This article was originally published in The Chicago Tribune.
Peter Kline had run more than 20 marathons in six consecutive years -- clocking strong times at the Boston and New York races.
Yet, there was something missing, he said.
“I got to a point where I was like, ‘hmm, why am I doing this?’”
This sentiment inspired Kline, now 64, to continue racing while also pushing along individuals with disabilities in specialized wheelchairs.
Kline will be among the 40,000 runners running Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon Sunday, and with him will be Fatima Roble. A senior vice president at Merrill Lynch, Kline will be pushing Roble, a 32-year-old athlete with cerebral palsy, through the 26.2 mile course.
Roble and Kline are one of six duo-teams participating in this year’s race, which will mark Kline’s 31st marathon behind a rider-athlete.
“At that moment, you can’t feel any better,” Kline said on crossing the finish line with a rider-athlete. “It’s the biggest win in the world, the highest level of an emotional high.”
However, that gripping feeling wasn’t always tangible for Kline. The financial analyst first started running marathons in 2006 following a friendly challenge from his wife, but after six years of racing solo Kline felt the endeavor begin to feel hollow.
“I had this idea that including somebody who might not be able to run a marathon on their own would be a great experience for them,” Kline said. “And obviously would be rewarding to their family and to myself as well.”
Shortly after, Kline completed his first marathon with a rider-athlete at the 2012 Las Vegas Marathon in 5 hours, 27 minutes, 27 seconds. He hasn’t looked back since, completing more than 25 marathons behind dozens of individuals with disabilities over the past four years.
To train for pushing athletes such as Roble through the course, Kline opts to run the four miles from his Bellevue, Wash., home to his Merrill Lynch offices everyday. After packing a suit into his backpack, Kline adds 120 pounds of weights into a specialized stroller before heading out on his commute. The financial consultant also runs between 13-20 miles with the stroller on his weekends.
Though Kline acknowledges the wear and tear of running 26.2 miles eight-10 times a year at age 64, his commitment has not waned. In fact, he described feeling an air of sadness after finishing a race.
“There’s a bit of a let down after that emotionally because you’re done until the next one,” Kline lamented.
For now, Kline looks forward to meeting Roble the Saturday before the race. Special Olympics Chicago put the two athletes in touch with one another in May following Kline’s 2015 Chicago Marathon outing, which he completed with a 32-year-old man who suffers from spina bifida.
“It felt like the Super Bowl,” Kline said of the 2015 race.
Finding rider-athletes hasn’t always been easy for Kline. When he first began looking for riders, he’d put out alerts online through runners’ boards and would even stop people on the street. However, since the Chicago Marathon began permitting duo teams to compete in 2015, he’s partnered with the Chicago Special Olympics and has been met with a host of excitement from individuals like Roble.
Roble, who first became involved in the Chicago Special Olympics when she was about 6, plays floor hockey, basketball and runs track with the aid of a brace. However, her cerebral palsy, which was diagnosed at birth, limits her from participating in long-distance competitions. For Roble and her parents, who live in Elmwood Park, the opportunity to participate in their city’s marathon is unlike any other.
“It’s once in a lifetime,” Hassan Roble, Fatima’s father, said of the opportunity.
Though he expressed some nervousness over the length of the race, his daughter’s excitement remains his focus.
“I kind of worry,” Roble said. “But I understand Peter has done this in the past, and I’m just really excited for her.”
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