NEWBURYPORT — Marci Gelinas has seen her sister, Carla Trodella, lift herself out of a wheelchair and compete in a college swim meet, so it comes as no surprise to her that her sister will be competing in the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon on Sunday.
Trodella was born with spina bifida, which has resulted in paralysis from the waist down. The 29-year-old former collegiate swimmer at Regis College will be racing in the wheelchair division Sunday in just her second road race. She also competed in the Salem Turkey Trot 5-mile race last Thanksgiving.
"(Carla) has always been a great inspiration to me," Gelinas said. "I've always done athletics and played varsity sports. I've seen her work harder than anyone to compete. I'm a teacher now, and I'm always telling my kids about her story."
Trodella has used a wheelchair since the time she's walked. At an early age, she exercised her legs by walking as adults provided support. As a student at the Mass. Hospital School, she played indoor sports: basketball, soccer and swimming. She also managed for her sister's softball, baseball and field hockey teams.
"She's very determined and doesn't take no for an answer," Gelinas said. "She's been like that since she was 6 years old."
By the time she hit high school, Trodella recognized that fewer adults would be able to provide physical support during her attempts to walk. As a student at Everett High, she joined the swim team. The freestyler and breaststroker continued the sport she loves right through college.
"Having a disability, I don't have the chance in my daily life to run around," Trodella said. "It takes the anxiety away. There's a certain exhilaration I get out of it. It's something I look forward to and feel a sense of accomplishment, and it's also good for my social life. I've made many friends and formed many support systems through sports."
As a high school senior, Trodella was featured on the Channel 5 News High Five special with Mike Lynch. She said her greatest sports memory was when her college teammates watched her prepare for her first collegiate race.
"Everyone watched me stand up out of my chair," Trodella said. "It was an awesome feeling."
Trodella made a commitment to enter the BAA Half Marathon last fall after taking part in Spaulding Rehabilitation Center's Access Sports in America program. She participated in a wheelchair race in the building and began practicing with rides along the Charles River.
At the time, she served as a dispatcher and unit secretary at Spaulding Rehab Center. In her training, Trodella said she has peaked with a ride of about nine miles along the Charles River.
"I'm a little nervous about doing a half marathon," Trodella said. "I've been slowing down with the winter approaching."
In preparation for the race, Trodella has also added strength training to her routine. Because she will be powering her wheelchair with her arms, she felt she needed to tone the muscles in her chest, shoulders and back.
Trodella has set a goal to compete in the Boston Marathon next April; however, she will not be able to qualify with a top finish Sunday, as the half marathon is not a qualifier for the full marathon. If she races in April, she expects to fundraise to earn an entry number, as many other competitors do.
"This will be the biggest race I've done so far, but it won't be the biggest ever," Trodella said. "I love it, and I'll keep doing it as long as that feeling stays with me."