MANCHESTER - Today is one of those rare occasions when 29-year-old Alosha "Big Al" O'Brien will allow himself to be pushed around.
O'Brien and Craig Welton will be among those participating in the Seventh Annual Manchester City Marathon, and will compete as a push-chair duo. One of their goals is to raise awareness for Best Buddies, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities by providing one-to-one friendships, employment and leadership development.
"I'll be pushing Alosha during the marathon and I'm sure he'll be giving me a hard time the whole way," said Welton, a 32-year old Peabody, Mass., resident who attended St. Anselm College. "Although I've been training knowing this was coming up, I'm not really a runner so I told Alosha to pack lunch and dinner.
"The whole idea of Best Buddies is to take the disability out of it. It's kind of like Big Brothers/Big Sisters meets the Special Olympics, except for the fact that in Big Brothers/Big Sisters there's usually a mentor involved. With Best Buddies it's usually people who are close in age."
More than 2,000 runners are expected to compete in the marathon and the half marathon. Both races will start and finish at Veterans Park on Elm Street. The marathon, half marathon and relay are all scheduled to start at 8:50 a.m.
Manchester's Cam Dickson has been training with Runner's Edge, a group that meets three times a week a Runner's Alley in Manchester, and is competing in today's half-marathon for the first time.
"A lot of people asked me why I chose this course as my first one," Dickson said. "I was told it's the most challenging race to choose because of all the hills."
Ben Payne, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, won the 2012 marathon in 2 hours, 24 minutes and 43 seconds. Muliye Germu, an Ethiopian runner who lives in New York City, was the women's winner in 2:55.16.
Both Payne and Germu entered the Manchester City Marathon after the New York City Marathon was cancelled following Hurricane Sandy.
"It's a hard course because it's hilly," said Goffstown's Rick Brown, who also trains with Runner's Edge. "It's not like the Smuttynose (in Hampton), which is very flat and very fast. A group from Nashua came up here to run the course and they all said it was much harder than the course they train on."
Welton has competed in two Boston Marathons, but has never pushed anyone during the race. O'Brien will be riding in a wheelchair donated by Team Hoyt. Dick Hoyt and his son Rick are Massachusetts residents who compete in marathons and triathlons throughout the country.O'Brien, who lives in Milton, Mass., and Welton hope to participate in next year's Boston Marathon.
According to Welton, one hurdle he and O'Brien had to overcome was finding a marathon that would allow a push duo to compete.
"I reached out to a number of different marathons, but I didn't have much luck finding a marathon that could accomodate a push duo," Welton said. "The policy of some races is to have no push-chair duos, so that speaks volumes about the people involved with the race in Manchester."
If all goes well today, O'Brien and Welton hope to compete in next year's Boston Marathon. "No butterflies," O'Brien said. "I'm excited and ready to go. I know I'm in good hands."