When you watch this year’s Boston Marathon, April 17, keep your eyes peeled for Minnesota’s own Layne Nelson. Nelson will be competing in the event’s wheelchair division. Despite recently turning 40, he posted one of his fastest times in the 1999 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, which qualified him for the Boston Marathon.
Nelson most recently competed in, and won, the wheelchair division of the Millennium Marathon in Hamilton, New Zealand. How does one decide to go half way around the world for a marathon? “I saw an advertisement for the event in a magazine,” said Nelson. “I have some friends in New Zealand and they’re always asking me to visit, so I thought I’d go visit and race in the Millennium Marathon.”
The Millennium Marathon was the first marathon of the new millennium. Located south of Auckland, on the country’s north island, the rolling course turned out to be similar to that of the Twin Cities Marathon. Nelson held off 12 racers from five different countries, posting a time of 2:25. “I was pretty happy [with the time] considering the weather [60 degrees with intermittent rain] and my knowledge of the course,” said Nelson. “I arrived in New Zealand five days before the event to do some training, recover from jet lag and get used to the weather.”
Nelson, who works for the State of Minnesota as an acquisition management specialist, participated in his first race July 1983, less than a year after a car crash left him a paraplegic. He finished the 5K [kilometer] Kaiser Roll in third place. Since then, he has done hundreds of races including 36 marathons. “My rehabilitation counselor, Gwen White, at St. Mary’s in Rochester suggested wheelchair racing. At the time, it was just becoming a popular sport,” said Nelson. “For me, I do it more or less as a means to stay physically fit.”
Nelson said he tried playing softball and basketball, but that ended in 1987, when he was hit by a car while changing a tire. The injury to his shoulder ended his participation in those two sports, but he was still able to race. He has had more than his share of mishaps while racing too, thus earning him the nickname “Crash”. In July 1988, he hit a curb during the Run for the Roses in Roseville, which wreaked his racing chair. He was able to finish though, using his street chair. A week later he borrowed a chair and crashed in the Kaiser Roll. Then, after getting a new chair, he entered the Twin Cities Marathon. As he was coming down John Ireland Boulevard at 30 mph, he crashed into a pole.
What is it that keeps bringing him back? “It’s obviously not the safety aspect,” said Nelson. “I like going fast. You get a good workout, and it keeps me from getting over-stressed.”
Nelson has been working as one of the assistant coaches for the Courage Center track team also. He said working with the young racers has really made him work hard. “Last year I did more speed work, instead of my usual long distance training, and I had my two fastest times.” The Boston Marathon is an event in which racers usually have fast times, and Nelson is hoping for a personal best. “I’d love to break two hours.”
Come April 17, watch one of the world’s premiere racing events and hope the only “crashing” you hear, or see, is Layne Nelson breaking the finish line with his personal best time.