Pioneering wheelchair marathon participant Jack Coakley, 67, dies

Jack Coakley, a pioneer wheelchair marathoner and lifelong Bostonian, is being remembered by friends for his wit, humor

Jack Coakley, a pioneer wheelchair marathoner and lifelong Bostonian, is being remembered by friends for his wit, humor and perservance in overcoming the odds.

Coakley died at the Boston Harbor Hotel, where he had been a beloved health club member for the past three decades. He was 67.

“I’ve known Jack for the better part of 20 years. He is an inspiration and a hero to a lot of people who know him. You had to see his workout to believe it. After a grueling routine in the gym, then he would get in the pool and swim 40-60 lengths,” said Don Keith, a club member. “And before he left he always said, ‘I’m going out today to pretend I’m normal.’ Everybody loved Jack.”

Coakley was stricken with polio at the age of 5 and he lost the ability to walk, but he refused to let that hold him back. Growing up wheelchair bound, his father told him his physical limitations didn’t mean he couldn’t pursue a full life, according to his obituary.

For more than 30 years, Coakley would get up before dawn every morning and head to the Boston Harbor Hotel’s health club two miles away. It was a daily routine after getting free passes to visit from his longtime friend, Bill Rodgers, owner of the Bill Rodgers Running Center.

“He was one of Boston Harbor Hotel’s most favored guests,” said George Regan, fellow club member and chairman of the Regan Communications Group. “All those years, they never sent him a (health club) bill and he would always say, ‘And I’m not asking why.’ What he didn’t realize that is that after the first passes were given to him by Bill Rogers, they continued to be handed down from one general manager to another over the years.”

Although Regan admitted “Jack had an opinion about everything,” he was quick to point out his friend “didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

“He even befriended one member who got sentenced to 15 years in prison,” Regan said. “Somehow Jack found a way to visit him every week in prison in Connecticut. He really cared about members like they were his family.”

Coakley is also a legend in the running community. He advocated to make marathon races wheelchair-accessible and he became a veteran of some of the biggest races in New England. In 1984, he set a 13-year-record, finishing the Cape Cod Marathon in 2 hours and 16 minutes.

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    Article Pioneering wheelchair marathon participant Jack Coakley, 67, dies compiled by www.bostonherald.com

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