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LI Marathon vignettes: Peter Hawkins wins wheelchair race

Pete Hawkins of Malverne wins the push wheelchair

Pete Hawkins of Malverne wins the push wheelchair in the full marathon on Sunday. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Peter Hawkins, Malverne, 53

Peter Hawkins’ inspirational journey returned to a familiar location Sunday morning

The Malverne resident completed what he said was either his 25th or 26th marathon in 2 hours, 11.11 minutes, the best finish for a traditional wheelchair athlete.

“You just make up your mind and go for it,” said Hawkins, who was paralyzed from just above the waist in a car accident in 1981. The former high school football player turned to wheelchair racing after the accident and has participated in races around the world.

“I compete and I go out there, not because I’m in a wheelchair, but just because I’m a competitive person and I enjoy being out there,” Hawkins said. “And this is my local marathon so I love coming back every year . . . It’s a great race with great people.”

Hawkins also said the weather and course conditions were ideal.

“We had the best weather I can remember. There was very little wind, the temperature was perfect and no rain,” he said. “I have to thank whoever is responsible for paving the Wantagh Parkway because it was awesome.”

Peter Gagliardo, Tenafly, New Jersey, 33

Hand-crank racing has become an increasingly big part of Peter Gagliardo’s life and his results reflect this.

Gagliardo, who races in a hand crank, had the top finish in the marathon for a handicapped athlete on Sunday. He said it was his 35th marathon overall and third Long Island Marathon.

“I’ve been racing for the past eight or nine years, but I’ve really gotten into it for the last three,” said Gagliardo, who suffered a spinal injury in 2006 and uses a wheelchair when he is not racing.

A hand crank is a three-wheeled device that allows athletes to use their hands to pedal.

“It’s good, healthy exercise,” he said of racing. “It’s a reason to stay in shape. When you’re in a wheelchair, it’s easy to let yourself go, because you’re not moving nearly as much. It forces you to stay active.”

Gagliardo, who says he participates in about 10 full marathons a year, says Long Island stands out for being accommodating.

“Some races don’t allow us,” he said. “We’re too fast. But there are also plenty of races, like this one, that are just great to us.

“It’s great because it’s an out-and-back for a good chunk of distance, while a lot of other races have a lot of turns. You lose a lot of speed having to slow down and make turns constantly. I always enjoy that this race has the highway.”

Narciso Mejia, New York City, 32

Narciso Mejia won his “rematch” with himself Sunday.

The 32-year-old took second in the marathon with a personal best time of 2 hours, 37.08 minutes, a year after winning the 10-kilometer race. While he enjoyed running the 10K, he said he was determined to improve on his fourth-place finish in the marathon from 2016.

“This is excellent for me,” Mejia said. “Last year I wanted to try something new and the 10K was a good experience. But I wanted a ‘rematch’ in the marathon. I wasn’t happy the first time I performed here.”

Mejia is certainly happy now. Since the 2016 L.I. Marathon, when Mejia ran a 2:44:30, he said he has set new personal records every time he’s competed. This included a 2:42:45 in the most recent New York City Marathon.

He’s also been motivated by his son and daughter, who both ran the mile on Saturday. “I want to set an example,” he said.

“I see her training and pushing herself. I want to do the same,” he said of his daughter. “My son doesn’t like running as much, but he did the mile with my daughter and they both did excellent. They’re the inspiration for me.”

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