Ne­wark team heads to Bos­ton

Sinko to push teen in marathon

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

Steve Sinko will be among the ex­pected 30,000 com­peti­tors run­ning in the Bos­ton Marathon on Monday – some­thing he al­ready has done five other times.

“There’s no rea­son for me to go back,” said Sinko, who works as a per­sonal trainer at Fu­sion Fit­ness, a gym on Main Street in Ne­wark, and also coaches the cross-coun­try and track teams at Ne­wark Char­ter School.

Sinko, 41, quickly qual­i­fied, how­ever, that he ran those pre­vi­ous five Bos­ton Marathons solo.

This time, Sinko will be push­ing Pre­ston Bue­naga, a 19-year-old Wilm­ing­ton res­i­dent, along that fa­mous 26.2-mile route while the teen sits in a spe­cial rac­ing chair on three wheels. Pre­ston has mi­to­chon­drial dis­ease and is un­able to walk on his own.

It will be Pre­ston’s first Bos­ton Marathon, and his pres­ence in that rac­ing chair on Monday will put the event into a new, ex­cit­ing light for Sinko.

“As far as spec­tac­u­lar goes, there’s noth­ing like the Bos­ton Marathon. There are 30,000 runners. There’s one mil­lion peo­ple spec­tat­ing. Spec­ta­tors are along the route, from start to fin­ish. There are no gaps,” Sinko said, adding, “So this will be a new ex­pe­ri­ence for Pre­ston, and I’m ex­cited about that.”

Of­fer­ing new ex­pe­ri­ences to peo­ple like Pre­ston is, af­ter all, why the Fu­sion In­clu­sion or­ga­ni­za­tion, an off­shoot of Fu­sion Fit­ness, was estab­lished about four years ago.

Sinko is pres­i­dent of Fu­sion In­clu­sion, which works to pro­mote mak­ing ex­er­cise and ath­let­ics ac­ces­si­ble to all. Through fundrais­ers and do­na­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has pur­chased seven rac­ing chairs, with each cost­ing about $4,600.

Pre­ston, at this point, is quite fa­mil­iar with oc­cu­py­ing the rac­ing chair dur­ing train­ing runs and com­pet­i­tive races.

Sinko, for ex­am­ple, pushed Pre­ston in a 5K race in Ne­wark in July 2015, be­fore build­ing up to the Philadel­phia Marathon in Novem­ber 2016, fin­ish­ing it in slightly less than three hours.

Pre­ston’s mother, Deb Bue­naga, an avid run­ner, too, has been push­ing her son dur­ing prac­tice ses­sions and in nu­mer­ous races in sev­eral states. She has been a run­ner for about six years.

Deb, who started run­ning be­cause she sought an ac­tiv­ity that she could share with Pre­ston, has been cham­pi­oning in­clu­sion since 2012. Friends and fam­ily helped her pur­chase the rac­ing chair that she uses to push Pre­ston.

Deb, 52, weighs 138 pounds. With Pre­ston weigh­ing about 145 pounds and the chair tip­ping the scale at 44 pounds, Deb pushes 189 pounds ev­ery time she runs while Pre­ston ac­com­pa­nies her.

De­spite hav­ing to push some 50 pounds more than her own weight, Deb has com­pleted three marathons while push­ing Pre­ston, in­clud­ing one in Vir­ginia Beach, Va., amid a nor’easter in just un­der five hours and the Marine Corp. Marathon in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in Oc­to­ber in slightly more than five hours.

Pre­ston is a source of mo­ti­va­tion.

“We were at about 24 miles [in the Marine Corp. Marathon], when I felt like I couldn’t con­tinue. I told Pre­ston that I didn’t think I could fin­ish and he said, ‘Come on mom, you can do it’,” Deb said, not­ing that it in­spired her to com­plete the race.

Be­ing in that rac­ing chair puts Pre­ston in his el­e­ment, ac­cord­ing to Deb.

“Pre­ston likes to be around peo­ple and he thrives best when that’s the case. This gives him an op­por­tu­nity to so­cial­ize. He talks to me or Steve while we’re run­ning. He also talks to peo­ple at the races and jokes with them,” Deb said, adding with a chuckle, “And when there are pretty girls around, that makes it even bet­ter.”

Re­lat­ing to Pre­ston’s love of so­cial sit­u­a­tions, Pre­ston and Steve were guests last week on Philadel­phi­abased WMMR ra­dio’s The Pre­ston & Steve Show.

“The theme was Pre­ston and Steve meet Pre­ston and Steve,” Deb said, not­ing that the in­ter­view­ers touched on the up­com­ing Bos­ton Marathon.

Sinko cited sim­i­lar ben­e­fits, all in line with Fu­sion Fit­ness ob­jec­tives.

“The goal is to give peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to be out and to ex­pe­ri­ence new things. I want them to ex­pe­ri­ence what I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing,” Sinko sum­ma­rized.

As for push­ing Pre­ston while Sinko runs to train or com­pete, the ex­pe­ri­ence now hinges on the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the two of them.

“At this point, be­ing in that chair isn’t new to Pre­ston. The nov­elty has worn off a bit,” Sinko said. “But what is new is our in­ter­ac­tion and the places we go to­gether. What’s new are the songs we sing to­gether, the things we talk about and the things we see. I be­lieve he re­ally ap­pre­ci­ates all that.”

That’s why this Bos­ton Marathon is so ex­cit­ing for Sinko, even though he’s run it five other times.

“Like I said, he gets to ex­pe­ri­ence what I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing – but I also get to ex­pe­ri­ence what he’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. This is his first time there, and the Bos­ton Marathon is a big deal,” Sinko said.

In prepa­ra­tion, Sinko has been run­ning sev­eral miles a day, some­times push­ing Pre­ston, some­times sim­u­lat­ing his pres­ence in that rac­ing chair.

“I put dumb­bells in there when he isn’t with me, so there is some weight. I run about 70 miles a week. I do 16 to 21 miles once a week, on a week­end day,” Sinko said. “I train harder when I know that I’m go­ing out there with Pre­ston. I want it to be a good ex­pe­ri­ence for him.”

Sinko first met Pre­ston and his mom a few years ago at a Fu­sion Fit­ness fundraiser for Pre­ston’s Play­ground, a hand­i­cappedac­ces­si­ble play­ground planned for the base of the Ne­wark Reser­voir. The play­ground will al­low all chil­dren – re­gard­less of dis­abil­i­ties – to play to­gether in a safe, ac­ces­si­ble space.

Sinko started train­ing Deb so she could run races while push­ing Pre­ston in the adaptive chair.

Around that time, Sinko hadn’t run a marathon in quite a while be­cause of a foot in­jury. He lacked the mo­ti­va­tion to train – un­til he saw Deb’s mo­ti­va­tion and the joy of cross­ing the fin­ish line on Pre­ston’s face, he ex­plained.

FILE PHOTO

Steve Sinko will push Pre­ston Bue­naga, 19, in the Bos­ton Marathon on Monday.

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