Q&A With Three-Time Paralympian Amanda McGrory

By Melissa Zhang | Oct. 05, 2018, 1:41 p.m. (ET)

Amanda McGrory competes in a race.Amanda McGrory will compete in the 2018 Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 7th. 

Three-time Paralympian and seven-time medalist Amanda McGrory has been taking time away from her regular training regimens at the University of Illinois to work as an intern with the U.S. Olympic Committee archives. An avid marathon racer who has finished close to 100 marathons, McGrory will compete in the Chicago Marathon this Sunday.

USParalympics.org caught up with her before her trip to Illinois to ask her about her preparations and experience living and training in Colorado Springs.

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You’ve finished close to 100 marathons at this point and are heading to Illinois to race in the Chicago Marathon this Sunday. Has training been relatively consistent and similar for each  marathon?

 

It has been, but it's been a little bit of a change this year. I normally train at the University of Illinois with a group out there, so this is the first time since I started doing marathons in 2006 that I've been training on my own. That's been a challenge.

 

Working full-time and fitting training into my schedule has definitely been a challenge as well. I've been doing most of my training indoors on the rollers here. I'm used to being out in the middle of the country in Illinois with miles and miles of country road with no traffic in every direction so finding roads around here to train on. It's been a little bit more challenging and I'm a little nervous about it just because I don't know where I'm going -- if something happens, I don't know how I'd get back. It's been a lot of indoor training and it's been a little different for sure. 

 

In comparison to other training periods you’ve gone through leading up to marathons, how has this preparation process been? 

 

It's definitely been more inconsistent than my training normally is. But before I took the internship position out here, my coach and I had a big long talk about where my priorities were going to lie for the section of time that I was out here. This was the perfect year to take a season off.

 

We didn't have a world championship, there's no Paralympic Games, it's still two years out from Tokyo, so I've really been using this as an opportunity to focus on some of my professional goals and get a little bit of a break from training. Although sometimes I think I took a little bit too much of a break from training. [laughs]

 

But it's been really good to focus on something else. And now I feel kind of refreshed and ready, and I'm excited to get back to Champaign and get back to a little bit more consistent training schedule.

 

How has working at the USOC archives department been? Has that affected or shaped your outlook on the Olympic and Paralympic Movements as a whole?

 

It's definitely been cool to get a little taste of the USOC from the inside. I've been a Team USA member since 2006, so I've seen the USOC and U.S. Paralympics from the athlete side for a long time and I've had a lot of experience interacting with different people within the organization as an athlete.

 

Seeing things from the inside and why things happen and how things happen has given me a whole different perspective on the way that things are run and what it takes to run an organization like this. Then on top of that, just being in the archives and being surrounded by incredible artifacts and memorabilia from decades and decades ago -- it's really cool to be a part of. 

 

Have you had any particularly cool finds or experiences from working in the Archives Department?

Part of my position is working on this massive, five-year inventory project that we're doing. My job is to go through every single box that we have and make sure it matches up with the way it's listed in the computer program.

I've been really surprised by things I pull out of boxes. I once found Serena William's shoes from Beijing in a box! We have so much stuff; we recently acquired the world's most complete collection of Olympic prize medals and torches. It just so happened that I was here when it came in; it's incredible. It's an absolutely massive collection, so that's been really, really cool to be a part of. 

 

How has it been adjusting to Colorado Springs and the higher elevation here? 

 

I'm hoping that the elevation is going to give me a little bit of a trade-off for the less-than-consistent training that I've been doing [laughs], but we'll see. I was super enthusiastic when I signed up for all my fall marathons -- I have two more after Chicago in November -- and now that they're getting closer, I'm starting to feel a little bit more nervous. Before, they were like months and months off in the distance and I was just like ‘oh yeah this isn't a problem, I'll be ready for them.’ Then I took some time off over the summer and that's making me a little bit nervous for sure. 

 

I do think there's been a lot of really good things about living out here. Because I'm a current national team member, U.S. Paralympics was able to transfer bed space for me so that I could live at the training center here, which has been really great. If I had to worry about grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning my house and all of those things, on top of working and training, it wouldn't happen.

 

You spent a lot of time training and going to school in Illinois. Does it feel like you’re returning home, in some ways, when you race in Chicago?

 

It does, there's a lot of reasons I love Chicago. It does feel a little bit like a hometown marathon. It's one of the first marathons that I did when I started doing marathons. I think this will be my 11th, 12th -- I've done a lot of Chicago’s. That's always fun because you know the course, and I'm comfortable with it. It's fun to pass through neighborhoods that I know that friends live in and see people that I know out on the course, which is always great.

 

On top of that, the Chicago Marathon, and all of the majors, have made a really big push in the last couple of years to increase competition in the wheelchair division, push the prize money. It's been fantastic being a part of that growth. It's now a real possibility to be professional wheelchair racer and run marathons and make a salary that way.

 

It's been really incredible to be a part of that growth working with the race directors and the different organizations to help push things in that direction, which has only made it more competitive. Times are faster, the fields are bigger, and people can focus more on training. It's really just upped the level of competition overall throughout the world. 

 

Do you have any goals in mind for this specific marathon? 

 

To hang in there for dear life [laughs]! One of the other things that's been really interesting about being out here and training is that I'm used to such a big group at Illinois. The majority of wheelchair racers on Team USA train from that group in Champaign. Every day at practice I had my teammates there: Chelsea McClammer (Benton City, Washington), Susannah Scaroni (Tekoa, Washington), Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Maryland), who I know are going to be up there in that lead pack in the marathon. They kind of let me see where I am. So this is the first time that I haven't had that.

 

It's definitely a different experience coming in blind because I normally have a good idea of where I stand and where I'm going to finish  and this time I don't at all. I'm just going to hang on for dear life and hope for the best, [laughs] but after that, I'll have a pretty good gauge for how things in New York and things in Japan will go after that. 

 

What else are you most looking forward to in Chicago? 

The elite athlete coordinator [from the Chicago Marathon] and I put together a mentor program this year. This is the first year of the program and so we partnered six University of Illinois athletes, including myself, with local Chicago-area kids who are interested in getting started in wheelchair racing. There's an international 5K that runs the morning before the Chicago Marathon, so all of our kids are going to race it and we're going to race it with them. We're going to push the 5K with them the morning before the race, and then Sunday, they'll get the VIP treatment in the fancy finish line tent and they'll get to watch us compete Sunday. I'm really, really excited for that. 

I think wheelchair racing is one of the hardest sports to get into, and there's the most barriers to entry. The equipment is super expensive, which is not uncommon with adaptive athletics to begin with, but on top of that there are so many little things to learn. You really need to work with someone who knows what they're doing. It took me probably until I was in high school to have a racing chair that actually fit me correctly just because it's so, so specific.


I really think that being able to work with someone [like myself] who has experience there and knows what they're doing and has also followed that path from starting out with a local grassroots program and ending up in a collegiate program and going on to the Paralympic Games, is really cool. Paralympic sport is so much smaller and it's so much harder to find those athletes. There's less media attention and exposure of Paralympic sport, even in the age of the Internet, so it's really hard to find those connections sometimes. [The mentorship is] very cool to be a part of.