Daniel Romanchuk, who grew up in Mount Airy, became the first American to win the men's wheelchair division of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, finishing in 1 hours, 36 minutes, 21 seconds.
Romanchuk, 20, finished the 26.2-mile race 01.15 seconds ahead of Switzerland's Marcel Hug, a three-time New York champion, including in 2016-17. David Weir of Britain, American Aaron Pike and Australian Kurt Fernley rounded out the top five.
"I need air and I'm in pain," said Romanchuk, a 20-year old who was home-schooled in Maryland before enrolling at Parkland Community College, in Champaign, Ill. "It's wonderful to be able to win my two Abbott major marathons on American soil. It's an amazing experience."
Romanchuk won the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7. The other marathons in the Abbott Series are the Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, Virgin Money London Marathon and Berlin Marathon; he placed third in London in April.
Born with spina bifida, a birth defect that prevents a developing baby’s spinal cord from forming properly, Romanchuk has been paralyzed from the waist down and using a wheelchair since age 3.
Romanchuk has been participating in programs at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Disabled Sports USA chapter in Baltimore, since he was 2. He started playing sports for the Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program at Kennedy Krieger, where he also took motor development classes for children with motor disabilities.
He moved to Illinois about three years ago to start training under the guidance of Adam Bleakney, coach of the University of Illinois wheelchair racing team.
Romanchuk is the first U.S. man to win in New York in the 18 years of the men’s wheelchair event, and the youngest to do so, as well.
“I’m very surprised,” said on ESPN2 after his victory. “I never expect to win a race, [and instead] I just go in with a goal that I can control.”
In the moments after his triumph in Chicago on Oct. 7, Romanchuk told reporters that he was already thinking ahead to New York. In between, according to TeamUSA.org, he went home to Maryland for his sister Kathryn’s wedding, the perfect excuse to get in some hill training on the rolling hills near where he grew up.
It was the kind of prep that he needed for a sloped course that snakes through New York’s five boroughs, compared with the flatness of Chicago and Berlin, the latter where he was sixth in mid-September.
“Whenever I’m doing a hilly course I do like to go home to Maryland,” he told the website. “It’s a really nice prep going into a race [like this].”
Said his mother, Kim Romanchuk: “He grew up training on the hills, so they’re second nature to him. We were in Illinois for 10 days after the wedding and then actually went back to Maryland again to get on the hills one more time before coming to New York.”
Romanchuk is part of the University of Illinois wheelchair racing team, which includes Atholton alumna Tatyana McFadden, who has 17 Paralympic medals and five New York City Marathon titles to her name.She finished second Sunday, behind Switzerland’s Manuela Schar. Schar, who also won the Berlin and Chicago marathons, finished in 1:50:27; McFadden's time was 1:50:48.