Joe Rooney ’04 Pushes Paraplegic in NYC Marathon for Reeve Foundation
November 7, 2019
Pushing a race-style wheelchair in a marathon? That had not previously been in his repertoire.
In last weekend’s New York City Marathon, Rooney teamed up with Mikey Nichols to race through the five boroughs. Nichols, an alumnus of Monroe High School where Rooney currently teaches, was paralyzed during an ice hockey game in 2014.
“Although I didn’t have him as a student, Mikey and I had bonded in the hallways over a mutual love for hip-hop and poetry. He was always known for his character, sense of humor and upbeat personality,” Rooney said. “Mikey did not waste any time feeling bad for himself, and he quickly became an outspoken advocate for The Reeve Foundation.”
Two years ago, Nichols told Rooney that his goal was to hand-cycle the NYC Marathon one day. At the time, Rooney was training for the Philadelphia Marathon and thought of something he had learned during his days on the CBA team.
“Looking back on my days at the Academy, I was taught that running was a team sport,” Rooney said. “With Mikey, I am able to honor that tradition by again being a part of something much bigger than myself: a movement to spread awareness and raise funds, ultimately to fight for a paralysis cure.”
The two quickly formulated a plan to make Nichols’ dream a reality. When it was time to pick a fundraising challenge, the two knew that there was only one organization they truly wanted to run for.
“Representing the Reeve Foundation, it gave Mikey and I a profound sense of purpose,” Rooney said. “The foundation focuses on ‘today’s care and tomorrow’s cure.’ They are at the forefront of assisting the newly paralyzed with supportive resources, while pushing innovative research. We embraced our role in utilizing the New York City Marathon to promote our hope and optimism for the paralyzed community.”
They began training for the Marathon, working up from a “measly” four miles to the Sandy Hook Half Marathon last month. Nichols uses a Hoyt Racer, an aerodynamic three-wheeler, which required plenty of practice and training for Rooney to steer.
“Leading up to the race, Mikey and I were able to develop a fun dynamic in how we interacted with humor and positivity on our runs,” Rooney said “Sharing that love of hip-hop music, we rapped along with lyrics of the Notorious BIG and Tupac throughout the streets of Monroe. Our community rallied behind us, and it was entertaining to see our faithful following grow in size.”
Rooney and Nichols did not just finish the Marathon, they defied all their expectations. The pair finished in an impressive three hours and 51 minutes, which is good for a pace of eight minutes and 50 seconds per mile. That included hamstring tightness in the 24th mile that threatened Rooney’s ability to finish the race.
To no surprise, they persevered to finish the final two-plus miles through Central Park. When it was over, the race was a blur of emotions for Rooney.
“I’m still processing the actual race,” he said. “It was such an adrenaline-inducing course with the consistent, ecstatic crowd lining the streets, long inclines and declines over bridges, and diversely populated runners sharing camaraderie. We saw a few blind runners being assisted by guides and heard words of encouragement in several languages.”
Since the Asbury Park Press first covered their story two weeks ago, Rooney and Nichols have been interviewed or profiled by ABC News, CBS News, The New York Post, News 12 New Jersey and more. They even received a congratulatory call from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy after the race.
Their fundraising efforts have ultimately raised over $42,000 for the Reeve Foundation, blasting through their original goal of $30,000. Their fundraising page is still actively accepting donations for the Foundation here.
Rooney credits his days at CBA for instilling in him the traits of discipline, loyalty and resilience. He still looks back on his English classes with Mr. Joe Fili and his training with Coach Tom Heath as profound building moments in his life.
“Mr. Fili taught our class to have the intellectual discipline to question everything, including our meaning and purpose,” Rooney said. “Coach Heath often said ‘life is a build-up.’ Back then, I knew he meant that runs should always be progressive in nature. Now, after teaching for 10 years and chasing dreams outside of running, Heath’s advice has a different connotation.”