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'Tenacity and the grit': Neenah student in wheelchair trains to complete Community First Fox Cities Marathon

Gabriel Langlois in his racing wheelchair prepares for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon Presented by Miron Construction
Posted at 8:27 AM, May 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-18 15:40:31-04

NEENAH (NBC 26) — Gabriel Langlois is a very determined young man, who continually proves that hard work is the gateway to big successes.

In 2022, Gabriel went viral for completing the ThedaCare Half Marathon from his wheelchair at just twelve years old. And in 2023, he's training to complete the Community First Fox Cities Marathon Presented by Miron Construction.

Gabriel has myelomeningocele spina bifida. His dad, Daniel Langlois, explained he was born with an opening in his spinal column.

"Basically, the core forms partially outside of the spine. His, in the lower portion of his back, did cause him to be paralyzed basically from the waist down, hips down," Daniel said. "He has pretty much no sensation below about mid-thigh."

Gabriel got his first training wheelchair at about 16 months old, and he got an official wheelchair when he was a little over 20 months old. He's been in a chair ever since.

Baby Gabriel in his first wheelchair
Gabriel Langlois in his first wheelchair.

Gabriel seems to have an innate sense that he can do anything he sets his mind to. And so, he said it did not come as a surprise that his story went viral — though he said he was surprised at just how far it reached.

After hearing about his achievement last year, the organization Paul's Party bought Gabriel a special new racing wheelchair.

Gabriel Langlois in spinal bifida racing wheelchair
Gabriel Langlois in racing wheelchair purchased for him by Paul's Party after his 2022 Theda Care Half Marathon race went viral. Gabriel is preparing for a full marathon in 2023.

Unlike his son, Daniel was surprised by the overwhelming national response.

“Honestly, I never expected him to go viral. I did not realize how much the story would explode," Daniel said. "It was funny because we're doing the half marathon and there's people yelling, 'Hey, that's the kid from the news!'”

The race was Gabriel's idea.

“My dad's coworker did a full marathon and I'm like, 'Why don't I start with a half? And then I can do the full,'” Gabriel said.

Daniel had never done anything quite like it. But he started training for it alongside his son.

Gabriel and Daniel Langlois ready the racing wheelchair
Daniel and son Gabriel Langlois

Gabriel's coach, Chad Oeftger, is also the Neenah High School Special Education teacher. He said that he has no doubt his student will reach his goal.

"He's a really hard worker. He really tries everything," Oeftger said. "Gabriel is going to do his best out there. He's probably going to surprise us all with a really good score and a good time, and I'm sure that he'll be very, very proud of what he's accomplished."

The difficulty of completing a full marathon has yet another layer to it in this case, as Gabriel will be undergoing significant back surgery in June. The race is in September.

“If there's a point where he physically is– needs a break, I'm gonna be there to push him and, you know, we're gonna, we're gonna make it," Daniel said.

Community First Fox Cities Marathon Race Director Julie Johnson watched Gabriel complete his ThedaCare Half Marathon the year prior. She beamed with pride to speak about him and his determination to continue to set the bar high for himself.

Gabriel Langlois rings PR bell at ThedaCare Half Marathon in 2022
Gabriel Langlois rings PR bell at ThedaCare Half Marathon in 2022

"Gabriel had made a decision, and he will see it through. He has the tenacity and the grit to do it. And I love the fact that people are seeing his story and encouraging him to do this," Johnson said. "And the fact that also he's doing it with us here in his case."

She called the Community First Fox Cities Marathon "community supported and supportive." Johnson said part of that is running with your first name on your bib, so onlookers can cheer you on more personally.

And while Gabriel's story is unique, Johnson said he is a great example of the principle that every racer who enters the Community First Fox Cities Marathon is accomplishing something big.

“When you see people cross the finish line, for whatever the reason is, we have a ‘pace for every race,’" Johnson said. "Their own story is inspirational to everyone.”

So, what inspires Gabriel the most?

“Getting to the finish line and saying that I did a full marathon,” he said.

For more information on the Community First Fox Cities Marathon Presented by Miron Construction, or to register to run visit the race's website here. The dates are September 15-17.