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From Start to Finish

John Benedetto training for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon

John Benedetto training for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon

By: Janelle LoBello

Name: John Benedetto
Injury: C6
Mechanism of Injury: Body surfing
Date of Injury: July 2009

John Benedetto, 25, always had his eye on the finish line of the 2010 ING New York City Marathon.

But Benedetto's plans of how he was going to cross that finish line changed when he was body surfing in New Jersey in July 2009. A wave threw him down in the water head first leaving Benedetto with a C7 level spinal cord injury.

Already in training
"As it turned out, prior to my injury," says Benedetto, "I had always enjoyed running. In the spring of 2009, I had decided I wanted to do the New York City Marathon. I thought that 2009 was too soon so my goal was to try to do 2010."

Now Benedetto will still be participating in the marathon, except he will be crossing the finish line differently than he had originally planned.

"When I got into Kessler Rehab in New Jersey," explains Benedetto, who is currently in graduate school at Baruch College studying financial engineering, "one of the therapists, Karyn Baig, had heard my story and told a bunch of people. She pulled a hand cycle out of the closet and said, ‘You know, you can do a marathon in one of these things.' And I was like ‘Get out of here!' She got me on the bike that day!"

After attending the New York City Marathon a few years prior as an onlooker, Baig, 34, was in awe and had decided she had wanted to run in the marathon one day. Once Baig met Benedetto and they developed a friendship, she simply said, "We're doing this!"

With determination, Baig, decided to help Benedetto and push for him to be involved with Team Reeve.

"He's come a long way since then," says Baig of Benedetto's first try on the hand cycle. "It was tough at first, but I think the first time you try something like that, it's difficult. It's just amazing to see him now. He makes it look a lot easier!"

Benedetto’s friends, Todd and Karyn will be running the Marathon

Benedetto’s friends, Todd and Karyn will be running the Marathon

Baig, who is running for Team Reeve in the 2010 ING New York City Marathon, uses individuals like Benedetto as her motivation. "When I'm out running," explains Baig, "if I'm having a hard run, I'll think about the people who can't do this, or have to do it a different way. That's what keeps me pushing when it's difficult."

Stronger now
Since his injury and beginning training, Benedetto believes he has become much stronger overall.

"I started off only being able to do about three miles, with breaks, in 45 minutes," explains Benedetto. "Now I'm doing six or seven miles in that time. It's pretty easy. And, obviously, on the bike that's good, but with daily functioning like transferring, it's increased my quality of life tremendously. There's a lot to that, and I'm very grateful."

"At first I thought being on the bike, it'd be very easy," says Benedetto, "After the first run I said, ‘Oh my, I can't do two miles, how am I going to do the whole marathon!?' But Karyn was there, my friends and family were there, all pushing me to keep going."

On November 7, 2010, Benedetto will do exactly that.

"I just want to be able to finish!" explains Benedetto. "For me, this is my first marathon, I've done a couple of small races, but the goal is just to finish with as little help as possible from the guides."

Independent again
Benedetto is well aware that without the support of his family and friends, he might not be as confident with himself as he is now.

Benedetto is confident and ready to cross the finish line!

Benedetto is confident and ready to cross the finish line!

"When I was at Kessler, there wasn't a day where I didn't see one family member or one friend," says Benedetto, who was an inpatient for 100 days. "And they'd bring me food; I think I went the whole time without eating hospital food!"

Now that Benedetto is back living at home he says, "I've been doing the same things, just doing them differently. It makes it a lot easier. I can't imagine not having a support system."

"When I first got hurt, I felt like a baby again," explains Benedetto, a Staten Island, NY native. "I needed someone nursing me and taking care of stuff throughout the day. Even when I was at Kessler as a patient, I'd say maybe 60% of the time, I needed someone to help me."

Even though he was once dependent on others, Baig says, if there is one thing she knows about Benedetto, it's that he is determined. "Whatever he puts his mind to, he's going to accomplish," says Baig. "He's just one of those people that has positive energy and he's able to put it in the right place to make it happen."

Benedetto's determination is evident both on the marathon course and in life.

"Mentally knowing I can take care of myself now, and as an athlete I'm out there competing again, I just feel like I'm an individual again. I'm confident that I can still live a normal life even though I'm in a wheelchair."

Want to learn more about some of our Team Reeve athletes? Click here.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders