There were lots of smiles and quite a few tears of joy at the Cayman Islands Marathon on Sunday as 24-year-old Nikki Christian walked across the finish line.
Several months ago, seasoned marathoner Scott Ruby had the idea to help Ms. Christian compete in the race. She has a condition called spastic cerebral palsy, which limits her mobility, so she uses a wheelchair to get around. In order to participate in the race, they customized a specially designed racing wheelchair for Ms. Christian, which Mr. Ruby pushed.
It was the first time in Cayman Islands Marathon history that a runner pushed another competitor in a wheelchair.
To prepare for the event, the two trained together for months, spending Saturdays at Seven Mile CrossFit, and traversed more than 1,000 miles with the bright orange chair. They were assisted in their endeavor by a team called Nikki’s Voice, composed of Nikki’s family and friends who provided support and encouragement, cheering them through practices and on race day.
“You couldn’t count the number of times everybody yelled Nikki’s name,” Mr. Ruby said.
He said the “outpouring of love” lifted both him and Nikki through the marathon, which was especially tough due to the hot and humid conditions.
“I thought it was going to be really, really hard, and I was right,” Mr. Ruby said.
Mr. Ruby and Ms. Christian had a strong first half, finishing in a little over two hours. Mr. Ruby was hoping that he and Ms. Christian would finish the race in about four hours. But as he watched many other strong athletes “hitting the wall,” and some even dropping out of the race, Mr. Ruby decided to pull back a bit and keep a slower pace.
“We put aside ego and time for finishing just to make sure we got her to her goal, and that became more important,” Mr. Ruby said. “Let’s just remember, rule one of marathoning is finishing.”
Since time was no longer the priority, Mr. Ruby and Ms. Christian began to think about how to make their finish extra special.
Mr. Ruby asked Ms. Christian if she would be up for walking the last 40 meters (about 130 feet) of the race. During their time training together, the farthest Ms. Christian had walked was 30 meters (about 100 feet), but he told Ms. Christian that if she was going to do it, she should “do it like a marathoner,” and push herself to walk more than she ever had before. He asked her if she could make it that far.
Ms. Christian thought about it as they finished the last stretch of the marathon and decided she wanted to try. So, 40 or so meters before the finish line, Ms. Christian’s parents, Raymond and Velma, helped her out of her chair and held her arms as she put one foot in front of the other in a show of determination and grit.
A crowd, most clad in their orange Nikki’s Voice T-shirts, surrounded her and walked the last stretch with her, cheering and clapping.
Mr. Ruby is grateful to the organizers of the Cayman Islands marathon for allowing Nikki’s team to share that moment with her on the course.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about living in Cayman,” Mr. Ruby said. “We couldn’t have done that in Boston or at other marathons.”
As she made it across the finish line at 5:09:30, and Mr. Ruby lifted her up, Ms. Christian whispered to him, “Thank you.”
Although the marathon is over, there are more races in their future. Mr. Ruby said they will most likely compete in the Stride Against Cancer half-marathon, and they are “tinkering” with the idea of how to get Ms. Christian swimming so that she can compete in a triathalon.
“The sky’s the limit,” Mr. Ruby said.