MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT --
When you first meet Paul Kelly, you might not realize that he was born to race on Cherry Point.
But the Cherry Point native completed his 63rd long-distance race Saturday, finishing 3rd here in his division. He was one of more than 200 Marines, Sailors, and civilians who participated in the 14th annual half marathon hosted by Marine Corps Community Services Cherry Point.
Kelly, who was born on the air station, retired from a position with the Department of the Navy at Cherry Point after 32 years.
Kelly drew inspiration to complete his first race from the sight of the crank-chair participants competing in the 2006 Marine Corps Marathon. That day was a life-changing event for Kelly, who has been quadarplegic for most of his adult life.
“As I approached my 30th year of living with a spinal cord injury, I felt like completing the Marine Corps Marathon in 2008 would be a great life accomplishment,” said Kelly who watched from his wheelchair to see his niece compete.
No longer on the sidelines, he now competes in the hand-crank bike division.
“I try to participate in around 10 marathons and half marathons a year,” said Kelly. “I also take part in a number of 5ks, 10ks and 10-milers throughout the year.”
He got his start in May 2007, finishing the Run for the Warriors, a race dedicated to the men and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and hosted by Hope for the Warriors at Camp Lejeune.
“One of the things that I love about working for Hope for the Warriors is the faithful backing that we provide to the wounded clients we support,” said Kelly. “It was a great honor for me to participate in that race alongside Marines who were injured while protecting our freedom, an honor I have enjoyed many times since, including Saturday. At that 2007 race, I told my wife, Sally, ‘Here’s our cause – Hope for the Warriors.’”
This year Kelly hopes to complete his fifth Marine Corps Marathon, hosted by the branch of service in which his father once served.
“The physical struggles with quadriplegia are many,” said Kelly. “Often they are not obvious.”
After the half marathon, Kelly and his wife traveled to New Jersey where he participated in the Ocean Drive Marathon. Kelly said the course itself was no more difficult than any other, but it was a challenge for him because as the race progressed, the temperature dropped and the wind blew stronger.
“As a result, I was somewhat hypothermic by the time I finished,” said Kelly. “Without the use of large muscle groups in my legs and abdomen, I don’t generate as much body heat as would keep an able-bodied person warm.”
Despite the challenges he faces, Kelly does not let the physical struggles discourage him and said the tougher struggles are often the mental ones.
“While I have learned that life with a disability is not a life filled with despair, it is a life filled with hope, I often encounter individuals with conceptions about what a person with a disability can or cannot do,” said Kelly. “It is often only those conceptions that limit what can be accomplished. Given the opportunity and the support, a determined individual can accomplish anything.”