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Md. man in wheelchair to take part in D.C. marathon

Saturday - 10/29/2011, 2:19pm  ET

By TINA REED
The Capital of Annapolis

ODENTON, Md. - Tom Chepurko didn't bargain on participating in any marathons anytime soon.

It wasn't just that the 53-year-old Odenton resident hadn't trained for years. Chepurko largely depends on a wheelchair for mobility. He was injured in a skydiving accident in 1981 that caused partial paralysis from the waist down.

"It's difficult for me to get around," he said.

But then his daughter, Kristina _ his junior by 30 years to the day and a midshipman at the Naval Academy _ called earlier this year to tell him she was signing up for this weekend's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. She wanted to know if he'd do the much shorter 10K event.

"Why not the marathon?" he asked.

"Okay," she said and hung up.

His daughter gave him no chance to back out.

And not wanting to back down from a challenge, the inactive duty Marine said he realized he just might be able to raise money at the same time. He set a goal of raising $10,000 for several programs that benefit wounded Marines, including the Semper Fi fund, Marines Helping Marines and the Marine Corps. Scholarship fund. So far, he has raised about $3,000, he said.

Chepurko will be among 130 competing in the fast-growing wheelchair and hand cycle division and one of a total of 30,000 people participating Sunday, said race spokeswoman Tami Faram. "We had more sign up for that division than ever before," she said.

As he began his training regimen, the reality of the training set in. He'd done wheelchair racing for exercise before, but gave it up more than a decade ago after a shoulder injury. "I hadn't done anything up until last November," he said. Hills are the worst, he said.

But the causes served to help propel him forward, he said. "I was just thinking about my brothers and sisters I'm trying to raise money for because I have firsthand knowledge of what those programs do for the Marines," he said.

Kristina Chepurko, who is in her second year at the academy after serving in the Marines for four years, said she is proud of her dad's efforts to raise money for different wounded warrior programs.

She said they both were moved by their first visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a Marines Helping Marines event.

"My dad can really relate to guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and having to adjust," Kristina said. "I've never known my dad to walk. But he told me when we went to Walter Reed and said he remembered what it was like to be in the hospital ... you have to keep yourself going and motivate yourself to get back to the person you were."

Tom Chepurko said he has gotten in better shape in the past year than he's been in for many years. "Right now I am in probably, given my age, I'm in as good of shape as I was in the Marine Corps," Chepurko said.

He said he hopes, too, his story might be a source of inspiration for someone, perhaps an injured Marine, even though his own injuries didn't come from combat. "It's a life-changing injury. What you need to get through that is the same," Chepurko said. "What I have found is that it's a Marine thing. They just have a much better attitude about what's going to happen."

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Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/


(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)