By: Gabriel Langlois
It’s easy to give up, especially when all the odds are stacked against you. At 12 years-old, I’ve been dealing with spina bifida my whole life. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect caused prior to birth when the spine does not close all the way. This has caused me to be in a wheelchair my entire life as my legs don’t work at all, but that hasn’t stopped me yet.
In 2021, I went with my dad to watch his coworker, Matt Kasten run in the Community First Fox Cities Marathon. He ran the full marathon, and he won first place for the men. I was inspired by him and I wanted to race too.
I told my dad I wanted to race and he said if I started practicing and really wanted to, he would run alongside me in the ThedaCare Half Marathon in 2022. My grandpa even decided to join us for the race!
I did just that and in the 2022 ThedaCare Half Marathon, my dad and grandpa were right by my side as I pushed myself through the course, in my everyday wheelchair, all 13.1 miles. Thanks to many long nights of practice, crossing that finish line was a huge rush.
At that moment, I instantly knew I wanted to do more races. Yet, racing in a regular wheelchair is much harder than you might think. The chair doesn’t have speed and cannot go as fast as you want. It takes an immense amount of arm strength to keep pushing myself and during the half marathon, my arms were TIRED when I crossed that finish line.
I shared my story with a few local media outlets. An organization called Paul’s Party saw one of the stories on WFRV-TV, the Green Bay, Wisconsin CBS affiliate station and wanted to see me succeed. I had been telling my dad that I wanted a racing wheelchair for a long time, but he kept telling me they were too expensive. Paul’s Party wanted to help, and said they could get us a chair if we were willing to help by being involved in a fundraising event. The day of the event they surprised me and my entire family at the charity event we were helping out with when they gave me a racing wheelchair.
That racing wheelchair is quite a bit different than my regular wheelchair. I’m so excited to be able to use it to race professionally. There is definitely a learning curve to the racing wheelchair, but I’m working on it and training with my dad.
My dad told me last year that he wasn’t going to run a full marathon, but I told him I had different plans. Despite having a surgery scheduled in June, I’ve just signed up for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon. Yes, you read that right, I’m going for all 26.2 miles. My doctor said I might not be ready by September after spinal fusion in June, but those who know me best know this is what to expect from me. In fact, my dad is running with me again this year. I’ll need his help because due to the surgery, I won’t be able to train using the racing chair safely. My dad knows I’m going to try my hardest and has promised to push me if I get tired. This means using my everyday wheelchair – but hopefully for the last time.
My dad always says I don’t realize it yet, but we’re making memories that will last a lifetime. I don’t know about all that, but what I do know is that I will see you on race day – I’ll be the boy in the wheelchair who is beating the odds. See you at the finish line!