Completing the New York City Marathon is a massive accomplishment for anyone. Volunteering to run 26.2 miles alongside a person with a disability who's counting on you, takes a whole new level of commitment and perseverance and can lead to some serious feel-good rewards.
The founder of Achilles International, an organization that helps people with disabilities achieve their potential through long distance races, Dick Traum says being a volunteer can be more rewarding than running on one's own. "There's a concept of giving, and what they're doing is they're helping someone who couldn't do it without them complete the 26.2 miles," he told CBS News.
In 1976, Traum became the first amputee to finish the New York City Marathon. It inspired him to share the joy he felt that day with others. He founded Achilles International Organization in 1983. This year, Achilles has 244 marathoners and 200 accompanying volunteers competing together in Sunday's race.
"The volunteers are typically marathoners who are taking the next step. In other words they are moving from competitors to coach, or from child to parent," Traum says.
Kathleen Bateman, director of the New York City chapter of Achilles, has volunteered as a guide for Achilles in the past, and now leads the bi-weekly workouts for volunteers and athletes in Central Park.
"In order to run 26.2 miles it takes a tremendous amount of commitment not just on the part of the athlete to show up to workouts, but also to connect with a guide team who's willing to train with them five times a week," Bateman says.
Able-bodied volunteers with Achilles note that while they were originally inspired to help someone else, sometimes it's the guides themselves who end up needing the most encouragement.
"When you wake up in the morning and you think about not going out, I think if I don't go in and do my thing, the Achilles people are always here, so I better get in there," says guide Carl Svendsen.
Svendsen has been training with visually impaired athlete Matt Turner for this year's New York City Marathon. They run holding onto a tether so Svendsen can gently guide Matt's way. Their goal: to complete the race in 3 hours and 35 minutes. To give some context, last year, the average finish time for the New York City Marathon was just under 4 hours and 19 minutes. Clearly, Matt's visual impairment will not be slowing either of them down.
In 2013, 50,266 people crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon. This year, even more are expected to compete. Big crowds can make it tough for runners with disabilities. In order to keep Turner safe throughout the race, he will need three guides surrounding him at all times.
Turner's guides won't have the luxury of zoning out or listening to music while they run. Getting around obstacles like people, water cups, and other debris on the race course will take constant vigilance.
"You have to pay attention," Svendsen explains. "When you actually have somebody on the tether you have to pay attention to what's ahead of you."
Svendsen and Turner have developed a friendship and camaraderie born from sharing long training runs and mutually supporting each other.
Batemen, who has witnessed the power of Achilles since 2009, speaks to this bond. "What we find often is it's not really about the athletic goal at all, it's about the bigger goal, the bigger achievement, and really friendship is what it comes down to."