Push Rim Division History

Throughout its long and storied history, the B.A.A. Boston Marathon has served as a proving ground for anyone accepting the challenge of the marathon.

As the decade of the 1970s commenced, wheelchair participants began to answer this challenge. On April 20, 1970, Eugene Roberts, a Vietnam War veteran who had lost both legs in combat, became the first person to complete the Boston Marathon in a wheelchair. Although Roberts was not officially entered, he was permitted to begin shortly before the noon start. Long after most runners had finished, Roberts, who attracted an entourage of well-wishers over the final miles, crossed the finish line at 6:07 p.m.

The Boston Marathon was devoid of similar wheelchair participation over the subsequent four years, but on April 21, 1975, Bob Hall forever changed the future of the sport. A 23-year-old native of Belmont, Massachusetts, Hall became the first officially recognized participant using a wheelchair when Race Director Will Cloney assured him that he would receive an official finishers’ certificate if he completed the course in less than three hours. Hall responded by crossing the line in two hours, 58 minutes, and the B.A.A. made good on its promise.

Hall’s performance was a source of encouragement for countless others with similar ailments and limitations. In much the same manner that Bill Rodgers helped spark the running boom, Bob Hall created interest among physically challenged athletes. As a result, the Boston Marathon became the world’s first major marathon to incorporate a wheelchair division.

Reflecting on the inaugural race, Hall said, “This was a big deal. It was a sign that things were going to be different. I wasn’t viewed as just a handicapped athlete in a wheelchair. The spectators sincerely recognized the physical achievement I was making.”

Several repeat champions — George Murray (1978, 1985), Andre Viger (1984, 1986–1987), Mustapha Badid (1988, 1990), and Sherry Ramsey (1983–1984) — helped to establish the division, but it was Jim Knaub and Candace Cable, with 11 victories between them, who gave the “wheelies” a personality in the 1980s and early 1990s. Knaub won five times between 1982 and 1993, establishing a world record in four of those races, and Cable recorded four of her six victories consecutively between 1985 and 1988.

In the 1990s, Jean Driscoll of Illinois combined athleticism, grace, and sportsmanship in bringing the division to the forefront of the public’s attention. She won consecutively from 1990 to 1996, equaling the all-time Boston Marathon mark set by Clarence H. DeMar in the men’s open race from 1911 to 1930. Jean Driscoll’s rival, Australia’s Louise Sauvage, beat Driscoll in 1997, 1998, and 1999. Driscoll displayed her hallmark determination by regaining the title in 2000. These days, it’s Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida and America’s Tatyana McFadden breaking the tape with regularity in the women’s division. Tsuchida’s 2011 victory was her fifth consecutive, with the fastest time ever in the women’s division. McFadden won both the 2013 and 2014 crowns.

Ten-time champion Ernst van Dyk of South Africa remains the current dominant force in the division. Having
succeeded five-time champion Franz Nietlispach (1995, 1997–2000), van Dyk won from 2001 to 2006, including 2004 when he raced to the world record (1:18:27), becoming the first person to break the one hour, 20 minute barrier. van Dyk, who had targeted Heinz Frei’s 1994 course record (1:21:23) for years, appreciates history and, after reclaiming the title in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2014, became the most successful Boston Marathon competitor of all time.

2011 gave us one of the most exciting men’s races in history, with van Dyk finishing third behind Japan’s Masuzumi Soejima and Australia’s Kurt Fearnley. All three competitors finished within one second of each other. The women’s competition was not nearly as close, but equally as exciting, with Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida rewriting the history books with her 1:34:06 finishing time. This broke Driscoll’s course record by 18 seconds.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather that slowed down the majority of the runners in 2012, Canada’s Joshua Cassidy dominated the men’s race. Cassidy pulled away well before the halfway mark and never looked back. He crossed the finish line in 1:18:25, breaking van Dyk’s world best and course record by two seconds.

In 2014, Ernst van Dyk scored his 10th Boston Marathon title, solidifying his spot as the winningest athlete in Boston Marathon history. On the women’s side, American Tatyana McFadden defended her title.