Hampton Roads racing duo makes history

Published 10:40 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Michael Davis pushed Ashton McCormick in his race chair through the streets of Boston on April 16, in nearly six hours of heavy rain and 38-degree wind chill with gusts of up to 50 miles per hour.

Davis, who is legally blind, kept a steady pace behind his guide runner, Joe Orth, as they avoided plastic rain ponchos scattered on the road by other racers in the last four blocks of the Boston Marathon.

“I ran conservatively,” Davis said Tuesday. “I could have run faster, but I was trying to run a smarter race, not necessarily a faster race.”

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Davis, 33, of Suffolk, and McCormick, 19, of Chesapeake, made history as the first team of a blind runner pushing a disabled athlete to finish the marathon.

McCormick, who has autism, almost didn’t make it to the race because he was sick for days leading up to the race. His mother, Jennifer McCormick, said he was sick until 1:30 a.m. the night before and only got a few hours’ sleep before they had to depart from the hotel that morning.

“I asked him if he wanted to race today and he said ‘yes,’” she said, adding that he perked up after breakfast.

Davis has been racing with McCormick since 2012 when the two met through Team Hoyt, an organization of runners who push riders with special needs. Davis is an avid marathoner who has run Boston three times by himself, and the pair have teamed up for at least 100 races and training rides in the last six years.

The team adopted the name “Team Pretzel Hands” after McCormick’s love of Rold Gold Tiny Twists pretzels, which he enjoyed tucked under his blanket as Davis pushed him through torrential rain.

“Wet pretzels look like mac and cheese,” Jennifer McCormick said with a laugh. “It looked like elbow macaroni all over his chair.”

Davis and his wife, Reneka, have become close with the McCormicks over the years. They spend time at the McCormicks’ Western Branch residence for holidays and birthdays, and Davis also trains with McCormick’s younger brother, Holden, a runner for Western Branch High School’s track and cross country teams.

Jennifer McCormick said her older son actually enjoys the rain.

“Because it’s a great idea,” Ashton says with glee.

“You know I don’t like the rain, don’t you,” Davis laughed.

Emotions ran high for both of them as they crossed the wet finish line. Orth told them that they made history. Tears welled up for Davis as people described him as an inspiration for disabled athletes. He reflected on years in elementary and middle school not being picked by other kids for sports.

He went on to succeed as an athlete despite his vision.

“It’s hard to describe, but it feels pretty good,” he said.

McCormick has brought his finisher medal with him to school multiple times, Jennifer McCormick said.

“He wears it the entire day and shows it to everybody, then it goes back on the medal rack in his bedroom,” she said.

McCormick called his finisher medal “a great idea.”

“I won,” he said holding his medal.

Davis and McCormick have begun training for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., this October. McCormick is expected to be pushed by Aric Martinez with Ainsley’s Angels of America, leaving Davis the opportunity to run solo.

He said he’d rather push another disabled rider instead.

“I kind of prefer it, actually, because I can help someone be included,” he said.

Those that wish to make a donation to help fundraise for Ainsley’s Angels can search “Team Pretzel Hands” on crowdrise.com.