Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk competes in wheelchair racing.
It’s not that Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk isn’t excited about winning the Chicago Marathon last month. And yes, he knows it was his first World Marathon Majors win, and that he beat some serious competition in the wheelchair division in dramatic fashion.
Instead, his mindset remains clearly calm and solely focused on the future, and not getting too celebratory about his victory.
That’s in part because the future comes fast in his sport. Romanchuk, 20, is part of the elite men’s field for this Sunday’s New York City Marathon, and he wants to use the hilly course to test his stamina.
“It is absolutely great to win a race like Chicago, a world major like that, but once the race finished, I am already thinking about winning the next one,” said Romanchuk, a Maryland native who now trains and lives in Champaign, Illinois. “I would love to have a few days back in Maryland and get some training on the hills there. I’m in Illinois, which is great for flat and distance. So, I’ve got to get ready for some new terrain in New York City.”
The New York City Marathon, which features top Americans in all four elite fields, attracts upwards of 50,000 runners each year who make their way through each of the city’s five boroughs.
Romanchuk comes into the New York race on top of the World Marathon Series XII leaderboard, leading Canadian Brent Lakatos by a point and Paralympic marathon champion Marcel Hug of Switzerland by two points.
Hug and Romanchuk sprinted to the finish in Chicago, with the American winning with a final push. That’s no small feat, as Hug is one of the sport’s best. He comes to New York City as a three-time champ, whereas no American man has won the wheelchair division.
Romanchuk said his confidence level feels the same as before Chicago, because he takes every race as its own challenge.
“You have to see that everything is different: the course shifts, the tactics change, the weather is different,” Romanchuk said. “I look at what I can improve on in a race, how I can get better going forward.”
Romanchuk’s growth in the marathon is a deliberate arc. He has made several significant changes since competing at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, where he competed in five races ranging from 100 to 5,000 meters. For example, he changed from soft gloves to hard plastic, for more leverage, and changed his competition chair from aluminum to carbon fiber.
He trains with the elite University of Illinois wheelchair racing team, the home for other Paralympians such as 17-time medalist Tatyana McFadden and seven-time medalist Amanda McGrory, who are also racing this weekend.
He also is learning the mental side of marathoning, developing his tactics through the long training cycles. He is building his career into being one of the world’s elite wheelchair marathoners, with this year serving as his breakout. In 2018, he has finished second in the London Marathon, third in Boston and won Chicago.
“It’s definitely different training (for a marathon) physically, getting those miles in,” Romanchuk said. “I’m physically training more longer sessions. Mentally, it is a big jump from training on the track. That’s predictable with all left turns and no surface change.
“With a marathon, you have to keep track of road conditions. Where are the hills and turns? You have to anticipate anything that could change the outcome, like not going into a pothole. Twenty-six miles is an interesting challenge.”
Romanchuk says his ultimate training goal is qualifying for Tokyo 2020. He is taking a light class schedule at Parkland Community College, which is near his training base. He said finishing college on a full-time schedule is not possible right now, as he is seriously booked with training, races and travel.
“I’d say things are going very well right now,” Romanchuk said. “My training has been pretty consistent last few years. I just want to keep this going.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for the New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.