More than 40 years after its inception, the New York City Marathon on Sunday beckoned another legion of runners to test themselves. For many runners, it was a test of physicality. But for Maickel Melamed, it was a mental test to overcome a struggle that resulted from a birth defect 36 years ago.
Born with a condition called hypotonia, Melamed suffers from low muscle tone, which makes most activities that require any strength extremely difficult. For the past two years, he has been training in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela for the 2011 New York City Marathon. He applied for the marathon last year and was at first denied, but after completing a half marathon in Miami and joining Archilles International — an organization that helps people with disabilities participate in mainstream athletics — he was later accepted.
Photographer Romina Hendlin, also from Caracas, has been following Melamed since 2009, first as a student in his motivational class in high school, then as a friend and now as a photographer. “It’s the perseverance he has to follow his dreams," she says of her interest in documenting Melamed's journey. "He doesn’t take no for an answer. He taught us that you can’t accept no — always ask how."
The New York City Marathon was important for Melamed to run because it is symbolic of how he lives his life. “If you dream it, make it happen," he says. "I’m very excited and very focused, and just to be in the start line is a huge step. There are a lot of people who want to achieve their goals but don’t get to the start line. It’s symbolic of my dream and [theirs].”
Hendlin is part of a team of nearly 30 people who helped Melamed complete the marathon. The average completion time is about four hours; it took Melamed more than 15. "My celebration will be internal," Melamed says. "This is going to help a lot of people. I will be the vehicle to help others find their way.”
Romina Hendlin is a photographer based in New York. More of her work can be seen here.