Ernst van Dyk, 48 of Cape Town, South Africa finished in 5th place at today’s New York City Marathon wheelchair race.
“To finish New York is an achievement in itself,” he said. “And to finish in the top five is even better.”
van Dyk, a marathon veteran, was congratulated by a cheering crowd of volunteers, spectators, and police officers as he changed into a different wheelchair. He said it felt good to be back this year since the marathon was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The New York City Marathon, to him, is a different kind of marathon.
“It’s a really tough road surface, and thank heavens we got here [to the finish line],” he said.
While running the marathon is challenging for all, wheelchair racers are also faced with the hurdle of shipping their wheelchair to the location of the marathon.
“I get the most anxiety about whether my wheelchair will even make it from South Africa to here,” van Dyk said. “You can’t just run to the store to get new sneakers and then race.”
There was a time when van Dyk was not able to race in a past New York City Marathon because his wheelchair did not make it.
“I remember I sat and watched the marathon on tv instead,” he said. “It’s frustrating because you work so hard for it and then that happens, and you can’t do anything about it.”
He is no stranger to competing in wheelchair marathons. van Dyk is a ten-time winner of the Boston Marathon , a two-time winner of the New York City Marathon, and a bronze medalist at Beijing in 2008.
“My first paralympics was track in 1992,” he said. “I was a young king just starting out, surrounded by seasoned athletes. I just fell in love with it. Then I realized I was more of an endurance athlete, so I was competing in marathons.”
Van Dyk said training for marathons with a wheelchair is very different from those who are not. Since the lockdown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, van Dyk said sharing roads with traffic has been more stressful and tricky because people seem to be more impatient while travelling.
“Safety is something we always have to worry about when training,” he said. “We can’t just run on a trail. Instead, we have to share roads with traffic, and it can be a lot.”
He said that being a paralympian, the standard is set pretty high. With training, equipment, travel, and the amount of competition, it can seem like a lot for someone wanting to be like Ernst van Dyk.
“My advice,” he said. “yes there are a lot of pros out there, but you need to start somewhere, right?”