One running partner is legally blind. The other has had four strokes and lost control of the left side of her body.
But together, they’ve formed a racing duo that’s competed in 5ks, 10ks, 15ks, and half-marathons.
This weekend, the duo, Melissa Peplow and Vicky Wallace, will compete in the their longest race yet, a full marathon. It’s the 40th Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday in Washington, D.C.
Peplow is legally blind. She runs behind Wallace’s wheelchair and helps push it.
Wallace’s left side is paralyzed. She helps navigate and uses her right hand to help push her wheelchair, and her right leg to help pull it.
The two competed in back-to-back half-marathons in East Tennessee last November, racing in Farragut on a Saturday and then in Alcoa on a Sunday.
Wallace, who is co-owner of J&M Butcher Shop in Oak Ridge, keeps a sticker-box checklist of the races they’ve completed (5k, 10k, 15k, 13.1 (half-marathon)) on the back of her SUV. One box remains unchecked: 26.2. That’s short for 26.2 miles, the length of a marathon.
Next year, the two plan to compete in a 50k in Alcoa, the Pistol Ultra on January 2.
“Each year, we try to do something more challenging,” Peplow said.
Their goal at this weekend’s marathon: a time between 5:15 and 5:30. That’s keeping a minutes-per-mile pace that ranges between the upper 11s and lower 12s.
“We’re not the fastest runners, but we do the best we can,” Wallace said.
Their running team is called “Two for One.” They picked that name because Peplow can use her two legs, Wallace can use one arm and one leg, and they have two big wheelchair wheels.
They encourage people to “get out there and chase their dreams with whatever they have; don’t focus on what you don’t have.”
Their partnership and can-do attitude have inspired others. People have been motivated by their example to stop smoking and get physically active, among other behavioral changes, and they stop Peplow and Wallace to let them know about their positive impact.
“We get people stopping us all the time,” Peplow said.
But it’s not why the two started racing.
“We started out for our own health and mind,” Wallace said. “It’s a nice added benefit that we can inspire others to use what they have. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.”
The two have been training for 25 weeks for this weekend’s marathon. They’ve been training four days a week at the Oak Ridge Marina.
They’ll compete with 35,000 runners. There will be 35 Angel teams. Those are teams of racers running with specialized wheelchairs and immobile riders.
Peplow and Wallace are part of Ainsley’s Angels, and they are running for charity this weekend. They’ve raised $3,650, which entitles them to dinner with special guests. Ainsley, the person for whom the charity is named, has a rare progressive terminal neurological disease. Her father, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps, runs with her by pushing her in a specialized wheelchair, Peplow and Wallace said. The idea is to promote inclusion for everyone with disabilities, provide mobility, and “roll with the wind.”
Peplow and Wallace met each other while training for black belts in martial arts in 2010 and 2012. They live less than a mile apart and got their start by walking just to get out of the house, including on trips to the store. Peplow can’t drive, and Wallace couldn’t either for about 1.5 years after a large stroke in 2011 that forced her to learn to talk and swallow again. (She had her first stroke in 2008.)
After the two started walking together, they participated in a one-mile walk for prostate cancer. They found that to be very easy.
Then, while participating in a Kids Count 5k in 2012, they realized they could pass people. That was an important moment.
“I got that competitive mode back,” Wallace said. “We were addicted then.”
They competed in the Secret City Half Marathon in 2013. Among other races, they also ran in the Ninja 5k in June 2014. They can run a 5k in about 29 minutes.
They will draw inspiration on Sunday from two children they’ve been matched with as part of a group called I Run For. In that group, special needs children and adults are matched with mostly able-bodied people, and runs, walks, and workouts are dedicated to the children by sharing photos and writing posts on Facebook for the children.
“It really helps to motivate us because these kids are quite an inspiration,” Peplow and Wallace said.
Peplow’s buddy is Oliver of Atlanta, and Wallace’s is Christopher of South Carolina.
“They have definitely helped to keep us going these past 25 weeks of training,” the two said. “We will be thinking about them a lot during the marathon on Sunday. Knowing what they go through every day just to survive will definitely help to motivate us to keep going when it gets tough and we are hurting.”
You can follow Peplow and Wallace on their Facebook page, which is called With a Will, There is a Way.
Copyright 2015 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.