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For this Palmdale father, riding a handcycle in LA Marathon is ‘wildest dream’

Participating in the Los Angeles Marathon has been on Walter Escamilla’s bucket list for many years.

But as a paraplegic who lost his ability to walk after a car accident about 16 years ago, Escamilla envisioned that as “the wildest dream.”

That dream finally became a reality after Escamilla, 49, found out that he could participate in the marathon with his handcycle.

“This is going to be the highlight of my life,” he said laughing. “I’m so powerful, you have no idea.”

Escamilla is one of the thousands of participants who will hit the streets on Sunday, March 17, to compete in the 39th annual Los Angeles Marathon.

The 26.2-mile race will kick in at Dodger Stadium continuing through iconic landmarks of Hollywood, Century City, and Beverly Hills with the finish line on Santa Monica Boulevard at Avenue of the Stars.

While a wheelchair marathon is generally faster than running, it’s considered one of the most challenging sports for participants due to safety issues for disabled participants.



The L.A. Marathon was the first to introduce wheelchair racing in 1986 with an official professional wheelchair division, and the next marathon to introduce it was the Boston Marathon. The world record for a marathon wheelchair race is 1:17:47 set in 2021 in Japan by Marcel Hug from Switzerland. His record was more than two minutes faster than the record set at 1:20:14 by his countryman Heinz Frei in 1999.

For Escamilla, who will compete in the handcycle division, rolling his bike alongside other runners and cyclists has been a major milestone.

“I would never thought even in any craziest dream that I would be part of the L.A. Marathon,” he said.

Escamilla, who lives in Palmdale, spent two years coming to terms with his injury — and with the fact that he couldn’t walk.

“I used to cry and see dreams that I was walking,” he said. “I would wake and see my wheelchair and I hated my wheelchair. I would go back to sleep, trying to get back to that dream where I was walking.”

His life drastically changed after discovering the Triumph Foundation and its sports clinic that offers wheelchair hockey, basketball, rugby, and racquetball. He became a volunteer for the group and later began working for them.

He was always passionate about riding a bike and it was “a game changer” when he found out that he was able to ride a bike even as a paraplegic.

“It sounds crazy but I love my wheelchair because it’s a tool that gives me freedom,” he said.

As a father of twin 18-year-old daughters, who were only two years old when he had his car accident, he eventually learned to do everything with them: taking them to Universal Studios, parks, and stores and even showing them how to drive.

“I accomplished my American Dream to pay mortgage and taxes,” he said, laughing. “Now I have a new thrust for life. Anything I can do, I will do it to challenge myself and most importantly to show others who got injured that in this life we can triumph over any disability.”

On Sunday, March 17 he plans to wake up at 3 a.m. and head to Dodger Stadium with his brother Earnie who is going to help transport his handcycle.

He has been preparing since December, riding his handcycle twice a week and taking in a lot of protein and water.

“I always tell our patients who just got hurt: ‘Exercise is medicine,’” he said. “I’m doing this to show my fellow injured people that we can do anything. I’m not disabled, I just do things differently.”

Source: Orange County Register

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