Great Britain’s Simon Lawson could very well represent a changing of the guard in wheelchair racing when he joins the TCS New York City Marathon professional wheelchair athlete field for the second time in his career on Sunday, November 6.
His teammate and arguably the most well-known wheelchair racer in the world, 10-time Paralympic medalist and 2010 New York City Marathon champion David Weir, recently announced he’s retiring after the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. This means there will be a void to fill in the men’s competition, particularly among the Europeans.
With Weir also withdrawing from the TCS New York City Marathon, now is the time for Lawson to prove himself worthy of filling that impending void.
“David Weir has been the main guy on the roads in the UK for the last several years. He’s helped out so much with our sport, and you have to be something special to beat him on the roads,” Lawson said. “But his career is coming to an end. I’m ranked No. 2 in the road races in Great Britain, so I’ll have the opportunity to step up and take his lead now.”
Lawson is coached by Ian Thompson, husband of 16-time Paralympic medalist Tanni Grey-Thompson, and despite being 34 is still relatively new to the international wheelchair racing circuit.
Motocross racing since age 8, he grew up eager to follow in the footsteps of his father, Steve, who was a professional rider. By 16, he was a junior speedway champion in the sport and quickly proceeded to enter the professional ranks himself.
But in 2001, when training on a track at his family farm, he was 10 feet in the air when his bike’s engine stalled. He was airlifted to a special spinal unit in Middlesbrough, where he spent a week on a life-support machine in a medically induced coma. He experienced life-threatening internal bleeding and was left paralyzed from the chest down.
Soon after, he turned to wheelchair racing, while continuing to work as a bike mechanic in his family-owned motocross shop.
“What I missed the most, other than walking, was the racing and the adrenaline from it,” Lawson said. “Out of all the sports that I was able to do in a wheelchair, wheelchair racing really caught my eye, and I stuck with that.”
Lawson quickly made his way through the para-athletics world, just missing out on the London 2012 Paralympic Games qualifying time, but going on to flourish over the next Paralympic cycle.
He finished 11th in 1:39:42 at his TCS New York City Marathon debut in 2014, and the following year he recorded top-10 finishes at the BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and the IPC Athletics World Championship Marathon.
Expectations were high for Lawson heading into the Rio 2016 Paralympics; however, the race didn’t go as planned. He apologized to his fans on Twitter after finishing 15th.
“I wasn’t happy with my result,” Lawson said. “I had a malfunction with my hydration pack. It burst just before the start of the race, and then I had to push the race in that heat with no water. I really struggled with the heat and trying to stay hydrated. I was disappointed with that and wanted to apologize for my performance.”
Lawson bounced back quickly, though, finishing sixth at September’s BMW Berlin Marathon and eighth at October’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
He’ll now look for his first top-five finish in a major marathon in New York City.
“I really enjoyed New York in 2014, so I put it on my list to come back as many times as I could,” Lawson said. “You get treated like first class. The crowds in New York are amazing, with people along the whole 26.2-mile course spectating and cheering for the wheelchairs as well as the runners.
“There’s something exciting when you see wheelchairs come past much quicker than in your daily life. I think it’s something that the spectators in New York always look forward to seeing.”
By Stuart Lieberman
GET YOUR STORIES ON. Read more inspiring stories from athletes chronicling their journeys to the TCS New York City Marathon starting line.
TUNE IN. The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon will be televised live on Sunday, November 6, on WABC-TV, Channel 7 in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET, and for the rest of the nation on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.