MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- As he approached the start line of the 15th Annual Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Half Marathon March 22, 2014, Paul Kelly could hear the cheers of active duty service members, other runners and their families. Meanwhile, the American flag attached to his hand-crank bicycle gently waved with the early morning breeze.
Fifty-eight years ago, Kelly was born at Cherry Point's naval hospital while his father, a World War II, Korea and Vietnam veteran, was serving in the Marines. Serving at several installations across North Carolina, his father returned to Cherry Point before retiring in 1968.
Kelly has lived in the community surrounding Cherry Point most of his life except when his father was stationed out of state.
Kelly has strong ties to the area and worked for 33 years at the air station as an electronics engineer with Naval Air Systems Command.
Since retiring two years ago, the avid hand-cyclist has had more time to dedicate to training and causes that are important to him. Kelly is a C-6 quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury he suffered over 30 years ago. Since then, he has put his time and energy into raising awareness of the sacrifice of wounded and injured service members with his hand-cycling efforts.
He started doing marathons in 2008 with a goal of completing 2,008 miles.
“I hope to raise money and awareness for wounded service members who have sacrificed so much of themselves and given inspiration to myself and to our country,” he said.
Kelly said he participates in approximately 10 marathons and half marathons a year.
To train for upcoming races, Kelly rides more than 100 miles a week on his hand-crank bicycle, which, over the years, he has modified to better accommodate his disability.
“Once you develop a certain amount of edge, it doesn’t take much to lose that edge,” said Kelly. “For me, it’s like an addiction. I always strive to be at my peak.”
He finished Saturday's race just under 1:40:00.
Although it is not his best half marathon time, Kelly said he stayed motivated, and is happy he was able to complete the race after having difficulties with his hand-cycle at a race earlier in the year.
“I draw a lot of motivation from all the runners,” he said. “If somebody is motivated by my presence or by my effort, that’s all the better. I tend to (ride) a little bit faster with Marines behind me.”
Kelly enjoys participating in the various races on different courses at the air station. He hopes the half marathon event continues to grow because it is a good opportunity for people not affiliated with Cherry Point to see what the air station has to offer.
After the race, the athlete received congratulations from old friends and other racers.
“It’s a beautiful day; I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be,” he said, with a smile on his face.