Heading to New York on a hand cycle

Jack Lovett-Hurst on handcycle

Like many Southland stories, this too begins with a beer in the pub.

Born with muscular dystrophy, Jack Lovett-Hurst, 20, is going to compete in the New York Marathon on his hand cycle in November.   It all started on Boxing Day in 2015. Jack's mum and step dad, Debbie and Greg Houkamau, were having a beer at the Newfield Tavern with blind athlete Hannah Pascoe.  Pascoe, who has run the New York Marathon twice, suggested that Jack give it a go.

Jack Lovett-Hurst will head to New York to complete the New York Marathon in November along with his Mum Debbie Houkamau and stepdad Greg Houkamau.

In 2015, Jack had completed 21km in a half marathon, the longest distance he had ever ridden.  The plan would be to complete the full New York Marathon which is 42km, double his best effort to date.

When Jack's parents told him about the idea, he was excited, but didn't believe them, he said.  Debbie had looked into Jack doing the race last year but after some research they decided to put it off for year, giving them time to prepare, she said.  It became real on the last day of February this year. The family received a call to confirm that Jack had been awarded a spot in the marathon.  Only two spaces for hand cycles were awarded to each country and Jack had been selected, she said.  "I'm excited and nervous because it's going to be the biggest run we've done."

At that point Jack posted about it on Facebook and it went "crazy", his parents said.  A few days later, he was offered $2000 from the Mike Pero Foundation to help him towards his goal, Debbie said.  The community also rallied around Jack and his goal, Greg said.  Some family friends set up a Givealittle page, but the family declined to set up their own.  "We didn't think it was the right thing to do because we thought it was more for people that are really in need.  "While still uncomfortable with the idea, they understood it gave those who were interested in supporting Jack a legitimate way to do so, Greg and Debbie said.

Jack was one of several athletes from New Zealand who were heading over in a team supported by Achilles International New Zealand.  Achilles International is a worldwide organisation with a mission to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.

Greg has taken on the role of being Jack's mentor and training partner and will be supporting Jack during the marathon.  They would start training soon, running about 10km twice a week before working their way up to 30km runs, Greg said.  "Because he does have limited use of his arms and his upper body every now and then he needs a rest."

All up, Jack would need him to support him and probably push sporadically for about 20km of the race, Greg said.  "That's going to be the hard thing for both of us, when he's resting and I'm pushing."  "If I blow out then there's no way he's going to finish it."  It was difficult finding events to use as training towards the marathon as Jack's bike needed the right terrain, so events had to be road based, Greg said.

One of the ideas they had was to do a run from Bluff to Invercargill, a distance of roughly 30km.  They would try to get a sponsor on board and turn it into a fundraising event, Greg said.

The family had been working with AccessAbility local area coordinator Jenny Hogg who has supported Jack in his sporting endeavours, Greg said.  "Without her and her guidance I don't think we would be anywhere near going to New York."

By Dave Nicoll, taken from the Southland Times 17 March 2017.