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Grandma’s Marathon: Pike, Scaroni top wheelchair race

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Aaron Pike crosses the finish line to win the 2018 Grandma's Marathon mens wheelchair race. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

When faced with paralysis at a young age, those afflicted can either go into denial or adapt to their disability and find new pursuits in life.

Aaron Pike chose the latter.

Paralyzed in a hunting accident at the age of 13, the athletic-minded Pike quickly found new challenges to enjoy, such as wheelchair racing and cross-country skiing.

The 32-year-old from Champaign, Ill., displayed his prowess in a wheelchair again this morning by repeating as Grandma’s Marathon champion, winning in 1 hour, 26 minutes and 48 seconds.

Pike, in his eighth Grandma’s Marathon, took off around Mile 8 and led throughout. Eventual runner-up Juan Ramon of Venezuela caught up to him before Pike dusted the competition for good around Lemon Drop Hill at Mile 22.

“I dropped him at Lemon Drop Hill and then I was gone after that,” Pike said. “After I crested Lemon Drop, I looked back and (Ramon) was about 100 yards back.”

Pike finished in 1:26:48 to win by 76 seconds over Ramon.

It’s a continuation of success for Pike, who was second here by milliseconds in 2012 when Josh George set the race record of 1:22:55 and was third in 2016 before winning a year ago.

Pike, a Park Rapids, Minn., native was shot outside Virginia by a hunter from a different hunting party who thought he saw a deer and fired in Pike’s direction, clipping his spinal cord.

Pike soon thereafter was visited in the hospital by a former Navy SEAL who had competed in Ironman competitions.

“He put the bug in my ear and within the next year I tried out (racing),” Pike said. “When I went to the (University of Illinois), that’s when it really took off.”

Pike played football and basketball as an able-bodied youth and soon was learning how to compete in a wheelchair.

“It’s easier when you are younger because you adapt easier,” he said. “If you are older, it might be a little harder. I liked sports then so nothing’s changed now.”

Later on, Pike was invited to a ski camp and fell in love with that sport as well. He trains in Illinois all summer as a marathoner and then moves to Bozeman, Mont., from November to March to compete in cross-country skiing and biathlon. He has participated in two summer Paralympics and two in the winter.

“I’m very grateful to find wheelchair racing and cross-country skiing because those two sports are my life right now,” he said. “I love everything about it.”

WOMEN

Scaroni wins second Grandma’s

Suzanna Scaroni crosses the finish line to win the Grandma's Marathon women's wheelchair race. (Clint Austin / DNT)

Susannah Scaroni raced in miserable conditions at the Boston Marathon earlier this year so a little fog and cool weather during Grandma’s Marathon were no problems for the 27-year-old from Urbana, Ill.

“After that, my benchmark as far as racing in storms is very high. I think I can handle anything,” she said this morning after winning her second Grandma’s Marathon in 1 hour, 37 minutes, 32 seconds.

Scaroni, who won the 2014 Grandma’s in a driving rain, was alone the entire race en route to winning by more than seven minutes ahead of runner-up Katrina Gerhard.

Winning was not a surprise for Scaroni, who is on a roll this year after faring well in the Tokyo, London and Boston marathons and setting what is believed to be a 10-kilometer world record last weekend in winning the all-women’s New York Mini 10K in 22:48.

“This has been my best season, so as long as the weather was somewhat favorable and there were no thunderstorms, I was anticipating this being my best (Grandma’s) marathon,” Scaroni said in reference to Friday’s loud thunderstorms that dumped heavy amounts of rain in a short period of time. “It was infinitely better (than Friday). I was so thankful for dryness.”

While living in eastern Washington, the 5-year-old Scaroni was traveling in Idaho when the car her mother was driving hit a patch of ice and went into an oncoming vehicle.

Scaroni was only belted in at the waist and didn’t have the car’s shoulder harness in use. The force of the crash sent her rocketing forward and snapped her spinal cord, causing paralysis below the waist, she said.

But like many childhood victims, Scaroni adapted to her new life in a wheelchair relatively quickly. She joined wheelchair basketball in the fourth grade and started racing in marathons after moving to the Champaign, Ill., area.

“I was really privileged to have all those things,” she said.

Scaroni has participate in two Paralympics, finishing eighth in the marathon at the 2012 London Games and seventh in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

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