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Wheelchair Champs Soejima, Tsuchida Win It For Japan

BOSTON (AP) -- At their times of deepest doubt, when it seemed fatigue would overcome them and force them to drop out, Masazumi Soejima and Wakako Tsuchida thought of their homeland.

Soejima and Tsuchida gave Japan a sweep of the Boston Marathon men's and women's wheelchair divisions Monday, boosting a nation recovering from a devastating earthquake and tsunami last month that claimed the lives of  thousands.

"During the hard times when I wanted to give up, or felt down, that's when I felt the courage from the people back home," Tsuchida said through a translator after winning the women's division for the fifth consecutive year in a world best and course record time of 1 hour, 34 minutes and 6 seconds, beating Jean Driscoll's 1994 time of 1:34.22. A consistent tail wind helped, she said.

Watch: Tsuchida Wins Fifth Straight Boston Marathon Women's Wheelchair

Soejima, wearing a sticker on his jersey that read "Strength and Courage" in Japanese, won Boston for the second time in 1:18.50, using a final frantic surge to pass Australian Kurt Fearnley and nine-time champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, who both finished in 1:18.51.

Watch: Soejima Beats Out Fearnley, Van Dyk In Men's Wheelchair Race

"I was thinking until my hands start bleeding, until my heart stops, I am going to try until the very end," Soejima said through a translator.

"With everything that has happened in Japan, I really wanted to try hard this year, especially to finish in Boston and do well for my country," he added later.

His victory even inspired those he beat.

"I think the country deserves as much good news as possible," Fearnley said.

Japan's feel good day continued across town at Fenway Park, where pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka gave up just one hit in seven innings to help the Boston Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 9-1.

Americans Shirley Reilly and Christina Ripp were second and third in the women's race, within a second of each other, but nearly seven minutes behind Tsuchida.

The 37-year-old Tsuchida, who lost use of her legs in a car crash when she was 17, lives in Tokyo and was affected by the gasoline and water shortages caused by the natural disasters and subsequent nuclear emergency. In fact, she was scared that she wouldn't even make it to Boston.

"I really wanted to do well for everybody ... especially everybody back home," she said.

With her training regimen interrupted, she had to travel to other parts of the country to train. At one point she even trained with Soejima, who was less affected by the disaster in his hometown of Fukuoka.

The pair got another boost when they got to Boston and made their annual visit to the Red Sox.

After the race, they held up a Japanese flag signed by the entire team, including Matsuzaka. It read "Keep trying and keep the courage Japan" along the top.

The 40-year-old Soejima trailed Van Dyk, shooting for his record 10th Boston victory, and Fearnley for nearly the entire race before making his move in the final stretch. His hands pumping furiously, he overtook both and nipped them at the line, pumping his fist in triumph as he won Boston for the first time since 2007.

"At no point did I think I was all set," he said. "I just kept pushing with everything I had until I cut the tape," said
Soejima, who lost use of his legs at age 23 in a building collapse.

He even cried at the finish, but he said he always cries at the end of races, win or lose.

His one regret was that he didn't look better.

"I wish I looked cooler. I wish I had sunglasses or something," he said with a chuckle.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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