Rockwell: Marathon Man
April 2002-- “That’s me with my
father,” Paul Rockwell says,
pointing to a black and white photo hanging on his bedroom wall. He
laughs. “Check out my Forrest Gump
Ah yes, it was so easy for
Forrest Gump. One
moment he was crippled, and the next he was running, faster and faster,
until he ran right out of his leg braces.
It was a mystical, magical transformation. Pure Hollywood.
The script 35-year-old Paul
Rockwell has had
to follow through reality hasn’t been so smooth. Born with
cerebral palsy, he’s been shackled to crutches for
life. But like Forrest Gump, Paul Rockwell has managed to shed his
braces. And like Forrest, Paul
runs. With splayed crutches swinging and twisted legs hopping along, he
runs the streets of Stuart,
Fla., up to nine miles at a clip.
In a storyline nearly as improbable as
Forrest Gump’s, Paul Rockwell
has become a marathon runner.
“Cerebral palsy is amazing
because it affects everyone
differently,” he says. “I’m lucky that
mine is limited to my legs. It hasn’t even stopped me from
I count my blessings every day.”
A Cambridge, Mass., native, Paul got the
run the famed Boston Marathon a few years ago and set out to accomplish
the goal in a quixotic quest that would
change his life. But it wasn’t really that much of a stretch
for the lifelong sports junkie.
“All I remember from my youth
is playing sports,”
he explains. “I built a baseball field in my backyard long
before Kevin Costner did it in the movies. And I played
four-on-four football with my friends. I was always the
quarterback…” he pauses for effect
I had the best arm.”
In 1999, he began training for
marathons, a 26-mile
race that remains one of the most grueling tests in all of sports. In
October of that year, he ran the
Chicago Marathon to qualify for Boston. And the following April, he
completed his Holy Grail, the Boston
Marathon, in just over seven and a half hours.
Along with physical fitness and mental
his accomplishments gained him some media exposure, some fans and a
very unexpected fringe benefit. Paul used
his newfound notoriety to raise $1,000 for United Cerebral Palsy, and
when charity worker Lauren Spalding
was sent to pick up the money, she instantly became smitten with him.
In happily-ever- after
fashion, they were married last May.
Paul ran Boston again in 2001, but had
to drop out
in the thirteenth mile after pulling a muscle. Now, wanting his
26-year-old wife, Lauren, to see him finish
a race, he’s training to take on the Chicago Marathon again.
“Most of what I use in running is my upper body,
so I’ve been concentrating on weight training these
days,” he notes. The strength it takes shows in the
corded muscles of his arms as well as the number of crutches he goes
“They tend to break in
half,” he says. “But one
of the first things you learn when you’re disabled is to fall
well because you’re going to be doing it all your
life. My first therapist told me that after she pulled my crutch out
from under me. She said, ‘You have to
make gravity your friend.’”
For the most part, Paul has made gravity his friend.
And he’s made a lot of other friends through his proud,
determined, never-say-never attitude towards life
despite being dealt what most people would consider a bum hand. In
fact, when asked how he’d feel
if he could be miraculously cured, he shrugs as though he could take it
or leave it.
“Sometimes people come up to
me and say they’ll
pray for me to be healed,” he confides. “I tell
them I’m made in God’s image, so He must have
crutches, too. I’m
happy with the way I am.”
That may be a difficult concept for
people to accept. To watch the trouble Paul has merely walking from the
living room to the kitchen, his strong
upper body continually teetering on mutinous legs, every ungainly step
looking tortured as he struggles
to remain on good terms with gravity…it’s enough
to send the pity meter off the high end of the
But Paul neither wants nor expects your
when he’s out running on the street, you see that there is
grace to his stride, a fluidness born out of the
regularity of his movement as he swings on the crutches, churning up
mile after mile at a slow, steady
Like Forrest Gump, Paul Rockwell has run right out
of his braces and into the heart of anyone with a heart. And
he’s proven beyond a doubt that you don’t
have to be able-bodied to be a winner in the human race.