WESTFIELD, NJ — When Dennis McGorty cranked his handcycle bike through the massive incline of the 59th Street Bridge going from Queens to Manhattan during this year’s New York City Marathon, he had that familiar feeling that he has been largely missing since being struck by a truck on his racing bike in the spring of 2013.

“That’s the toughest stretch,” said Mcorty. “There’s no one there, there are no crowds cheering, it’s dark, you’re on the lower level. You really have to push yourself through that one. But once you come around the corner in Manhattan the streets are lined again and it’s great.”

This was McGorty’s third consecutive New York City Marathon riding for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s Team Reeve in the handcyle division, the only three races the former Westfield High School and University of North Carolina track star has been in since the accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, in a body cast for close to five months and with years of intense physical therapy.

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“I’m feeling more fit,” said McGorty, who finished this year’s race in 1 hour and 55 minutes. “Just being out on a bike. There is a freedom to being out on a bike.”

Now that McGorty is finally feeling more like his old self, he has the bug to compete again. It’s been a long process. McGorty was a successful trader on Wall Street and then ventured into his real passion of building homes. Just as his home building career was taking off, the accident occurred. He lives in a house that he designed and had built. He has had to put his work on hold while recovering from his considerable injuries. McGorty was returning home from a long training ride when his bike was struck by a gardening truck on South Avenue, changing his life path.

“My helmet saved my life, said McGorty, “It shattered, it was in 10 pieces.”

While he is still mulling over his future in terms of work, the doctors have told him that he is now finally as strong as someone can be after sustaining such a serious injury. He has a chronically sore shoulder and back, in addition to other aches and pains, but none of this holds him back from wanting to become a more competitive rider. While he trained harder for this year’s marathon then the previous ones, he hoped for a better outcome.

“I’ve been an athlete my whole life,” said McGorty,47,  who still holds the 400 meter high hurdles record at Westfield High School and was an Olympic hopeful in the decathlon in college before a series of leg injuries slowed him down. “I want to do even better. Finishing in the middle of the pack is not in my nature. It’s not just going out for a ride now. I want to be competitive.”

In addition to increasing his practice time and working on being a more efficient rider, McGorty wants to compete in the Boston Marathon, the San Francisco Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. “I just need more races,” he said. The Marine Corps has personal meaning to him because his dad, who recently passed away, was a Marine before having a career in the FBI. His main focus will always be New York.

McGorty has a legion of loyal supporters from his former co-workers to his old college teammates and the large bike-riding community in the Westfield area, some who came out during this year’s marathon to cheer him on. But it is his wife and two school-age children who provide him with a daily foundation, enabling him to make the strides that he has made.

“My family is everything,” said McGorty. ‘They are my biggest cheerleaders – not just for the marathon but in life and continuing to get stronger and gain recovery.”

During the past three New York City Marathons, Dennis and his wife, Anita, have also teamed up to raise more than $45,000 for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation’s efforts towards a cure for paralysis and quality of life initiatives. While Dennis has clearly been an inspiration to others, he said that his motivation comes from within and that “I’m out there to do the best that I can.” His best has allowed him to complete three New York City Marathons and, whether he wants to accept it or not, he has positively impacted scores of people who look up to him.

“I would rather see a world of empty wheelchairs,” said McCorty, “but while we are in them, let’s make the best of it.”

A frequent contributor to TAPinto Westfield, Mike Cohen is the founder/director of Throwback Sports (a sports program for children of all abilities) and the sports editor of Education Update. He can be reached at throwbacksports@verizon.net.