Flat tire halts Paralympian’s NYC marathon attempt
Sometimes the hardest part is not to keep going, but seeing others pass by.
Sunday was Chinese wheelchair athlete Zou Lihong’s first New York City Marathon, and her right rear tire went flat at the 13th-mile point, halfway through the 26.2-mile five-borough run. The tire couldn’t be repaired.
Zou was invited to the event after winning the gold medal in the women’s marathon at the Rio Paralympics in the summer, where she narrowly beat Tatyana McFadden, an American marathoner who had swept 17 straight victories in major marathons, including Sunday’s.
“Rio was a surprise to all of us. It was only my fourth marathon,” said Zou. “Most of my competitors are very experienced. I admire McFadden a lot.”
McFadden won the women’s wheelchair race on Sunday, completing a grand slam of the London, Boston, Chicago and New York marathons for the fourth straight year. Marcel Hug of Switzerland won for the second year in the men’s wheelchair competition.
Mary Keitany of Kenya ran to her third consecutive victory for professional women, and in the men’s race, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, 20, of Eritrea, became the youngest winner in history.
Zou Lihong said she will try to come back to the US another time — to finish a marathon and to see the Statue of Liberty.
Despite not being in the best physical condition after a break from the Paralympics, Zou decided to accept the invitation to the NYC Marathon because it gave her another chance to be among the world’s best.
Her team supported and cheered for her through messages and calls. “It feels like they are all here with me,” she said during an interview before the race.
When she realized she couldn’t continue, she thought of her supporters.
“They tried so hard to make this trip happen for me. Getting the visa on a short notice alone was not easy. But I couldn’t finish,” she said.
While Zou waited for a bus to pick her up, a volunteer came to her, took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders.
Zou, 32, was born with polio that left her right leg paralyzed. She was managing a small grocery store in Dali, in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province in 2009 when the father of a disabled cyclist saw her on the street and told her about the possibility of becoming an athlete.
She went to Shanghai for a tryout and was told she had talent. Zou started with the fencing team. Her left leg was normal, so sitting in a wheelchair for a long run painfully numbs her leg, but she loves racing.
Zou maintained her smile and said she likes New York City. She will try to come back another time — to finish a marathon and to see the Statue of Liberty.
Chinese wheelchair athlete Zou Lihong competes in the New York City marathon on Sunday. She dropped out of the race at the 13th mile due to a flat tire.