Push Rim Division History
Throughout its long and storied history, the B.A.A. Boston Marathon has served as a proving ground for anyone accepting the challenge of the marathon.
As the decade of the 1970s commenced, wheelchair participants began to answer this challenge. On April 20, 1970, Eugene Roberts, a Vietnam War veteran who had lost both legs in combat, became the first person to complete the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair. Although Roberts was not officially entered, he was permitted to begin shortly before the noon start. Long after most runners had finished, Roberts, who attracted an entourage of well-wishers over the final miles, crossed the finish line at 6:07 p.m.
The Boston Marathon was devoid of similar wheelchair participation over the subsequent four years, but on April 21, 1975, Bob Hall forever changed the future of the sport. A 23-year-old native of Belmont, Massachusetts, Hall became the first officially recognized participant using a wheelchair when Race Director Will Cloney assured him that he would receive an official finishers’ certificate if he completed the course in less than three hours. Hall responded by crossing the line in two hours, 58 minutes, and the B.A.A. made good on its promise.
Hall’s performance was a source of encouragement for countless others with similar ailments and limitations. In much the same manner that Bill Rodgers helped spark the running boom, Bob Hall created interest among physically challenged athletes. As a result, the Boston Marathon became the world’s first major marathon to incorporate a wheelchair division.
Reflecting on the inaugural race, Hall said, “This was a big deal. It was a sign that things were going to be different. I wasn’t viewed as just a handicapped athlete in a wheelchair. The spectators sincerely recognized the physical achievement I was making.”
In the 1990s, Jean Driscoll of Illinois combined athleticism, grace, and sportsmanship in bringing the division to the forefront of the public’s attention. She won consecutively from 1990 to 1996, equaling the all-time Boston Marathon mark set by Clarence H. DeMar in the men’s open race from 1911 to 1930.
In 2001, Ernst van Dyk of South Africa would begin to dominate the sport like none other before him. Having succeeded five-time champion Franz Nietlispach (1995, 1997–2000), van Dyk won from 2001 to 2006, including 2004 when he raced to the world record (1:18:27), becoming the first person to break the one-hour, 20-minute barrier. After reclaiming the title in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014, he became the most successful Boston Marathon competitor of all-time with 10 wins.
The sport of professional wheelchair racing could never have imagined what was coming when Tatyana McFadden began her reign of victories in 2013. The American not only won the Boston Marathon in four straight years (2013–2016), but dominated every major marathon in the world during that same time period.
In 2017, a pair of Swiss stars in Marcel Hug and Manuela Schar re-wrote the record books by setting world bests and course records of 1:18:04 and 1:28:17, respectively. Hug narrowly edged van Dyk in a sprint for the ages (both men crossed the line in 1:18:04), while Schar defeated the rest of the women’s field by nearly five minutes.
Over 1,600 push rim wheelchair athletes have completed the Boston Marathon, and with the introduction of prize money in 1986 by John Hancock Financial, the push rim wheelchair division boasts the richest prize purse in the sport. The Boston Marathon is also part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wheelchair Series, which crowns champions and awards prize money based on points accumulated over a year’s span of races.