Alan T. Brown is on a quest. The Aventura resident is returning to his hometown for the New York City Marathon on Nov. 1, 25 years after his first outing. But Brown won’t be running the 26.2 miles; he’ll be riding his rad hand bike.
Safe to say, the 48-year-old has some serious biceps to show for all the grueling preparation. His legs, however, do not function. A fateful vacation to Martinique changed that. On Jan. 2, 1988, the then 20-year-old was left paralyzed from the chest down after diving into the surf and breaking his neck.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, the father of two has barely missed a beat, working as a successful restaurant publicist (Cafe Martorano, for one), celebrity handler and running a namesake charity — all with humor, professionalism and grace.
Brown’s current title: director of public impact at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Next week’s goal is to raise $10,000 a mile to go toward funding for The Big Idea, an epidural stimulation experiment.
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How do you approach training in the Miami heat?
Working out in South Florida is a challenge because I cannot control my body temperature, so my workouts have to be done before 8:15 a.m. Besides pushing the hand cycle around 40 to 50 miles a week, I swim two miles and also go to the gym. With my disability I need assistance with pretty much everything, so I am thankful to all the people around me who have helped me prepare.
How are you feeling now as opposed to 25 years ago?
I feel great. As we all age living with a spinal cord injury we have to be very aware of what our bodies are telling us. Physically and mentally, I am as strong as ever. The hardest part is the unknown.
Back then, was there ever a time during the marathon when you wanted to give up? And if so how did you keep going?
The last time I broke my wrist at mile 16. I bet a friend $1,000 that I would finish. I had my wrist taped up and I did it. If I put my mind to something, in my heart there’s no stopping me. Knowing that other people in my situation and their family members need motivation to keep up the fight, I try to lead by example no matter what toll it takes on my body. I just want to let them know they are not alone. My fire comes from within.
What does completing a marathon mean to you?
It’s hard to describe. It is just a goal that I put in front of myself like I do with everything in my life. The message is that anything is possible. The one thing I learned after I broke my neck, and as the years went on, is that life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Hopefully one day we will all have a better quality of life and get rid of these wheelchairs.
This is a momentous anniversary for you another reason. Can you talk about it?
Actually two reasons: The last time that I pushed the NYC Marathon in a racing wheelchair it led to my brother and I — as well as other athletes — filing a class-action lawsuit against the [annual race] to make it wheelchair accessible. The second is it marks 25 years of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So I figured what better time for me to come back and conquer the streets that I grew up on to prove to everybody that individuals living with spinal cord injury can do almost anything?