It was a day to celebrate for all wheelchair athletes today, with confirmation that Auckland Marathon will include a wheelchair race permanently on the race schedule.
In making the announcement on the edge of the waterfront course in Auckland today, Race Director Adam McDonald said the decision comes off the back of a hugely successful pilot event, and the contributions of a number of agencies and stakeholders.
"We simply would not be at this point without the work of Achilles New Zealand and the Halberg Disability Foundation," McDonald said. "Both were instrumental in getting the pilot off the ground and have since provided great support and considerable expertise to enable us to announce today's exciting news.
"We are confident we have the infrastructure and knowledge in place to commit to the wheelchair category at the Auckland Marathon."
The announcement featured the presentation of a custom built race chair to budding para-athlete Laura Stuart.
Stuart was involved in a mountain biking accident two and a half years ago that left her paralysed from the chest down.
The Wellington-based 31-year-old lawyer hasn't let it stop her, however, borrowing a racing wheelchair from a friend and competing in the New York Marathon just a year and a half after the accident.
The new purpose-built race chair will make the world of difference to her future aspirations.
"Borrowing a race wheelchair to do the New York Marathon was a bit like borrowing the wrong sized running shoes," said Stuart, who flew to Auckland for the announcement. "Having a chair built to fit hopefully will be like getting the right size shoes.
"I imagine it will give me the freedom to get out and go for a roll without noticing the chair.
"Firstly, I'd like to feel like I can roll out the door and pick up some speed. Then I'd like to be able to roll as fast as I previously could run - and be able to complete marathons faster than my one and only running marathon."
Aside from her own delight in receiving the gift, Stuart knows that the permanent addition of a wheelchair race at the Auckland Marathon will reach far and wide, and impact many lives.
"It's fantastic and sets a great precedent. I hope that more events realise that it's actually not hard to be inclusive and follow suit," she said.
"It will hopefully increase the exposure of wheelchair racing and encourage more people with disabilities to get out and be active."
Entries for the wheelchair category and all other race options are open now on the event website. Applications will then be vetted by an expert panel including representatives of Achilles New Zealand, the Halberg Disability Trust and Auckland Marathon organisers.