By Dan Guttenplan
NEWBURYPORT — Newburyport resident Carla Trodella admits she wants to be like Jean Driscoll, an eight-time winner of the Boston Marathon women's wheelchair race.
First, she has her sights on completing her first Boston Marathon.
Trodella, who, like Driscoll, was born with spina bifida, will compete in the women's wheelchair division at the 115th annual Boston Marathon Monday. Trodella earned a number by raising money for AccessSportAmerica, an organization that implements adaptive sports activities for children and adults with wide ranges of disabilities.
For Trodella, tackling a difficult physical challenge is nothing new. The 29-year-old is a former member of the Everett High and Regis College swim teams.
Trodella entered her first wheelchair race — a 5-mile race in Salem — two years ago. Last fall, she completed the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon after taking part in Spaulding Rehabilitation Center's Access Sports in America program. She completed the BAA Half in 3:07.17.
"I've actually done a lot more training for the marathon," Trodella said. "I've been seeking out a lot more support. It's allowed me to train almost every single day."
Due to the extreme winter conditions, Trodella, who is paralyzed below the waist, was confined to indoor training until the last month. She trained on a wheelchair racer, which looks like a cross between a treadmill and rowing machine.
"I wasn't actually going to do the marathon this year, but I said, 'What the heck?'" Trodella said. "I've been wanting to do it for quite a long time. I love racing; it's one of the biggest things in this area. It's a goal for a lot of people. One of my goals is to be like Jean Driscoll. I want to be an elite racer."
Trodella does not believe she'll contend for a women's title this year. Her goal is to finish in five hours, which will likely be at least three hours off the lead.
"I love racing with all of the people around," Trodella said. "It's good to see people rooting for you. Throughout my training, I'll see people look at me, and they know I'm trying hard to do this. The best feeling is people looking at you for inspiration; then, it feels worthwhile."
Trodella has raised just over $2,000 toward her fundraising goal of $5,000 (site: www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/carlatrodella/boston-marathon-2011). She said her father has provided further inspiration, offering $100 if she finishes the full marathon in less than twice the time it took her to finish the half.
"This will be the first of many," Trodella said. "I'm already looking into one in Florida during the winter when the weather's bad here. Anything I do once, I usually do again. I'm already committed to the half again next year."