WESTFIELD, NJ — It would have been a typical Tuesday November morning at Tamaques Park. Orange and yellow leaves were drifting down from the trees as joggers and dog walkers made their way around the park’s drive in a leisurely pace. Except, just five days before the New York City Marathon, Westfield native and current resident Dennis McGorty was in full training mode zipping around the park in excess of 25 MPH on his handcycle putting in his final training push before Sunday’s big race – catching the eye of amazed onlookers.
“This is just great,” said McGorty with a big smile as he came in for a pit stop between blasts around the park’s loop to speak to the camera crew for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation who were filming him for a video on handcycling and Team Reeve. “I could do this all day.”
At Sunday’s marathon McGorty, who rides for Team Reeve, will reach speeds as high as 40 MPH down the Verrazano Bridge as he hopes to complete the 26.2 miles in under 1 hour 45 minutes — faster than the projected winning men’s runners time of approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes.
“It’s an amazing experience from start to finish,” said McGorty. “The entire course is lined with people packed onto the street cheering.”
As a former collegiate decathlon and track and field champion at the University of North Carolina and later as an avid cyclist, Dennis McGorty knew first-hand the joy of being involved in sports. Now more than three years after becoming paralyzed from the waist down after his bicycle was hit by a truck near his house on the way back from a long ride, McGorty is gearing up for this year’s marathon and looking to continue to regain not only his physicality but his will to compete again.
McGorty got his handcycle from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which will be the recipient of this year’s Greta’s Run fundraiser in Westfield.
“It makes me feel like me again,” said McGorty, 46, who in his first-ever race since his injury finished 11th place in the handcycle division last year in New York with a time of 1:43.00. “Cycling was such a big part of my life and to be able to do it again in some form is great- not just for the sport, but for the camaraderie of cycling.”
McGorty was so good in track at Westfield High School that he still holds the 400 meter high hurdles record and was an Olympic hopeful in the decathlon as a collegiate athlete before a series of leg injuries slowed him down.
His past athletic achievements have helped to give him the drive to push through the exhaustion of first rehabilitation and now what it takes to complete and train for a marathon on a handcycle. But he credits the incredible support of his wife and two school age children with giving him the strength to be motivated every day.
“My family is everything,” said McGorty. “They are my biggest cheerleaders – not just for the marathon but in my life and working to continue to get stronger and gain recovery,”
McGorty, a builder and real estate investor before the accident, said that he would like to ride more in the future, including more marathons and races. His current training includes combining work on a stationary handcycle that he has in his house and riding on the road to help him develop the arm strength, endurance and pace for racing. He likes to train in Tamaques Park which he can ride to from his house and on occasion still goes out with his old riding buddies for a longer trips. Since his handcycle is so low to the ground he always likes someone to be with him to help look out for cars. Still his number one focus remains “being a husband and father,” he said.
Last year’s marathon was a milestone for McGorty and his family.
“It was an incredible day,” he said, “a wave of happiness of the possibilities that lay ahead.” With McGorty’s focus and determination to reach new goals in sports and with his continued independence the possibilities are, in fact, still very much unknown.
“Dennis is not afraid of obstacles,” said his wife, Anita. “Whether blasting through or chipping away at them, he’ll keep going. Giving up is never an option for him.”
For additional information on Team Reeve or to donate to Team McGorty visit give.reeve.org/teammcgorty.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org