Big Surprise for Strangers Who Helped Stranded Wheelchair Racer

Woman they assisted during NYC Marathon was Paralympic gold medalist Zou Lihong
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 8, 2016 8:00 AM CST
NYC Shows Stranded Wheelchair Racer Its Big Apple Heart
Gold medal winner Zou Lihong of China celebrates ahead of silver medalist Tatyana McFadden of the United States, left, in the women's T54 marathon in Rio de Janiero on Sept. 18, 2016.   (Thomas Lovelock/OIS, IOC via AP)

In a New York minute, a Paralympic athlete's distressing experience turned into an inspiring one thanks to a smartphone app and the kindness of strangers. The New York Times reports on the plight of Zou Lihong, a Chinese wheelchair racer who beat US favorite Tatyana McFadden to win gold at Rio's Paralympics over the summer. Zou was competing in the New York City Marathon's wheelchair division on Sunday when she got a flat around the Mile 13 mark in Brooklyn. Without a spare tire to get her back on the course, Zou was effectively out of the race—and stuck in a strange place, unable to speak English—but marketing rep Cecilia Daley, NYPD cop Krystopher Valentin, and software engineer Claudia Kulesh jumped in to help with some old-fashioned Big Apple graciousness.

Valentin draped his police jacket around Zou's shivering shoulders as they waited for an athlete support van to come get her, while he, Kulesh, and Daley (both bicycle escorts for the wheelchair racers) communicated with Zou via a Chinese-English translation app on one of their smartphones. "It really was a cool New York moment," Daley says, with Valentin calling the 32-year-old Zou "the most humble, sweet person." In fact, only later, after Zou had left with her ride, did the trio research her online and find out she was actually a Rio gold medalist. Zou—who China Daily says lost the use of her right leg as a child due to polio and didn't start racing competitively until 2009—says she wants to eventually return to New York City, noting she hopes to pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty and finish the 26.2 miles that she started. (Technology for Paralympic athletes is so good it has some people worried.)

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