- Florida resident Marko Cheseto ran a world best for a double amputee at the Boston Marathon on April 15, finishing in 2:42:24, according to the Boston Athletic Association.
- It was only his second marathon ever, and he shaved 10 minutes off his previous time.
- During his senior year running track for the University of Alaska Anchorage, Cheseto had his feet amputated and needed to learn how to run again in blades.
Of the 26,632 runners to complete the Boston Marathon, the 483rd athlete to cross the finish line on Boylston Street was Marko Cheseto, a double amputee who is redefining what is possible for para-athletes.
In just his second marathon ever, Cheseto ran the fastest 26.2 ever documented by a double amputee. To the cheers of a roaring crowd, Cheseto charged into the Boston Marathon finish line in a time of 2:42:24, safely ahead of the previous 2:42:52 world best set by Richard Whitehead in 2010, according to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA). He shaved 10 minutes off his previous time.
By breaking the world best, Cheseto also played an important role in raising the bar even higher for para-athletes.
Cheseto didn’t go into Monday’s race with the plan to break the mark, but was pleasantly surprised to find himself in contention with making history. While wearing custom prosthesis that he helped design at Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates, Cheseto blazed through the course at 6:12-minute mile pace.
Just hours after the accomplishment, Cheseto was already thinking about ways that he can get even faster for the next 26.2.
“It gives me a little bit of pressure. There’s always that pressure to do better. This doesn’t make things easier or change things,” he told Runner’s World. “I have to go back and talk to my coach and see how I can improve my time.”
Cheseto’s performance in Boston took place just after the BAA announced they will implement a new initiative for para-athletes starting in 2020. Next year, they will have three new divisions—vision, lower-limb, and upper-limb impairments—for para-athletes at the marathon. The para-athletes will also compete for prize money.
All of these initiatives are aimed to provide them with more recognition and validation for their achievements, says BAA para-athletics manager and Olympian Marla Runyan.
“We just witnessed the fastest time ever documented in a marathon by a double leg amputee by Marko, and that’s a perfect example of what para-athletics divisions are about next year,” Runyan said.
Cheseto’s driven mindset has guided him through a series of breakthroughs on a path filled with challenges he’s had to overcome on his way to the Boston world best. And through all of them, he keeps getting back up–and getting faster.
A Promising College Career Derailed
Cheseto came to the United States from Kenya in 2008 on an athletic scholarship to run for the University of Alaska Anchorage. A talented long-distance runner, Cheseto quickly earned All-American honors on the track, and was becoming one of the fastest athletes in the history of the Seawolves’ program.
Then, during his senior year, his cousin and teammate unexpectedly died by suicide. In a state of extreme grief, Cheseto took several antidepressants and went for a run on a trail near the university.
It was November of 2011 when he disappeared in the Alaskan wilderness.
Search and rescue teams scoured the area for two days before Cheseto finally stumbled into the lobby of a nearby hotel. In the 55 hours he was missing, temperatures dropped into the single digits, and it snowed more than a foot. When he returned, his shoes were frozen to his feet.
Cheseto survived the freezing elements, but doctors were forced to amputate both of his feet, about six inches below his knees.
After the surgery, Cheseto remained in Anchorage and went on to graduate with a degree in nutrition. About three weeks after the amputation, he started to walk on prosthetics. He realized that if he could walk on his new legs, he could probably run on them, too. A few months after the amputation, he started to run very slowly on prosthetics, eventually walking and jogging in local road races. While his times were far from his previous career bests, the experience marked the first step in the next chapter of his running career.
“The fun thing was being able to sweat again. After that run, I realized that, wow, it was a good feeling, you know?” Cheseto said. “After you’ve been an athlete for so long, that feeling after you’ve accomplished something is so good…it was that sense of satisfaction that I was able to complete what I had intended to do.”
A New Kind of Running
Through the process of figuring out his new abilities, Cheseto connected with Brooke Raasch, the husband of amputee triathlete Sarah Reinertsen. Raasch worked at Ossur, a prosthetics company, and encouraged him to try out a new product that could help him walk and jog more efficiently.
He also encouraged Cheseto to apply for a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which eventually provided him with a pair of Flex-Run blades, designed specifically for distance running.
Eighteen months after losing his feet, he was fitted with a pair of the distance-running blades. After he tried them out with a 100-meter sprint alongside his former coach at the Anchorage track, Cheseto was hopeful that he could resume the activity he always loved.
“I thought, ‘You know, I think I still have a lot in the tank,’” he said.
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With his new blades, Cheseto decided to train with the goal of qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, where he hoped to run for Kenya in the 200 and 400-meter events. Though he got his 200-meter time down to 24.36, Cheseto was unable to compete for his native country—the Kenyan government pulled the team’s funding before their scheduled trip to run the qualifying rounds.
Cheseto began to reevaluate what his running goals could be. He realized that he had reached his potential in sprinting, and he missed the intensity of long-distance running.
So in December of 2017, he started to think about the marathon.
Committed to training year-round for the distance, Cheseto moved with his wife and three children from Anchorage to Orlando, Florida, earlier in 2018.
Despite several years of sprinting, Cheseto’s body adapted very quickly to building endurance.
“I thought it would take a lot of time, but my muscle memory picked it up right away,” he said.
In August 2018, Cheseto tried his first attempt at the half marathon—the Anchorage RunFest, in which he placed 10th in 1:26:55.
Looking Toward the Future
He laced up for his first marathon in New York last November, just a few days before he would officially become a U.S. citizen. He finished with a 2:52:33 in his 26.2 debut, but the experience was not without its challenges.
Take the terrain at New York: After the starting gun unleashed thousands of runners onto the course, Cheseto navigated the first test–maintaining his balance on blades while running the incline and decline of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. While able-bodied runners can easily adjust their form and feet to accommodate various terrain, runners with carbon-fiber blades have to carefully calculate every step in order to keep their balance.
While maintaining a pace much faster than the race plan intended for him, Cheseto blazed through the first eight miles until the next unexpected test: another competitor clipped his blade while running behind him, causing him to fall onto the asphalt.
“The heart to run is the same whether being an amputee or not, but the components used in the running are different,” Cheseto said when describing the intricacies of running with prosthetics.
Despite the road rash that covered one side of his body, he didn’t hesitate to get back up. It’s only fitting—Cheseto is used to picking himself up after he falls.
That perseverance in New York City actually inspired Runyan to invite him to Boston.
“His performance in New York really caught my attention. I knew based on his debut time that he could run much faster,” Runyan said. “I could see Marko potentially breaking the 2:30 barrier at some point. In some ways, I’m not surprised he ran as well as he did [in Boston]. I kind of thought he would given the athlete that he is.”
His ultimate goal is to compete in the marathon with able-bodied athletes at the Olympic Games. And why not him? Cheseto has already proven that he doesn’t back down from a goal.
“My goal is to qualify and see if I could be allowed to run in the Olympics for the marathon because Paralympics doesn’t have marathon for my category,” Cheseto said after completing Boston.