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Team Wandell sets Guiness World Record at Virginia Beach Half Marathon

John Thompson • Updated Mar 20, 2018 at 8:21 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Team Wandell has reached a new high point in its effort to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. This past weekend, Team Wandell sliced eight minutes off the former world record for the fastest half marathon by a man pushing another man in a wheelchair. The new Guinness World Record is 1 hour, 35 minutes, 12 seconds.

Team Wandell is formed around Josh Wandell, a former collegiate athlete and principal of Elizabethton’s East Side Elementary School. Wandell also loves long-distance running and continued running races even after he had been diagnosed with ALS.

His dedication and his inspirational message of faith over fear led to the formation of Team Wandell and to the first running of the Race for Wandell, the largest road race held annually in Carter County.

Team Wandell has overcome many obstacles over the years, but it was a decision to avoid obstacles that led to the world record.

“There are just too many hills around here,” said Jeff Vance, who is credited with pushing Wandell over the 13.1-mile distance last weekend. He said the team participated in half marathons in Kingsport, Johnson City and Jonesborough, but the hills always took their toll.

That was the reason Team Wandell traveled to Virginia Beach for the Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon.

“Fast and flat, that is how they described the course,” Vance said.

The team has been training to break the record, but Vance said they had some outdated information about it. The team thought the record was 1:54.49. It was only recently that the team discovered the record was 1:43.48.

“We were trying for 1:40,” Vance said of the strategy for Sunday. But the team found the flat surface made the distance much easier than they expected. The splits kept coming in better and better. By the time they were nearing the finish, the record was well in sight.

“The look on Dr. Wandell’s face when we crossed the finish line, it was such a blessing,” Vance said.

Wandell expressed his thoughts by text: “I want to begin by saying how amazing my team is. I have to be honest, I was shocked how quickly Jeff finished. I think he had some left in the tank. I was overcome by emotions as we crossed the finish line. This was a total effort.”

While Vance gets the credit for being the pusher on the world record, he said there are several other members of the team who could have set the record.

“We have several people on the team who are strong and fast, I am not sure why I was picked,” Vance said.

In addition to Vance and Wandell, the team members who made the trip to Virginia Beach included: Blaine Beining, Irene Bierie, T.J. Brown, Rick Gray, Lisa Hazlett, Michelle McClellan, Katy Monk, Bryan Powell, Thomas Proffitt, Melinda Salken and Justin Wandell.

Wandell praised his team in his text: “I am more proud that such a large group drove seven hours to be there with us. The record means we have achieved one of our goals and hopefully help promote ALS awareness and help motivate people to chase their dreams.

“I have to give a shout out to my wife and kids, because without them sacrificing for me none of the races would happen.”

T.J. Brown is one of the members of Team Wandell and also a faculty member at Wandell’s old school. He said the team claimed the record even though Wandell is a large man. He said Wandell weighs 198 pounds and the racing cart weighs 55 pounds. There is also a portable ventilator and portable suction machine that adds another 15 pounds. But Brown said, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.”

Vance said the racing chair “is an amazing piece of equipment” that made the weight manageable.

Many of the members of Team Wandell talk about how Wandell inspires them. Vance said he first heard Wandell’s testimony when he was just getting back into running and his inspiring words encouraged him when he attempted his first marathon.

Brown said Wandell keeps setting new goals for the team. The latest goal is to run in a half marathon in Niagara Falls in November. Brown and Vance said they will be applying for their passports soon.

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