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Strong to the finish

Pushing a friend for 26.2 miles, Connor Petty ’15 uses marathon training to achieve big dreams.

Connor Petty ’15 (right) and Steven Marrs ran the Bass Pro Marathon in Petty’s hometown, Springfield, Mo., in four hours, 11 minutes in November. (Photo by Kyndal Hawkins/Springfield News-Leader)

Strong to the finish

Pushing a friend for 26.2 miles, Connor Petty ’15 uses marathon training to achieve big dreams.

A marathon is normally a solitary activity – a 26.2-mile test of stamina that leaves a runner alone with his thoughts. But for Connor Petty ’15 and his friend Steven Marrs, it was a dream.

A year ago, the two saw a team of people push a friend who uses a wheelchair across the finish line of a race. Marrs wanted to try it. Petty was game.

“It was a big challenge. Neither of us had done a race of that length,” said Petty, who met Marrs four years ago at Camp Barnabas, a Christian camp for kids with disabilities, special needs and terminal illnesses. Petty was a counselor. Marrs attended as camper for 18 years and recently became a staff member.

“When we started, we knew we wouldn’t be able to do it physically or mentally,” said Petty. “But spiritually, we both believe in a big God. So we started taking small steps to make a big dream come true.”

Petty started building up his strength by pushing a jogging stroller filled with cinder blocks. Marrs, who has cerebral palsy and weighs 130 pounds, became the inspirational muscle.

“He’s the legs, and I’m the heart,” Marrs explained. “Legs don’t work without a heart, so I think it was each other’s passion that kept us motivated.”

The two reunited in the summer to train together but soon discovered they needed a better chair. On their first run, the handrail broke.

“We decided to run with a normal wheelchair, but as we were running with it, the front tires started wearing down when we got to 10 miles,” Petty said.

Unknown to him, the camp staff had collected $1,000 to purchase a racing wheelchair for Marrs. Their slogan became “2 guys, 1 dream.”

In November, after just seven months of training, they raced it to the finish line of the Bass Pro Marathon in Petty’s hometown, Springfield, Mo., in four hours, 11 minutes.

A few months later, the duo had planned to run the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, with Marrs outfitted in a TCU helmet signed by Gary Patterson. But an ice storm limited them to the half-marathon. They plan to keep running, but they have something larger in mind.

“This goes beyond running,” said Petty. “We hope we inspire people to dream big and attempt what seems like the impossible. Along the way, we’ll invite people to join in the journey.”