Amanda McGrory

ccshof logo Inducted

Amanda McGrory
Paralympian • Kennett Square

Amanda McGrory has been blazing new trails just about every day during the last two-plus decades. On Nov. 10th, McGrory will be at it again as she becomes the first disabled athlete to be welcomed into the Chester County Sports Hall of Fame. And at age 26, she will also become the youngest inductee ever.

One of the world's premier distant wheelchair racers, McGrory has established course records and prevailed in prestigious events all across the globe. "It says something about the openness of the community and the willingness to accept me as an accomplished athlete with a disability," said McGrory, a 2004 graduate of Unionville High School. "I sometimes have a hard time explaining that this is a real sport. I go to practice and I train. It's awesome to see the community embrace what I do."

Paralyzed from the waist down at the age of five, the Kennett Square resident was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder that is estimated to affect one-in-six-million. The doctors came up with a few theories as to how McGrory contacted the virus, but there has never been a definitive cause.

"I think part of the reason it was so difficult for me was that at age five it was very hard to understand," she acknowledged. "There was no event. It wasn't like I was in a car accident or fell out of a tree. It was just like any other day except I woke up and couldn't walk. It was a lonely place for a while because I had never met anyone with a disability." A native of Avondale, McGrory first began playing sports at a camp for kids with disabilities at age seven, and three years later she began racing and playing wheelchair basketball. In 1998, she won her first of many junior national titles, but it wasn't until 2006 while at the University of Illinois that she was talked into tackling her first marathon (26.2 miles). McGrory finished third in her first race, set a course record by 30 seconds later that month, and was hooked. The following season, McGrory set a pair of world records in the 5,000-meter, setting the stage for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. In addition to a gold medal in the 5,000, McGrory captured silver in the marathon, and bronze in the 800-meter as well as bronze as part of the women's 4x100 relay.

Later in 2008, she followed it up by winning her first New York City Marathon, establishing a new course record in the process. By 2010, she was a three-time winner of the Chicago Marathon and was also a key member of the Illinois wheelchair basketball squad, which won three national titles during her college tenure. Last year, she registered a rare double-dip by capturing prestigious marathons in London and New York, where shattered the course record by more than two minutes. And earlier this year she won the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K in Florida, and established the fastest recorded marathon time of 2012 in Grandmas Marathon in Minnesota. But the momentum waned at the 2012 Paralympics Summer Games Aug. 26-Sept. 9 in London. McGrory failed to win a medal, falling tantalizingly short in the marathon.

"Four of us came through the finish line together," McGrory explained. "There was less than two seconds separating first from fourth, where I finished. It was heart wrenching because I was planning on coming home with quite a few medals. Maybe I was too confident and I made some silly mistakes.

"But I've had a really strong year. Every year has ups and downs. Some races you come out of and everything's gone perfectly. Unfortunately for me that didn't happen in London. It's hard not to be disappointed but it really was an incredible experience."

Just like with every disappointment she's faced, however, McGrory is moving on, focusing on the next challenge. "I try to live my life making the most out of every situation. I was dealt a hand that was different, not being able to walk, and at that moment, I had a choice. Was I going to sit around, feeling sorry for myself, or try to be better and bigger than that. I didn't want to settle for being mediocre. And I've tried to live my entire life like that. "When I'm finally done competing, I hope that I will look back on all of the things that I've accomplished and see how far I pushed myself and be really proud."

Since the tender age of five, McGrory has been living life to the fullest and excelling at a level most wouldn't dare to dream. And she occasionally stops to recognize how fortunate she's been.

"It's hard in the moment to appreciate everything because I am always focused on the competition," she said. "But every once in a while, I stop and reflect on all of the incredible experiences I've had. I've travelled around the world, been to 10-12 different countries. And the people I've gotten to meet, the connections I've made, it's all been pretty cool."
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