PLATTSBURGH - Jillian Duda has never considered herself a quitter.
Even when a spinal chord stroke impaired her walking ability nine years ago, she knew it wouldn't prevent her from continuing to live a productive life and enjoy the activities she loved. So, when the idea to compete in a marathon came about, Duda took on the challenge.
The 30-year-old city resident first competed in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vt., last year at age 29.
"My goal was just to finish," Duda said.
But, she did much better than that. In fact, she placed first among women in the handcycle division, which involved Duda using a handcycling bike to complete the 26.2-mile course. The bike was loaned to her by the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association, a Burlington-based nonprofit organization that works "to provide recreational and competitive athletic opportunities for people with physical disabilities."
When she crossed the finish line with a time of 2:12:38, it was enough to qualify her to compete in the oldest annual city marathon in the world - the Boston Marathon. This time, however, she was doing so on her own handcycle, that was purchased through donations by her supporters in the community. That support is something Duda credits for her taking 15th in the overall handcycling division for the April 18 event.
"I could not have been where I was in the Boston Marathon that day without the support of the people in the community and the businesses," Duda said. "I just would not have been there."
The training that led up to her participation in the Boston Marathon was grueling. The months leading up to the event consisted of spending every other day training on a stationary handcycle for at least two hours at a time.
"I only had a couple days of good weather outdoors to train," said Duda. "So, I had to train mainly indoors, which is different because outdoors you have the road conditions, like potholes, the different grades of the pavement. And, every road is obviously different."
Knowing that, when Duda sat in her handcycle at the starting line of the Boston Marathon, she didn't know how she would fare.
"There was a lot of nervousness, of course," she said. "I kept thinking, 'I'm just about to start the Boston Marathon.'"
That nervousness subsided as the race began and she set out on the course.
"The adrenaline is just pumping throughout your body," Duda recalled. "There were points of happiness, there were points of anger, there were points of sadness. It's an emotional roller coaster. But, you know that at that finish line that you've got people that love you so much that will be there. That's your focus - seeing them."
And, that focus brought her across the finish line third in the women's sub-division, with a time of 2:10:37, beating her time for the Vermont City Marathon by more than two minutes.
"It's an accomplishment; anytime you beat your personal best is always an accomplishment," she said.
Though Duda would have liked to take home the gold, or even bring her time below the 2:00 mark, for her, it's all about challenging herself to do better.
"I don't compete to get a pat on the back. I don't compete to hear people tell me I did a great job or tell me I'm an inspiration," Duda said. "Do I hope people can look at me and take what has happened to me and see how I have turned it around? Absolutely. I do it not only for myself, but so other people can realize that if anything tragic is to happen to them, that they can also overcome their challenge. It's basically starting a new chapter in a book."
The next chapter in Duda's book is one in which she hopes to someday compete in and complete an Ironman triathlon. For now, though, she plans to train for the next Vermont City Marathon, set for Sunday, May 29.
(Editor's Note: What do you think about Jillian Duda's participation in the Boson Marathon? Does it inspire you to do more? We want to know! Comment on this story on our Web site, www.the-burgh.com.)