Geoff Kent

Wheelchair marathon athlete Geoff Kent (handout photo / October 7, 2012)

While many wheelchair athletes are born without use of their legs, many who will compete in the Chicago Marathon ended up in a wheelchair because of injury. This is the case for three Chicago-area residents: Adam Finney of Bronzeville, Geoff Kent of River North and Bob Swanson of Round Lake, Ill.

"You end up in a wheelchair and it's a confusing time," said Kent, 33. "You say, 'What am I going to do with myself?'" Kent suffered his injury while skiing in 2007. "I fell 40 feet and landed on a tree trunk on my spine. … It was one of those things where you know right away."

This will be Kent's sixth Chicago Marathon, Finney's second and Swanson's first. Like many wheelchair athletes created via injury, all three had to change their mentality about "running."

"We use 'pushing,' said Kent. "We 'push' the marathon. When we train, we say, 'Let's go push.' 'Let's push tomorrow at 6.' That's our verb."

"A runner can maybe start focusing on their arms, because your natural running form is arms and legs," Swanson said. "But for us, we start feeling [fatigue], there's nowhere else for us to go. If you stop, you're just going to slow down, and that's it. Especially for a race."

For these athletes, wheelchair racing was a simple physical transition. The mental transition was much tougher.

"You definitely have that competitive itch," Kent said. "How do you maintain that after a life-changing event like a spinal cord injury? For me it was wheelchair racing.

"[Paralysis] is definitely a life-changing event," he said. "Going from an able-bodied young guy to a disabled man in a wheelchair – how do you deal with that? Well, sports is definitely a good way to do that. I used to love being out here on the lakeshore path, so when I first started racing, as a Chicago guy, it's great to get out there and go 10, 15 miles on your racing chair. It feels normal, almost. It's definitely a great way to get back into an active lifestyle when you're disabled."

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @readjack

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