Running with Disabilities

Jennifer Heiner-Pisano
3 min readSep 2, 2021


Time to shine a spotlight on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games! As previously discussed, Jennifer Heiner works as a retail director at a New Jersey running company. An avid runner herself, Jennifer Heiner is a member of New York Road Runners (NYRR). United by a common mission to inspire people through running, NYRR sponsors a range of programs for people of all ages. One of its dozens of programs, the NYRR Wheelchair Training Program, reaches out to regional children and young people with physical disabilities.

Serving participants from age 6 to age 21, the NYRR Wheelchair Training Program provides weekly training sessions and in-school resources to youth wheelchair athletes free of charge. The program also hosts competitive road and track wheelchair racing events. After measuring each participant for best racing chair fit and positioning, the NYRR Wheelchair Training Program helps them find the best method for propelling their chair. Working with coaches, teachers, and parents, the program strives to get the most out of each athlete’s push. It also teaches participants a range of wheelchair racing techniques and rules.

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are an amazing example of what can be achieved with a whole host of disabilities, ranging from those very visible, to those that cannot be seen at all. One swimmer suffers from Marie Coats Tooth Syndrome. “Competing for Team USA in swimming will be Jamal Hill, of Southern California, who has Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease.

Along with five other members of Team USA, the 26-year-old will be among 620 swimmers from all over the world who will vie for wins in 146 medal events in Tokyo.

Hill will compete in the 50 freestyle in the S9 classification and perhaps the 100 freestyle race in the S10 class. In the Paralympic Games, physically impaired athletes compete in classifications ranging from one to nine or 10, depending on the event. The higher the classification, the less severe the impairment.” CMT Patient on Team USA Goes for Paralympic Gold in Swimming (

“Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease occurs when a child inherits faulty genes that cause defects in peripheral nerves. The genetic mutation may directly damage the nerve cell (neuron) or may interfere with the formation of myelin, an insulating material that prevents the loss of electrical signals as they travel down long nerve fibers through the arms and legs. Damage to the neuron or myelin slows down the transmission of nerve signals — the signals prompting muscles to contract are weaker, and messages about pain or heat may be slower to reach the brain. Many different types of genetic mutations can cause CMT.

Abnormal transmission of nerve signals causes muscle weakness, loss of muscle tissue, and, if sensory nerves are affected, diminished sensation of heat, cold, or pain. Symptoms usually begin in the feet and legs — small, weak muscles make walking difficult– then may spread to hands and arms. Although the inherited defects of CMT are present from birth, symptoms may not appear until late adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms gradually get worse with age, but life expectancy is normal.” What is Charcot–Marie–Tooth Disease (CMT) — Charcot-Marie-Tooth News

Jamal Hill, the Paralympian, has highlight his struggles, and not just the physical ones. He has explained, much like the graphic above, that some disabilities aren’t visable to the naked eye, and make acceptance into the disability world that much more difficult. While its tough for an able bodied person to understand the struggles that a clearly physically disabled person deals with every day, its even harder when we don’t even know that someone is disabled to begin with.

We salute all of the athletes competing in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games from around the world!



Jennifer Heiner-Pisano

A six time marathon competitor, Jennifer Heiner-Pisano volunteers with the New York Road Runners and enjoys all aspects of the running experience.