pilot, including two from Australia, with a host of former and current Paralympic stars enjoying the event.

Peter Loft, co-founder of Achilles NZ said it gave the chance for future para-athletes to follow in the future.

Loft has been one of the key people fighting to get the pilot across the line.

“The wheelchair event on the weekend will open up so many opportunities and I expect that this is the biggest thing to happen to wheelchair sport in New Zealand for a long long time."

He said, "Unfortunately there has been a history of event managers not wanting wheelchairs in their events because they presumed wrongly that it’d create too many issues to manage."

He said in the past it was always put in the "too hard basket."

Loft said organisers have been worried competitors were going to fall out of their wheelchair.

"Able bodied atheletes have just the same chance of injuring themselves."

He said he was extremely happy with how it went.

“After such an awesome event, I had to take it in, I was a little emotional.”

He said it gave people with disabilities the chance to compete locally and believes this pilot is just the start.

"There is no reason why we won't have 50 wheelchairs on the course next year."

Auckland-man Brendon Stratton crossed the finishing line first in the event, reaching speeds as high as 80km/h during the race.

But it didn't come easy for him.

“I was crook leading up to the event, so hadn’t been on the bike for a couple of months.”

He was going to pull out, but organisers kept asking him to do it.

"One of the organisers twisted my arm and said to get on the start line.

“I’m glad I did it because it is one of those events that is only going to happen once, to be a part of the inaugural one is outstanding especially to be able to ride across the bridge.  You can only do it once for the first time, it is a special thing.”

He said it gives people a visibility that just because you achieve things differently, you can still achieve it.

“Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t be included into mainstream events.”

Stratton was joined by more than 15,000 other competitors who signed up to the 2018 event.

Australian man David Criniti crossed the finish line first for the full marathon with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and six seconds.

- Grace Stanton

For the first time in 82-years of the race, disabled competitors have their own category. Source: 1 NEWS