According to This Marathoner, Running Is for Everyone

Rafael Sanchez with Achilles International

Achilles International

Many running campaigns focus on elite athletes—individuals who've made running their job, brand, or general way of life. But the fact of the matter is, running is for everyone—regardless of speed, build, fitness level, or capability. The sport can positively impact your mental health and foster a sense of community in a group setting, among its other widely-touted benefits. In short, it doesn't matter if you're a professional or a brand-new runner—running can be a way of life for so many.

Even with running's ever-growing following, there are still some preconceived notions about obstacles in the activity. Largely age, size, and disability. Yet there are inspirational individuals and organizations working to make running accessible and achievable for individuals who may have previously felt isolated from the running community.

94-year-old Harriette Thomspon from the US, who completed the Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll (half) Marathon in 2017, is a testament to that. Endurance athletes of all shapes and builds are smashing stereotypes. Organizations like Ainsley's Angels, where participants with a range of disabilities are pushed in a running stroller during marathons, advocate for individuals living with a disability to experience the running community. Everywhere you look, the running community is expanding and welcoming new runners with open arms.

Achilles International also supports runners with disabilities, transforming the lives of youth, adults, and veterans by offering adaptive running opportunities. Rafael Sanchez, a dad of two who lives in Puerto Rico, is a member of the Achilles Freedom Team, a community of wounded, ill or injured members of the U.S. military.

Despite being told 12 years ago he may never walk again, Sanchez has 15 marathons (and counting) under his belt. He's an inspiration to many and a clear example of overcoming obstacles to prove that running is for everyone.

The Story of One Runner 

Sanchez has devoted much of his life to running. As a young cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, he later joined the drill team, where running was central to the role. "To progress in rank, you needed to do several things including running one mile—that sparked my competitive nature and so it was important for me to run fast."

The United States Air Force gave Sanchez, an avid runner, a whole new meaning of running after he graduated high school in 1994. "I understood quickly that for my subordinates to be in shape and score higher in the Physical Fitness Test, I myself needed to set the best example, and so running became an integral part of my job." 

On November 10, 2010, Sanchez took unwell during a missile training course in Colorado, suffering from dizziness and numbness in his arms. But doctors were unable to pinpoint the issue.

Rafael Sanchez

I was given the crushing news I may never walk again.

— Rafael Sanchez

The following day he graduated and flew home, only to later collapse again. He awoke in the hospital to find his family crying bedside. Miraculously, he had survived three strokes.

A stroke can restrict blood flow to specific parts of the brain that bodily control functions, often resulting in many disturbances including loss of fine motor skills, visual issues, and the ability to walk.

"I was given the crushing news I may never walk again." The diagnosis sent Sanchez into a spiral of depression and isolation from his loved ones. But remarkably, he defied the odds.

15 Marathons and Counting

Inspired by others in a similar boat, Sanchez tentatively found his way back into running by training for a 5K. Then, a local TV program called “The Marathon” served as the answer to his prayers.

"Janet Patton [VP and Event Production at Achilles International] was conducting an interview about the organization—I gathered the nerve to call her and soon after decided to leap into training for the LA marathon." With the help and support of Achilles International, Sanchez slowly but surely re-found his stride, completing the marathon.

Rafael Sanchez

Achilles is dedicated to helping veterans like me achieve their running goals, and suddenly it hit me—I need to use my story as a testimony for others.

— Rafael Sanchez

"Achilles is dedicated to helping veterans like me achieve their running goals, and suddenly it hit me—I need to use my story as a testimony for others." Sanchez has since become a devoted member of The Achilles Freedom Team. Each year, they train and participate in a "Marathon Tour" or a series of races. The organization has not only given him a new purpose but has supported his outstanding efforts in completing 15 marathons since 2011, as well as competing in the Invictus Games.

His message is clear: "Running is a lot like living, you get out of it what you put into it". 

Running Is for Everyone

Running consistently has undoubtedly improved Sanchez's mental and physical condition post-trauma, and it's his hope that it will do the same for others. Groups like Achilles help this progress by increasing the inclusivity of the sport so that individuals with disabilities are more accommodated during races.

Sanchez describes it as a state of mind in that nothing should hold you back. "Challenge yourself, push yourself, and believe in what you can do—that's the key to success.” Sport is powerful at challenging social perception, especially when disabled groups are involved. Running organizations are providing support to runners of all abilities around the globe, and the opportunities for the inclusion of individuals with a disability to partake in sports is growing.

Rafael Sanchez

Challenge yourself, push yourself, and believe in what you can do—that's the key to success.

— Rafael Sanchez

But there is ample room for improvement before the sporting world is viewed as an all-inclusive space. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, only 7% of women with disabilities are involved in sports and constitute just one-third of athletes with disabilities across competitions internationally.

A Word From Verywell Fit

Running is a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter your fitness level or current ability. With that being said, from a physical outlook, there are a few exceptions. If you're recovering from a recent illness, surgery, or are experiencing chronic pain, running may not be suitable. Likewise, if you have joint issues, such as osteoporosis, you may want to find alternative fitness habits. Rather, you may benefit from rehabilitative exercises as you ease back into a training regime. Speak to a healthcare provider for information on the best course of action before you start or restart the exercise.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can everyone be good at running?

    As is the case with other forms of exercise, you get what you put in when it comes to running. With time, practice and dedication, you can slowly build up your speed and distance to progress even further.

  • How long does it take to start enjoying running?

    For some, running comes naturally and the runner's high kicks in fast. For others, it can take a while to settle into a rhythm. If you're lacking motivation, try running to a fun playlist or with a friend to pass the time. Generally, once you start to see improvements in your capabilities, running becomes more enjoyable.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pereira HV, Palmeira AL, Encantado J, et al. Systematic review of psychological and behavioral correlates of recreational runningFront Psychol. 2021;12. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.624783

  2. Effects of Stroke. American Stroke Association.

  3. Disability and Sports. United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.