Presented By:John Hancock Logo

Participant Information: Athletes With Disabilities

Paving the way for disabled athletes since 1975


The Boston Athletic Association has a proud tradition of extending the challenge of the marathon to people with disabilities. 

Beginning in 1975, when one wheelchair racer completed the distance, the Boston Marathon has helped change public perception and provided opportunity and inspiration to a generation of new athletes. From its inauspicious origins over 35 years ago, the Boston Marathon currently supports a push rim wheelchair division, a visually impaired/blind division and a mobility impaired program.

Following the historic breakthrough in 1975, the Boston Athletic Association embraced this competition and incorporated it as part of the Boston Marathon. The push rim wheelchair division quickly became a focal point of local, national and world interest.

In accordance with the existing divisions of the Boston Marathon, the push rim wheelchair division similarly adopted a set of realistic qualifying times that have served to motivate aspiring athletes. With the exceptions of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Boston Marathon is the only race in the world requiring a qualifying time. With the emphasis on performance, the push rim wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon has witnessed an unparalleled level of excellence in the form of world, national and personal best performances.

The introduction of prize money in 1986 enhanced the competition, and provided the push rim wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon with the richest prize purse in the sport.

This athletic phenomenon and subsequent successes of the push rim wheelchair division provided hope and possibility to additional audiences with physical disabilities, who were eager to accept the challenge of the marathon distance.

By the mid 1980’s, the B.A.A. established a visually impaired/blind division and a mobility impaired program. In each of these new components of the marathon, realistic standards and criteria of competition have been established for all concerned.

To date, more than one thousand people with different disabilities have competed in the wheelchair division of the B.A.A. Boston Marathon, while the visually and mobility impaired divisions have provided access to a growing number of additional athletes.

B.A.A. Moment 2

1935 John A. Kelley

Born in West Medford, Massachusetts as one of ten children, Kelley ran track and cross-country at Arlington High School in Massachusetts. He did not finish his first Boston Marathon in 1928, but eventually competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons. A legend of the marathon, Kelley won the 1935 and 1945 runnings of the Boston Marathon. He finished in second place at Boston a record seven times. Between 1934 to 1950, he finished in the top five 15 times at Boston, consistently running in the 2:30s. He ran his last full marathon at Boston in 1992 at the age of 84, his 61st start and 58th finish there.