Two years ago, Darwin Coligado won the men's wheeled division of the Air Force Marathon, held at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In May, he was among the top finishers in the Fifth Third Bank River Run, a 25K race in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Next week, however, when the Elk Grove resident lines up for his fourth Chicago Marathon and eight marathon overall, he doesn't expect to compete with the elite racers in this year's wheelchair division -- the largest ever -- but he says he will give them a run.
His training time has been somewhat limited, he says, by his long commute to his accounting job in Chicago's Loop. Nonetheless, he hopes to finish the 26.2-mile route in 2 hours, 20 minutes.
The Navy veteran lost the use of his legs in 2008 in a motorcycle accident following his military service. He had served nine years in active duty after graduating from Marquette University and another four years in the Naval Reserves before his accident.
Within months of suffering his injuries, he made a conscious decision to remain active. He had always been athletic growing up, and with his military service, he was accustomed to staying in shape.
Racing gave him the motivation he needed to get off the couch, he says.
"Statistics show that folks with spinal cord injuries can develop complications that lead to an early death if they stay sedentary," Coligado says. "I don't want to become sedentary. I don't want to be one of those statistics."
With his schedule, he wouldn't seem to have much to worry about. For training, he traverses between 60 and 90 miles a week, indoors and outdoors. A simulated roller set up in his living room, which resembles a rowing machine, helps him get in the mileage indoors.
The roller connects to a computer, which helps Coligado compute his mileage and his speed. In a race, his speed can vary from 15 miles when he pushes on his own, up to 35 miles per hour when he's going downhill.
In the Chicago Marathon, Coligado says he will feed off the crowd and the cheers. Nearly throughout the race, he keeps his head down and pushes, ignoring the bands positioned along the route or any other entertainment.
"You just have to get in there -- and dig it," he quips.
Coligado became interested in wheelchair sports through the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, where he learned to use a race chair, and began training in racing, track, hand-cycling and swimming.
He continues to stay involved with the Lake Forest-based organization, in particular helping to photograph their events and serve as a mentor for youngsters in wheelchairs.
At the Chicago Marathon, he will be raising money for his main charity, which is one of the race's official charities: Spinal Cord Injury Sucks, or SCIS.
"I'm fortunate that I still have function of my upper body, but I know too many people that have more severe injuries, who are unable to move their arms or hands, and have to be fully dependent on others for their care and well-being," Coligado says. "I will continue to run for SCIS till one day in the future, the dream of full restoration of spinal cord function is realized for all."
Coligado's marathon profile and donation site is at scisucks.org/civicrm/contribute/pcp/info?reset=1&id=83.