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Marathon Accepts One-Legged Runner

March 24, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ For the next four weeks, Mike Welsch will be training hard to get ready to run the Boston Marathon.

He won’t run it fast. He won’t win. But for Welsch, completing the 26.2 mile course will be an awesome achievement.

That’s because the 38-year-old Burlington man will be running from Hopkinton to Boston on April 20 on one leg.

``I am psyched and I will be there,″ he said after hearing the Boston Athletic Association decided to let him run. ``I just hope they don’t change their mind.″

Last week, Welsch, who has run the marathon twice before, was stunned to find that the Boston Athletic Association had denied his application for an official marathon number

Race officials said his eight-hour time last year was about three hours too slow to qualify for the prestigious race when other, faster runners are kept out.

On Monday, race director Guy Morse decided Welsch’s determination is enough, and agreed to find a way for him to take his place among the elite and every-day marathoners who flock to Boston.

`The BAA doesn’t deserve a black eye, nor does Michael deserve the negative publicity,″ Morse said.

Morse said the BAA would arrange to have Welsch start the race about two hours before the other runners, and arrange for security and medical support along the course for him.

``I think we can stretch our safety net with the cooperation of the cities and towns,″ he said.

In 1979, Welsch was riding his motorcycle drunk when he crashed and lost his left leg. The accident left his other leg in casts for nearly six years.

Even while his right foot was still encased in plaster, he put on his prosthesis and began riding a bicycle. Soon he was swimming and biking seriously, and in 1986 Welsch decided to try a triathlon.

Three years ago, he set his sights on the Boston Marathon _ the race’s 100th anniversary. He was allowed to run officially that year as race officials relaxed the entry requirement for the anniversary.

``The first marathon was awesome,″ he said.

Before he began running, Welsch admits he had doubts he’d finish.

``A week before it we drove it. I almost literally got sick,″ he said. ``I got so depressed I couldn’t believe how long it was.″

But he said he talked himself through it, reminding himself he had run 18 miles before and once run 10 miles twice in a day.

``I said to myself, now it’s time to put it all together. You put all that in the bank and it’s time to draw interest,″ he said.

Welsch said he made it through the race by giving himself small goals to reach _ 6 miles, 10 miles, then 13. He was halfway through and started counting down again.

``When I saw the Citgo sign, it was just a spot down the road and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,″ he said. ``Once you get to the Citgo sign, you know you did it.″

Almost eight hours after he left Hopkinton, Welsch crossed the line at Copley Square.

The winner finished about six hours earlier.

Despite the slow time and the pain and callouses on his stump, Welsch ran the marathon again the next year.

For Welsch, a father of three from Burlington, the time it takes to finish the marathon is not what matters. It’s being able to accomplish, with his disability, what most people with two legs can’t do.

``I want to see people with disabilities out there running,″ he said. ``Everybody can’t be the winner. Everybody can’t do this marvelous time.″

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