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Chance Online Meeting With A Fan Continues To Inspire Amanda McGrory

By Bob Reinert | Jan. 19, 2021, 8:33 p.m. (ET)

What began more than a decade ago with a single tweet from a fan has blossomed into a close personal friendship for U.S. Paralympic wheelchair racer Amanda McGrory.

After McGrory won the women’s wheelchair division at the 2009 London Marathon, she did a television interview with the BBC. Joe Monte of Welham Green in Hertfordshire, England, was watching and was impressed with what he saw and heard. Monte sent McGrory a congratulatory tweet, and then it was McGrory’s turn to be impressed.

“It just sounded so enthusiastic and so genuine,” McGrory recalled. “It just kind of flowed naturally from there. We had so many things in common and so many shared interests.”

Monte had been struck by McGrory’s upbeat personality, something he was lacking at that moment. He was struggling with anxiety and with his mother’s battle against cancer. Reaching out to McGrory was fortuitous for Monte: She was in the middle of pursuing her undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Illinois.

“I remember in one of my early psychology classes, the instructor was saying there’s research to back up the fact that speaking with an empathetic and kind and invested friend can be just as beneficial as a formal counseling session,” McGrory said. “It’s more about listening and hearing the person’s concerns than anything else. And if you are invested in that person and in the relationship, then it can be just as therapeutic for … both of you.”

Their virtual friendship moved forward. McGrory, a three-time Paralympian and seven-time medalist who also has collected 13 world championship medals, said the fact that they weren’t in each other’s daily lives proved beneficial to them both.

“I think it gives you the freedom to maybe be a little bit more expressive and talk about some of those things that you might not be comfortable discussing with other people in your life,” McGrory explained. “And I think that’s one of the things that made it easier.”

The two finally met when McGrory traveled to the 2012 London Marathon. When Monte’s mother, Janet, passed away, McGrory suggested that Monte do some traveling. During a three-month trip to Canada and the U.S., Monte visited McGrory at her family’s Philadelphia home. 

“We spent a lot of time together and became really close,” McGrory said.

Today, Monte manages his anxiety well and without the need for medication.

“I still have it and it’s ever-present to one degree or another, and sometimes it gets in the way a little more than others,” Monte said. “But I get by just fine with it now.”

Monte appreciates the impact that McGrory has had on his life, all built on the foundation of that initial tweet.

“It’s something I think about all the time,” Monte said. “I often wonder whether I would have got to this point if Amanda hadn’t been so kind and great to me at that time and ever since.”

Obviously inspired by McGrory’s example, Monte — a 34-year-old head groundsperson/gardener and a fine athlete in his own right — decided to train for and run in the 2017 New York City Marathon, in which McGrory placed third. Monte finished in 4 hours, 15 minutes.

McGrory and her parents waited for him at the finish line on a cold, wet day.

“It’s just typical of their support and care towards me over the years that they would do that,” Monte said. “I’m very grateful to them for that and everything else.”

Injuries have kept Monte out of any more marathons. 

“I haven’t actually been able to run or do any strenuous exercise since the marathon, sadly,” he said.

McGrory’s own competitive career paused in 2018 after she received her master’s degree in information science from Illinois and accepted an internship with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee archives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In July of this year, she took over as the USOPC’s archivist and collections curator. 

“Our main goal is just to preserve the history of the organization and the equipment and the athletes,” McGrory said. “It’s been amazing. Admittedly, (it’s been) a steep learning curve transitioning into it, but not a lot of people are lucky enough to combine all of their interests into one position, to one job. I feel very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in.

“It’s definitely an adventure. I never know what I’m going to find. I am still constantly surprised by the items that we uncover.”

McGrory’s training was further slowed by an injury in 2019 that kept her out of the marathon season. She bounced back to win two silver medals and a bronze at the Dubai 2019 World Para Athletics Championships. Then COVID-19 hit and erased the 2020 competitive calendar. 

“It was a pretty big disappointment to me when that was canceled,” McGrory said. “It was the first time since 2017 that I was feeling really strong and really ready to compete, and then nothing.”

Recently, her training has been restricted to the indoor rollers.

“I’ve been doing my best,” McGrory said. “It’s been a little bit tricky. We’ll see where we are in the spring.”

McGrory is hopeful that the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials will take place in advance of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 that were postponed this year to next August. She believes she will be ready. 

“I have a lot of faith in myself, in my ability, to be at the level that I want to be at,” McGrory said. “We still have a lot of time, and I’ve done a good job of maintaining my fitness levels. I feel pretty strong.”

The 34-year-old McGrory said that the Tokyo Games will likely be her last before retirement. 

“I have goals outside of sport alone,” McGrory said. “I am more than an athlete, and I exist outside of the sport. It has always been the most important thing for me to choose my retirement date and to be in control of that decision.

“I’m very happy with my achievements in the athletic world. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone else, or more importantly, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to myself.”

McGrory’s job with USOPC will help ease the transition from her elite athletic career to professional life.

“It gave me an opportunity to stay involved with the sport and involved with the movement,” McGrory said. “I think the hardest thing is going to be watching the sport continue to progress and not being a part of it.”

If she needs someone to talk to about this stage of her life, McGrory knows that she can always count on Joe Monte.

“He’s just a genuinely kind and very interesting person,” McGrory said. “There’s always something new and interesting to talk about.”

Bob Reinert

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to USParaTrackAndField.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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