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Runner doesn’t let wheelchair stop her from competing, even in elite Boston Marathon

Although Onni cannot speak or walk, she can race. That passion has led her to complete the notoriously challenging Boston Marathon.
Credit: Judson, Andie
(Courtesy of the Peck family)

FAIRPORT, NY -- Onni Peck has done what is seemingly impossible for many runners: she’s completed the Boston Marathon. But for Onni, the race course came with extra challenges.

Because of her undiagnosed progressive muscular disease, Onni raced from her wheelchair, propelled by fellow athlete Marie Boudreau-Ninkov. With Marie’s push behind her, the wheels beneath her and a huge smile on her face, Onni has accomplished her dreams.

Onni’s story began a continent away when her parents, Mike and Donna Peck, adopted her from Ecuador.

The Pecks had already adopted Onni’s brother when they got a call about a little girl that needed a home. “We were basically called by God,” Donna said.

There was an instant connection when they flew to Ecuador and met Onni for the first time. “Not a tear was shed on her part,” said Donna. “She was like, ‘My mom and dad are here.’ ...She looked at us like, ‘What took you so long?’”

When Onni was in second grade, she started having health issues. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a progressive muscular disease.

After the diagnosis, her parents took her to therapeutic horseback riding classes, and she loved it. Onni always had a competitive spirit, so she participated in the Special Olympics, won a medal and rode in a state-wide competition.

As her disease progressed, it became harder for Onni to ride. She finally had to retire because she didn’t have the strength to remain upright.

But her athletic career was far from over. Onni started helping her dad Mike train for triathlons and road races. He pushed her in a special wheelchair, and together they competed through an organization called Ainsley’s Angels, which supports people who race with disabilities.

“To be able to participate in events such as 5Ks and triathlons is extremely exciting for Onni. It’s participating with her peers. It’s inclusion,” Mike said.

Through their involvement in the organization, they met other runners and running pairs. Onni and Michael met Marie through Ainsley's Angels, and they began competing together.

First, Team Onni tackled the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C.

Then, Marie and Onni competed in the Louisiana Marathon. That’s where they made history becoming the first all-female team to qualify based on time for the Boston Marathon, clocking in at 4 hours and 8 minutes.

In April 2017, they traveled to the Mecca of road races and competed in the Boston Marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment and a lot of fun for both of them.

Though Onni’s physical abilities have become more restricted as her disease progresses, running opened new opportunities for her.

“The number of people that she has met and included… other individuals that have various abilities, has been extremely rewarding for her and for us,” Mike said.

Through it all, Onni became known for her huge, glowing smile.

“It’s infectious,” Mike said. Just like her determination and positive spirit.

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