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Posted: December 3, 2013  

Athletics: Achilles Athletes Ready for Palm Beaches Marathon

They are veteran racers with a combined 117 marathons under their belts. When they take their place at the start line of the 10th annual Palm Beaches Marathon & Run Fest presented by Publix December 8, Jupiter's Jacqui Kapinowski and Boca Raton's Renzo Martinez will also be completing a decade of participation at the event.

Kapinowski and Martinez live at opposite ends of the county, but as teammates on the South Florida Achilles Track Club they share many of the same challenges. Both confronted life-changing events in their lives head on, and continue to inspire a growing number of athletes with disabilities that compete under the Achilles banner.

More than 60 Achilles athletes will compete in this weekend's Palm Beaches Marathon & Run Fest, including a Wounded Veterans team, a team of international athletes and a Florida team made up of Achilles athletes from South Florida, the Treasure Coast and Central Florida.

Kapinowski is the only individual in history to run, walk and compete in a racing chair in the Palm Beaches Marathon.

An elite runner before a double dose of bacterial meningitis in her 20s led to a rare neurological disorder that took away her ability to run and walk, Kapinowski is now one of the most successful parathletes on the planet.

As her health declined in 2005, Kapinowski used a walker to slowly navigate the entire 26.2 miles of the Palm Beaches Marathon.

Her start in wheelchair racing came when Kevin Spina, the Palm Beaches Marathon's first disability division volunteer chairman, was so moved by her gutty walk that he raised money to buy a race chair for the then New Jersey resident.

"I wasn't even from Florida at the time and he told me he would get me a chair -all he asked was that I come back the next year. And I did," said Kapinowski, 51, who is now a program development administrator for Achilles International South Florida.

Kapinowski was also touched by the kindness of a pair of local women. Former West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel and Palm Beach Marathon founder Iva Grady had a major impact on her early racing days in Palm Beach County.

"Lois Frankel - all the years I was coming down here - that woman is incredible," Kapinowski said of Frankel, who served as mayor from 2003 -2011. "She would always come up to me after the races. She loved her community. "

Grady, president of the Palm Beach Roadrunners Club, helped Kapinowski cover expenses while she was traveling from New Jersey for the annual race. "She has been so good to me," said Kapinowski.

The Palm Beaches Maratjon will be her 70th career marathon, with all but 17 competed in a race chair.

"She inspires me and the team," says Achilles regional director Chris Holcomb. "She's a superstar. And she coaches and mentors our athletes."

Holcomb points to Kapinowski's impressive national and international resume.

As a member of the USA National Paratriathon Team-she set a national record in March at the national championships in Austin, Tx. Kapinowski brought home a bronze medal in September from the World Paratriathlon Championship in London.

The married mother of two adult boys is also a former Olympian - she was fourth in wheelchair curling at the 2008 Vancouver Winter Paralympics in (a sport she retired from in 2011).

"Achilles is amazing for what they do," added Kapinowski. "They changed my life forever. I wouldn't be where I am today except for them."

Martinez suffered a spinal injury as a 21-year-old in a sanctioned car race in his native Dominican Republic. He began competing in marathons a decade later, and between 2006 and 2007 won all three major South Florida marathons-the Palm Beaches Marathon, the Miami Marathon and the AIA marathon.

From his first foray into marathoning in 1999 in a regular wheelchair ("I would never do something like that again!"), the self-taught Martinez graduated to a racing chair, and then a hand cycle.

His name is familiar in South Florida circles- in addition to three wins in Palm Beach, he's won the Miami Marathon four times, and Boston and New York are among the 47 marathons he's completed.

"Running a marathon is not about the legs ... it's the mind," Martinez said in 2007 after rebounding from a pair of flat tires to win the Miami Marathon. "I almost gave up after my second flat. One flat will get you down, two flats feel like you hit rock bottom.

"But then your perspective changes ... you get these fangs and claws and you say, `You're going to have to take it away from me.' I kept pushing harder and looking over my shoulder."

Martinez ' tenacity has translated to seven triathlons, and although he has qualified for nationals, his work as a computer programmer at the Florida Turnpike has precluded him from being able to participate.

His responsibilities also influence his ability to train consistently. "Sometimes it's challenging," the married father of two said. "When I'm trying to get good results it means getting up at 5 a.m. to train. It gets a little bit interesting."

The 49-year-old Martinez appreciates the support and sponsorship opportunities that Achilles provides.

"They have an outstanding organ ization and it helps disabled athletes to get into sports," he said. "When they give you assistance it motivates you and points you in the right direction. When a person is active it affects their whole life."

The growth in participation of disabled athletes has been obvious over the past decade.

"The Palm Beaches Marathon has grown tremendously for disabled athletes," said Martinez. "When I started out there were a handful of us. There's been a big improvement."

The Palm Beaches Marathon and Run Fest is proudly sponsored by the City of West Palm Beach: the picturesque backdrop for all of the event's races. Runners, their families, friends and spectators are encouraged to visit Downtown West Palm Beach for spectacular night life, shopping, dining, and our activities on the beautiful waterfront.

Registration for the 10K is $60 during Race Week. Registration for the 5K is $45 during Race Week. Race fees for the Marathon portion of Palm Beaches Marathon and Run Fest presented by Publix are now $125, $105 for the Half Marathon.

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