The 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon will be Al Velasco’s first, but his marathon journey began more than six years ago. The retired U.S. Marine and police officer with the Oak Park Police Department was training to run the marathon with co-workers. That was until he was injured in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Velasco was no stranger to adversity; he had nine years of military service and three tours in Iraq under his belt. Yet, he felt unprepared for the long road to recovery ahead of him. “I was already depressed before my car accident, having lost eight of my fellow Marines in Iraq,” he said. “After the accident, I couldn’t go to work and suddenly had to adjust to life in a wheelchair. It made everything I was already feeling a little bit worse.”
Finding Strength, Inside and Out
Slowly but surely, Velasco grew stronger. The support of his family, friends and fellow veterans motivated him to return to work as a training officer. He reconnected with the activities he enjoyed before his accident, like exercise, and took up handcycling. In that sport, he found the adrenaline rush he loved about running.
The positive effects of training extended into other aspects of his life. “Training changes my whole mindset and alters how I approach everyday life,” Velasco said. “It helps my wife and kids when they see me happy and working hard.”
Velasco linked up with Dare2tri, an organization that helps people with disabilities train for triathlons. After participating in a few events, a coach suggested that he sign up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. “It was like a light bulb went off,” Velasco said. “The goal that I had set for myself before my car accident came right back to me. I knew it would be hard, but I’m always up for a challenge.”
He appreciates that the marathon will deepen his connection to his hometown. “The marathon takes you through so many different neighborhoods, from the North Side to the South Side,” said Velasco. “I grew up in Chicago and I can’t wait to see my hometown in a whole new light. I think I’ll be in awe.”
Racing for Resolution
Looking ahead to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Velasco can’t believe his longtime goal is so close at hand. “I know I’m headed for that finish line, but I’m not going to believe it until it actually happens,” Velasco said. “But it’s what I’ve been training for and somehow, some way, I’ll make it there.”
He’s most excited for the sense of resolution that the achievement will bring him, his friends and his family. “I’m looking forward to completing the goal that I was working toward before my accident,” Velasco said. “But even more so, I’m looking forward to showing my fellow police officers, friends and family who helped me through recovery that their support really made a difference."