KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon showcases athletes of all abilities. Some of the most remarkable, are those who compete with a disability. 

“So, I started out at Patricia Neal. I was injured while working as a wildland firefighter. And in 2002, I came back and did my rehab at Patricia Neal. And really was very into sports before I was injured and so I was kind of looking for something to bridge the gap to give me purpose after my injury,” Carly Pearson said.

Pearson found that purpose. Since 2009 she has competed in the handcycle portion of the Knoxville Marathon. She was introduced to the sport through the Patricia Neal Innovative Recreation Cooperative. It gave her the challenge she craved. 

“There is definitely a difference. Your arm muscles are much smaller, obviously than your leg muscles. So running versus using a handcycle to propel is very different, but it’s just like anything else, the more you train, the more you practice, the better you’re going to become. And at first, it feels like you’re, you know, climbing Kilimanjaro, but then eventually it gets better,” Pearson said.

“Well, the first thing is they have to come. So once they get there, they see others because there are always peers around. We do intro clinics, as well as some advanced clinics. So the sports that we work on are more individualized. Water skiing, snow skiing. We do some adaptive climbing, paddling golf. We have a marksmanship program,” Al Kaye with IRC Program Coordinator said.

It is sort of a hub to find local opportunities for adaptive programs.  

“The IRC is a community involved in groups. The mission of the IRC is to help individuals that have physical challenges to learn life skills through recreational adaptive sports,” said Kaye, “If you can get a person who has had some type of trauma or life challenge, involved in themselves involved in their health, then they will be more invested in their own care. they’ll have decreased recidivism back into having to go into the hospital for general health issues.”

Pearson, who is a former champion of the race, says the Knoxville marathon is one of the most brutal courses but she loves the thrill.

“Here I am back suffering again with thousands of other runners. and I love the camaraderie. To have that and being involved and being included in something where even though I may not be running, I’m able to ride alongside other runners and be outside and enjoy the outdoors,” Pearson said.

All made possible by adapting to where life has taken her. 

If you or someone you know could benefit from the program, contact the innovative recreation cooperative at (865) 331-1353.