Daniel Romanchuk competes in the first round of the Men's 800m T54 on Day Two of the IPC World Para Athletics Championships 2019 Dubai on November 08, 2019.
Of all the accolades and prizes Daniel Romanchuk has collected over the years as a wheelchair racer, there is one thing he saved that he never wanted.
It’s a deformed, dented and unusable helmet.
Romanchuk, a 2016 Paralympian in wheelchair racing, was training on a low-traffic road in the Kickapoo State Recreation Area in Illinois last year. He was going through a big loop that stretched a few miles long, and, going possibly 20 miles per hour, he was not able to turn after a downhill. He sped down into a ditch, crashed and broke a 2-inch thick tree branch.
“I was like, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’” he said. “(My) chair did not have a scratch. Helmet was fried. I actually kept it as a little bit of a memory, but it’s got a nice dent in it.”
Prior to any race, Romanchuk makes sure his equipment is in top shape, including checking his visor, which he uses as added eye protection, and klister. Klister is a glue-like substance racers use to get better friction between their hand rings and gloves.
Then there’s the helmet he has to check, and nobody knows its importance better than he.
“The helmet probably saved my life in general, and the visor my vision,” he said of his now-retired helmet.
Romanchuk said he tries to tour the locations of road races with his mom before they start. He said they will drive the courses from start to finish, and assess road conditions and terrain.
For international races, he will utilize the street view function of Google Maps to review the course and landmarks to know his location in the race. He will also fly to locations a few days prior to adjust to the area.
While road and weather conditions are a factor, Romanchuk will strategize his race performance based off the field’s competitors.
“I try running through a mock race, and try to predict, in a sense, what could happen, and how I would respond,” Romanchuk said.
Another part of his marathon prep, Romanchuk said, is just attending practice.
He jokes about his coming to Illinois to train and live.
“Coming to practice every day is a decision I made when I decided to come out here,” said Romanchuk, who is originally from Maryland. “I wasn’t going to come all the way out here just to be skipping one or two practices a week. … I could just wake up and say, ‘Uh, it’s just one practice, it’s fine.’ But over the long run, that repeated decision will have a detrimental effect on performance.”
Romanchuk is still relatively new to the international racing landscape. He first started participating in wheelchair racing at the age of 5 for the Bennett Blazers in Baltimore, Maryland. With some assistance from wheelchair racing star Tatyana McFadden, T54 racer Romanchuk hopped into marathons when he was 14.
He made his international debut in 2015. He has won six of his last seven marathons dating back to the 2018 Chicago Marathon. He is the first U.S. racer to win the New York Marathon, and the youngest male racer to win the race, as well.
He currently leads in the Abbott World Marathon Majors in the men’s wheelchair division. He has 66 points, while Englishman David Weir is in second with 44. He has already qualified for the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021. It will be his second Paralympic appearance.
Still attending a nearby community college, he continues training alongside elite Team USA racers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
After being stuck in Maryland for months earlier this year, he came back to Champaign-Urbana to smaller groups of training.
“That was probably the first time I had done group training for those few months,” he said. “Even then, it was whoever was in town (would train).”
Romanchuk said his training for races has returned mostly back to normal, minus a few precautions. They still push on Champaign and Urbana roads for miles, but he said they have small groups.
When asked about his reaction to how quickly he ascended the world wheelchair rankings, Romanchuk noted his focus of bettering himself.
“The mentality that I have, it’s very, ‘What can I do now to make myself better tomorrow?’”