This Runner Pushes His Friend in Half Marathons All Over the World

·9 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy Eli Shkarofsky
Photo credit: Courtesy Eli Shkarofsky


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Name: Eli Shkarofsky
Age: 26
Hometown: Lakewood, New Jersey
Occupation: I work in a doctor’s office as a medical assistant and I am finishing up my prerequisites for nursing.
Time Running: 5 years
Reason for Running: I take kids running to let them enjoy the feeling of crossing a finish line and to inspire others. Anything is possible if you have the right mindset.

I started running about five years ago when I was working for an organization called The Special Children’s Center, a service program for children and adults with complex developmental disabilities. Every summer they have a 5K run through the streets of Lakewood, New Jersey. I figured if I was working there, I might as well do the race. So I signed up for the 2017 5K.

I was very active growing up, and I played sports all day—but running was something I had never done. I started training by running around a lake nearby, which is a 4.4-mile loop. Race day came, and when the shotgun went off, I just ran. Two blocks in, I was in the front, and that just kept me going. I came through the finish line in first place, and that was the beginning of my running journey.

After that, I ran a few times a week. I was running because I enjoyed it, but I ran mainly to train for the 5K race. I didn’t use any training plans. I got a lot of tips and advice from other runners. Plus, I just figured if I could run around the lake, I could do the 5K.

By the following 5K a year later, I was out there training hard. After all I had a status to uphold. It was a repeat! I started out strong and came through in first place, cutting off 30 seconds from the year before.

Three years ago, I started to mix my love of running and helping those in the disabled community. One of the kids I worked with at another organization for sick children, Camp Simcha, named Refael Boyer (who was 13 at the time), asked me if I would push him during the Center’s 5K race the following year. Everyone that I spoke to told me it would slow me down, and that I needed to at least to win a third year in a row, and it’s not worth it. But I decided that I wanted to try to work it out.

For starters, I needed a running chair to train and use. So I reached out to many organizations, but with no luck. Finally, I reached out to an organization called Ainsley’s Angels. I spoke to the president Kim Rossiter. Right away, he helped us figure out which chair option was the best and shipped one out to us to borrow.

The first time that I put Refael in the chair, in 2019, the smile on his face said it all. He was so excited he could barely sit still. It was at that moment that I knew this is my mission—to take kids on races and give them the experience of doing races and crossing finish lines.

We trained a few times a week for the race. Refael kept on telling me that he wanted to come in first place. I told him I will do my best despite all the odds against me. Race day came, and we started running. Refael kept on yelling to go quicker, quicker. I ran like my life depended on it. Guess what? We came in first place and made Refael’s dream come true.

The most rewarding thing about running with Refael is seeing how it changed his life. He is now getting out of the house each day instead of just staring out the window. It opened up to him the fitness world. He started training on a daily basis, doing push-ups, and whatever else he was able to do. It gave him something to look forward to each day. He was a changed kid.

When you give, you get back so much more in return. Just seeing him so happy was everything to me. Now, we do races all the time, and many people have come up to us telling me how inspired and how special it is to see us doing all these races.

After my first race with Refael, I did the Miami Half Marathon with him six months later in 2020. That was our first half marathon. I learned a lot from that race about what I did right and wrong with hydration.

Almost 3 months later, COVID hit. I moved into Refael’s house and quarantined there to help the family out. I reached out to Ainsley Angels again, and Kim gave me the running chair for a great price. We started running five miles every day. I must say, those were my best training days, nothing stopping us from crushing goals. We signed up and completed about six virtual half marathons during that time. Friends and family got creative with the finish line. We had finish lines out of balloons and police escorts. We made them all a lot of fun.

During pandemic was when we did our craziest race to date, which is the Yeti 24-hour virtual challenge. (We ran it through the streets of Lakewood, New Jersey.) It consists of running five miles every four hours for 24 hours straight. In between each run, I couldn’t sleep because I was so full of adrenaline. I just rested my legs and fueled up.

By the time I started getting tired, it was four hours later, and I had to go right back out there. It was definitely challenging when it got cold and rainy for the last three runs. It was a total of six runs, which totaled 31 miles in 22 hours. Refael loved every moment of it. He stayed up the whole time and wanted to do every run, even the 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. run. That was when I realized that he doesn’t look at it as if he’s being pushed–in his mind, he is doing the race, so he had to be a part of each one.

Refeal and I run half marathons all the time. Just this year, we started traveling, competing in Miami, Las Vegas, Atlantic City (twice), and Jerusalem, Israel. We are always looking for new races to do. I’m now working on getting the Hoyt Racer that can be attached to a bike so we can start training for triathlons and other biking events.

Running has changed my life for the better. It is my healthy outlet, my therapy, my stress reliever. My day is just not the same on days that I don’t go running. When I run, I can just zone out and enjoy every moment of it. It also teaches me mental toughness and how to push through no matter the weather or terrain. The running community is so supportive. It’s like one big happy family.

My running schedule now consists of running five miles pushing Refeal most days a week, and every Sunday we do a long run of at least 13 miles. We are currently training to do a full marathon. (The longest distance I have done straight with Refael is 18 miles.) While I may have my challenges, the rider in the chair has the challenge of sitting in the chair long enough to complete whatever distance we are doing. That takes physical and mental toughness, and together that’s what makes it a team effort.

These tips have made my running journey a success:

1. Make sure you have a good pair of running shoes

It is very important to know what shoe works for you. I feel it’s really important to get fitted and to know what style shoe to get based on how you run. In the beginning of my journey, I got such bad blood blisters and injuries to my feet because I wore the wrong shoes.

2. Know what fuel your body needs and for what distances

Use whatever hydration fuels and gels you’ll be using on race day during your training runs. What works for someone else is not necessarily going to work for you.

3. Slow down in the heat

Your heart rate will be a lot higher in heat, and you will end up burning out quicker. I learned the hard way. I ran a race in brutal heat, and around mile 10 my calves cramped up so bad I could barely move. Listen to your body.

4. Run regularly and trust the training

The advice I would give to runners looking to start out is be consistent and patient. Results don’t happen overnight. I still remember running my first mile thinking, what am I doing? If you are committed and motivated the results and PRs just happen. Even on those days where it’s cold, hot, or rainy, push through and get your run in after all those are the times that you grow the most.

It’s unbelievable how we used to run half marathons in about 1:45, and now our personal best is 1:30. We are constantly training and pushing hard. My goal is to show everyone that even running with a chair, you can still be quick and have a great time. We also do Spartan races, which we really enjoy. It shows the kids that they are training and working hard for something they can complete.

Eli’s Must-Have Gear

Core Running Speaker: Being that I run pushing a chair, I wear a speaker on my chest so whoever is in the chair can enjoy the music and have a good time, too. Plus, even when I run by myself and want to be more aware of my surroundings, this is the speaker I use.

Maurten Drink Mix: I use these for races, but everyone should figure out what they can handle and what works for them.

Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next%: I use these for all races. Never had a better and more comfortable sneaker.

Visus LED Headlamp: I use this for night runs and for darker areas. It really helps you stay visible and it lights the path for you to help keep you safe.

Freedom Push Chair: I use the Freedom Push Chair by Advance Mobility that I got from Ainsley Angels. It’s great for trails, too.

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