Jesse Swalley wants nothing more than to participate in the Los Angeles Marathon in March doing what he loves -- skateboarding.
The Sylmar man said he became paralyzed in his left leg after he was stabbed more than two decades ago and recently rediscovered his passion for the sport. Now he rides his skateboard on his knees, using his hands, which he shields with gloves he makes partly out of running shoes, to propel himself.
"I just want to see if I can do it and inspire other people," Swalley, 51, said of his marathon dreams.
But it's not certain if Swalley will be allowed to participate, as L.A. Marathon officials initially told him that the race is governed by USA Track & Field, which only allows USATF-approved racing wheelchairs and hand-crank cycles.
"As an event sanctioned by USATF, the marathon has to follow the competition guidelines that do not allow for skateboards," Steve Sugerman, a spokesman for ASICS L.A. Marathon said.
But after marathon officials were told of Lance Benson -- a legless man who sits atop his skateboard and participated that way in 26 marathons, including the New York and Los Angeles -- Sugerman intimated that perhaps the event might be able to find some sort of accommodation for Swalley.
The L.A. Marathon has "a longstanding and very positive" relationship with Achilles International, an organization that seeks to include disabled individuals in athletic events alongside nondisabled entrants, Sugerman said in a later statement.
"We are open to working closely with Achilles and Jesse to try to accommodate his participation, as we do with other athletes, with equipment that meets our safety standards," he noted.
A representative of the New York Marathon said it was a program adopted by the New York Road Runners in partnership with Achilles International that allowed Benson to participate in that marathon. However, there are no awards or prize money for any Athletes with Disabilities category, such as visually impaired, single, double or multiple-limb amputees, and Benson did not compete in an official capacity.
Benson, who founded the Miami Chapter of Achilles International, recalls he participated in the Los Angeles marathon twice -- once in 2005 and again in either 2006 or 2007.
On one of those occasions, he said, his participation was met with resistance, with marathon officials saying he should use a wheelchair, but he argued that he'd never done a marathon in a wheelchair and wasn't planning on using one then.
"I just showed up and did it and nobody cared," Benson said. "My position has always been if I don't have legs, I'm pushing with my hands. It's probably the closest thing to running as possible. Once people see it, they say I have good (completion) times. I'm pretty agile with it. I don't bother the runners, they've been receptive."
When asked about Swalley's desire to participate, Benson said he understands the official concerns about safety but that precautions can be taken, such as having Swalley begin at an earlier time and having a guide, such as a cyclist, behind him to ensure he is not trampled.
On hearing that he might be able to participate, Swalley was thrilled. The skateboard marathons run a bit too fast for him, he said, as participants often skate between 14 and 17 miles an hour, and this is more his speed -- roughly 6 mph.
But most exciting for Swalley, who is unemployed and living on Social Security, is he'll be able to encourage and inspire his friends to lead more active lives, including one who recently became a wheelchair user due to a disease. "The more people that see me, the more people I will be able to motivate to do stuff," he said.
And motivate he does. A former Navy man with a white, curly mustache, Swalley skated nearly a bit over 22 miles in the Adrenalina Skateboard Marathon in San Diego last year before time expired. In June 2011, he was among those who helped break a world record in Venice by riding in the world's biggest skateboard parade. And recently, he participated in the three-day Summer Skate Expo in Encino.
Swalley wears a tattoo that bears the name of his daughter on his left arm and U.S.N. for U.S. Navy on the other. He was an avid skateboarder until 1991, when he was stabbed in the back and under his left arm trying to help a friend being mugged in Carpinteria. Doctors told him he had lost the use of his arm and both legs.
"The first thing I told them was, 'If I can't walk, how can I skate?' because I used to skate all the time," Swalley recalled.
But he surprised his physical therapists after about a month, when he began using crutches and a straight brace on his leg. He now uses a knee, ankle and foot brace but often skates, instead of walks, to the bus stop.
Today, Swalley skateboards 5 to 10 miles a day for his cardio workout and even rode in three CicLAvias -- car-free street closures -- in Los Angeles, managing to log 18 miles at the recent one this summer. He's skated to raise money for Limbs for Life, which provides prosthetic limbs to those in need, and for autism awareness.
"I started skating when I was 9 years old," he said. "It's freedom. It's moving without a lot of power, especially downhill. It's just really cool."
Sharon Montano, Swalley's partner of more than 25 years, said being able to skate again has done much to raise Swalley's spirits. "His life, when he got stabbed, it was, like, over with," she said. "This is his enjoyment of life, something to live for."
Their daughter, April Rose Swalley, a student at L.A. Mission College, would love to see her father skate in the L.A. Marathon. "I think it's a great stress reliever for him," she said. "I'm excited to see him do it -- and all the attention he gets from it, too." ___
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