Shortly after making some more history in his sport, Daniel Romanchuk quickly turned the page, just as he’d done so many other times.
Six days ago, the Mount Airy native became the first American man since 1993 to win the wheelchair division at the Boston Marathon. He spent very little time relishing the accomplishment.
“That’s just not him, thank goodness,” Romanchuk’s mother, Kim, said of her son, who trains with the United States Paralympic team in Champaign, Illinois. “It’s like, ‘Ok, what’s next?’ There’s always an equipment thing, there’s always something that they’re working on.”
In this case, the 20-year-old Romanchuk quickly turned his attention to the next task at hand: preparing for the London Marathon, which takes place April 28. That mindset of putting past accomplishments in his rearview mirror — and not taking too much stock in them — factors into why he’s experienced so much success in long-distance competition during the past six months. Romanchuk’s victory in Boston gave him a three-race winning streak in world-renowned marathon competition, having won the Chicago Marathon last October and then becoming the first American man to win the New York City Marathon.
“Many different things have just recently been coming together to produce the results I’ve been having recently,” Daniel said.
Three years ago, Daniel started establishing himself as an elite track and field athlete, participating in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and then setting American records in three events the following year. At that point, while he had recorded top-20 finishes in top marathons, he hadn’t really challenged for titles.
Daniel had long been tinkering with his equipment and his technique, using larger rims on the wheels of his wheelchair in addition to changing the gloves he used to propel the wheels. He then made a major equipment upgrade, swapping out a racing chair made mostly of aluminum for one that has an aluminum frame but utilizes more carbon fiber for its construction.
Daniel experienced better performance, particularly on downhill portions of various courses.
“It seemed to ... accelerate a little bit faster,” Daniel said.
About a week after he started using his new chair, Daniel placed third at the Boston Marathon, then took third in London. However, simply obtaining more experience since he first entered a marathon at the age of 14 also played a role. Kim recalls the modest goals Daniel had when he entered his first Chicago Marathon.
“The first time he did it, it was, ‘Try to not get dropped [from the lead pack] right at the start,’” Kim said with a chuckle. “See if you can hang on for a mile.”
The competitor who usually broke away from Daniel and other competitors in the lead pack, Switzerland’s Marcel Hug, has won two gold medals in Olympic competition and nine more in world championship track and field events in addition to having claimed 12 titles in the Abbott World Marathon Majors — a series of the world’s most renowned marathons.
“It’s [gaining] general strength as well as the strategy, talking to my coaches and learning how to work with a pack and things like that,” Daniel said when asked how he has suddenly started piling up victories in marathon.
At both the Chicago and New York marathons, Daniel outdueled Hug in sprints to the finish line, winning both races by a second. In addition to his victories in marathon last year, Daniel also broke world records in the 800- and 1,500-meter runs in track and field.
Having his name alongside that of legends such as Hug and being a part of history means something to Daniel only if his accomplishments can impact others.
Whenever time allows for it, Daniel likes returning to Maryland and offering guidance to the Bennett Blazers, who by operating through the Kennedy Krieger Institute offer a variety of sports for children with physical and developmental disabilities. As a child, Daniel participated in several sports, ranging from basketball to table tennis, with the Blazers.
“It’s incredible to be able to help the next generation,” said Daniel, who aspires to perform well at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Games.
And though he has accomplished so much, it’s that kind of outlook that sticks out the most with Kim.
“Ultimately, it’s all about how can we help each other be productive citizens, be people who are forces for good,” Kim said.