MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A New Jersey high school teacher and an alum are teaming up to participate in New York City Marathon, but they’ll need each other to cross the finish line.
It’s a journey they started together, training six days a week since September so they could participate in the race.
Joseph Rooney, 33, is the muscle. Mike Nichols, 23, is the spirit.
“I’m doing this because Mikey Nichols is the most motivational person I have met in my life,” said Rooney, a 12th grade teacher at Monroe Township High School.
At 17, Nichols was severely hurt while playing high school hockey for Monroe Township. His injuries were so bad, he was hooked up to a ventilator. Some doctors thought he would never breathe on his own again.
“I broke my C5 vertebrae, paralyzing me from the neck down initially, but I’ve gained a lot of strength and whatnot, so I’ve gained a lot of movement back,” Nichols said.
Physical therapy helped him tremendously, but he can’t walk. Still, he credits getting this far to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
“I was pretty much on my death bed. I flatlined at one point, but they were there for me throughout the entire time,” Nichols said.
Now, he’s returning the favor by entering the marathon’s duo-team category with his mentor. Rooney will be running the race while pushing Nichols in his wheelchair.
“You gotta be crazy to run 26 miles and push a 150-pound human being,” Nichols said.
“He’s a voice for all of us that need hope, all of us that are going though hardships or tough times. Mikey just is the embodiment of the human spirit and never giving up despite the odds,” Rooney said.
Rooney never had Nichols as a student, but they bonded over similar interests, never thinking they would one day run a marathon together and try to raise money to put an end to paralysis.
“We all know mentors are really critical and important in people’s lives. So what these two are doing for love and for helping to find a cure is extraordinary,” said Peter Wilderotter, president of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
The two are trying to raise $30,000 to get a paralysis cure to the finish line. They have raised around $8,000 so far.
If you would like to donate, visit give.reeve.org/fundraiser/2287902.