Alicia Dana’s Experience Hand-Cycling in the 2023 Boston Marathon


My handcycle racing season started with a bang on April 17th; the first stop was Boston Marathon. I had only raced Boston once before, the year of the cold, wet rain, and sleet – 2018. It was a miserable experience – although I won the Women’s division, my time was nothing to shout about, and I was just happy I survived it. This year, I was looking forward to better weather (I hoped) and a more enjoyable experience. 

There were 34 hand cyclists lined up at the start line in Hopkinton – 7 women and 27 men. The pace was fast, even with a “controlled” start down the first descent. Being a lightweight (107 lbs) I had to work hard just to stay near the front while others coasted. The pace was fast, and they never let up. I quickly lost sight of Steve Chapman and John Masson, the 2 guys I was hoping to be able to work with. Instead, I rode with a small group of guys before making an acceleration and leaving them behind, still hoping there was a chance I could catch Steve and John. From there on, it was pretty much a Time Trial effort for me. Thankfully, I felt up to it, despite not sleeping much the night before. I had had the kind of pre-race care I dream about, but rarely got – my sister was there, handling most of the grunt work inherent in getting yourself ready for a race. I’m usually doing it all myself, and it can be exhausting and stressful. 

The crowds of cheering spectators along the route are truly remarkable in Boston, and it helps to make the miles fly by! People of all stripes were out – and by now it WAS raining (and cold). They made me feel like a rock star and they gave me the power I needed to keep my arms cranking around, fast and strong, even though my fingers were numb and my hands and arms weren’t spinning as freely as usual, from the cold. 

Before I knew it, I had only 10 miles to go, then 6…a typical training ride for me is about a marathon distance, so the miles weren’t really an issue. It was more that I wanted to cover them in 1:30 or less, in part to hit a mark that seemed doable to me for where I felt that I was in my fitness, and also in order to beat the standing course record of 1:35:10. A glance at my Garmin during these last few miles let me know I was on track to crush that goal, and I pushed even harder. Finally, there it was – the Finish Line! I crossed, heard my name announced, and saw my time: 1:18:15. I was so happy and relieved it was over. Now I was off to find my sister and get warm, dry, and fed. 

I grew very cold as soon as I stopped riding and was thoroughly soaked. A friendly passer-by stopped and asked me if I was alright, then called my sister for me to let her know I’d finished and where I was. No answer. I waited around some more – I knew she’d have a hard time finding me with all the traffic, but I was getting colder and colder by the minute. Soon someone else stopped to check on me and called my sister again (again no answer). A Volunteer appeared with a blanket, a policeman started hanging around, and others soon surrounded me, covering me in layers and asking strange questions like how old I was and what day it was (“August 17th” I said, “no, wait, APRIL!”). Despite my protests (“I have to find my sister!”) I was whisked into a warming tent, fed bouillon, gave my vitals, etc…until – finally – my sister suddenly

appeared, pushing my wheelchair. She hugged me and burst into tears. At that moment, I felt what this was all for, all about. Through her emotion, my own emotions welled up. The tough, rigid exterior melted enough for me to feel the awesomeness of what I had just done, the support so many had given, in a million different ways, for me to be able to do it, and the deep satisfaction of a great ride.