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Boston first majors to add competitive Para division

In Summary

• Boston Athletic Association introduces a new ‘Para Athletic Division’ with categories for classified ambulatory athletes with vision, lower-limb and upper-limb impairments

• The competitive division, the first created by a major marathon, is designed to attract runners who crave a high-performance challenge.

Henry Wanyoike and his guide Joseph Kibunja during the 2004 Athens Paralympics Games
Henry Wanyoike and his guide Joseph Kibunja during the 2004 Athens Paralympics Games
Image: FILE

When Adam Popp was becoming a marathoner after losing a leg in Afghanistan, his goal was qualifying for Boston. “That’s what you hear about, that’s the pinnacle,” said the retired Air Force sergeant. “After I did it in 2017 it was, well, that’s kind of it. What’s next?”

Next year runners who meet the competitive standards will be racing for official recognition and prize money as the Boston Athletic Association introduces a new ‘Para Athletic Division’ with categories for classified ambulatory athletes with vision, lower-limb and upper-limb impairments.

“It’s another step on a journey to recognize all forms of athletic participation,” said BAA chief executive officer Tom Grilk. “I hope what it helps to do is to broaden everyone’s understanding that there are different ways to compete and there are different forms of competition to which people can aspire.”

The BAA, which for years has welcomed runners with impairments, will continue its adaptive programs and keep the existing time standards of five hours for visually impaired athletes, six hours for mobility-impaired and eight for those needing aids like crutches or leg braces. “If you’re saying, ‘I’m not ready for [the competitive division], I’m not there yet, I just want to be in the race, I need a little more support,’ then you have a program where you can come in as well,” said Marla Runyan, the BAA’s Athletes with Disabilities manager.

The competitive division, the first created by a major marathon, is designed to attract runners who crave a high-performance challenge. “There hasn’t been a huge amount of amputees willing to spend the time racing at a high level in the marathon because there was no field like this,” said Dedham native Brian Reynolds, who has run in London and Chicago. “This is the first step to making it competitive on a much larger scale. This is how wheelchair racing got big a few decades ago, when they started introducing competitive fields at the world majors.”

By establishing a formal Para Division as a subset of the open field and offering a total purse of $16,500 with $1,500 for victors, the BAA will recognize excellence across all competitive categories. “What’s going to be special about this race is that there’s no other race doing that,” said Popp, who has competed in both the Invictus and Warrior Games for injured or ill service members. “To put the spotlight on these runners, to show how many people can actually do this type of thing and do it well, is going to be a draw for those who are just getting into the sport or wondering, can I do that?”