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Susannah Scaroni comes back stronger than ever after injury rehab

University of Illinois graduate student Susannah Scaroni crosses the finish line to win the Women's Wheelchair race at the Chicago Marathon on Sun., Oct. 9.

URBANA — University of Illinois wheelchair athlete Susannah Scaroni announced her presence on the world stage last year with a gold medal in the 5,000 meters at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Scaroni added to her trophy case on Sunday when she won the Chicago Marathon, her first victory in one of the six world “major” marathons.

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She beat beat Illinois teammate and nine-time Chicago marathon champion Tatyana McFadden by four minutes. 

“I just tried to make a gap early on, and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing lately,” Scaroni said. “Every ounce of energy I had, I was just trying to keep the gap going because I was definitely slowing down at the end.”

Scaroni’s win in Chicago capped off a busy three-week stretch of racing where she finished third in the Berlin Marathon and second at the London Marathon. 

“That was my first time ever doing three marathons back-to-back,” she said. “I’ve done two marathons back-to-back multiple times, always a challenge, but normally what you have going for you is that everyone else you’re racing against, for the most part, has done both of them.” 

That wasn’t the case in Chicago, as McFadden and several other competitors didn’t race in London. 

Just over a year ago, Scaroni was rear-ended by a car while training and suffered major injuries, including fractured vertebrae. Her rehab started slowly. 

“After the accident happened, it was just like resetting completely,” she said. “I already have limited use of my body, so to think about my back being chronically in pain, or anything like that, I just didn’t want that.

“We took the recovery super seriously, which meant really doing light things all the way until January,” Scaroni said. “When I was given the green light to start pushing again in my chair, it was eye-opening how hard it was. I had about 20 minutes that I could tolerate of it, and then I was so fatigued that I couldn’t keep being in there.”

But she says her recovery quickly accelerated. 

“By the middle of February, I was doing the workouts my teammates were doing,” Scaroni said. “And then in March, hitting some times…that were faster than I had been before Tokyo. That part is still what’s shocking and surprising to me.”

Scaroni is training for her next major marathon, the New York City Marathon, on Sunday, Nov. 6. The field will include McFadden, four-time champion Manuela Schar of Switzerland and defending champion Madison de Rozario of Australia.  

“I’m looking forward to it, and I’m excited to see how I can compare there on a climbing course,” she said. “Our training over the next three weeks will include a lot more hill climbing, as much as we can in Champaign.”

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Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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