Fast Forward

Porterfield trains to take on the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

Matthew Porterfield racing

Imagine going a full marathon distance of 26.2 miles using your arms instead of your legs. That’s how athletes who use racing wheelchairs and handcycles finish the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon (CHKM).

“The Knoxville marathon is special because it’s local and I know the roads,” says Matthew Porterfield, a 39-year-old wheelchair competitor and former patient at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center (PNRC) who lives in Knoxville. “I have trained on most of the course for about 20 years. It’s also special because it showcases the wheelchair division.”

Faster to the Finish

Porterfield takes on the 2020 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon with a new carbon fiber racing chair provided through Pat Neal’s Innovative Recreation Cooperative (IRC). Porterfield became a patient at PNRC when a dirt bike accident took his ability to walk in 1999. The IRC is an education and awareness program using recreational opportunities to build life skills.

 “The IRC always supported me in all my endeavors and helped me to grow as a person and as a racer,” Porterfield says.

Porterfield with his bike

For IRC program coordinator Al Kaye, clinical specialist in recreation therapy at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, the respect is mutual. “Matthew exemplifies dedication and motivation to bounce back after a traumatic life event,” Kaye says. “He is a humble guy and well respected by all who meet him.”

New Beginnings

The first time Porterfield heard about wheelchair racing, he was 18 years old and a patient at PNRC. On racing wheels, he found the freedom to get outside and enjoy speed again. Today, trophies scattered throughout his home and a rack of medals on the wall are proof that Porterfield has done quite well since then.

Porterfield has raced across the country and was on the 2007 Pan American Games Parapan team for Brazil, competing in three categories and winning the bronze medal in the 800-meter race. He was the first American to cross the finish line in the world’s largest wheelchair race in Oita, Japan.

“I have been in about 15 to 20 races per year for 19 years,” Porterfield says. “I never imagined the athlete I would become.”

The 2020 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon has gone virtual. Instead of racing on one day, participants will be able to log miles at their convenience throughout the week of Nov. 7. To learn more, visit or call (888) 217-5635.

Read about one of the Knoxville marathon racers from 2019 who also benefited from Patricia Neal’s IRC.

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