Achilles International starts new chapter in Queens

By Patrick Donachie

A few months ago, Wendy Phaff, the assistant director of development at the Queens Center for Progress in Jamaica, became interested in helping someone at the center train to participate in a New York City marathon. The center assists people with developmental disabilities, so she called Achilles International, which helps individuals with disabilities to prepare for running events.

She hoped to learn more about Achilles workouts in Queens, but discovered that there was not a Queens chapter of the organization. She decided to work on changing that.

“I feel like Queens is a big borough,” she said about her role as co-president of Achilles International’s first Queens chapter, which held its first workout March 6. “And there’s a lot of people with disabilities who can benefit.”

The Achilles Track Club began in 1983. Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York City Marathon, founded the organization and its first international chapter began two years later in New Zealand. There are two weekly workouts in Central Park, one in Washington Square Park in Manhattan and one in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but there were no workouts in Queens until the new chapter was established.

Though Phaff said that starting the chapter was a significant commitment, she nonetheless found it worthwhile in light of how running benefitted her. She recalled that she started running as a means to raise money, and it gradually became a more important part of her life.

“It starts out, when you’re running a fund-raiser, you’re running for people who can’t,” she said. “Now I want to make sure that people who can’t run, can.”

With the new chapter established, Phaff and the other members hope to attract more volunteers and athletes like Bill Reilly, who already attends the Sunday morning practices. Nicknamed “Backwards Bill,” Reilly has participated in more than 30 marathons by pushing his wheelchair backwards with one leg. Phaff hopes that more athletes follow Reilly’s example and decide to join the chapter.

“The emphasis is on recruiting and letting people with disabilities know that they can do this,” she said. “We just want to make sure there’s nothing preventing people from doing what they want to do.”

The chapter’s members are also training for the Achilles Hope and Possibility Race, a four-mile race scheduled for June 26 at 10 a.m. in Central Park. The Queens chapter meets on Sundays at 10 a.m. outside the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Phaff encouraged interested athletes to check www.achillesqueens.org for more information, including possible cancellations on practices. More information can be found by calling (646) 801-8786.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.