Not every couple is always in lock step with one another. But Jessie Rix and Anthony Butler aren’t just any couple: They’re a powerhouse running duo who’ve completed four marathons — tethered to one another every step of the way.
Two years ago, when she first volunteered as a guide for disabled runners, Rix thought she’d pick up a new hobby. She never guessed she’d find love along the way.
The 28-year-old fashion marketing exec was a competitive runner in high school. Although she ran her first NYC Marathon in 2015, the Minnesota native longed to find a running buddy in the city she’d called home since college. So she joined Achilles International, a group that pairs guides with disabled athletes for running events.
Butler, a 30-year-old social worker, grew up in Harlem, a rising basketball star who was dunking since he was 13. “You only ran when your life was in danger,” he tells The Post of his childhood. Ten years ago, an altercation ended with a bullet to his head that left him blind and, in every sense, lost. In 2014, a colleague suggested he take up running. It was a worthy suggestion.
“I needed to have a life of my own and be around other people with disabilities I could relate to,” Butler says.
He and Rix had their first practice run in spring 2016 in Central Park. They felt an immediate connection. “He was talking and laughing and having the time of his life — it was really refreshing,” Rix says.
The lifelong runner says that, at first, she couldn’t keep up with Butler. “He was going to run at a 10-minute pace, but he did 7-minute miles,” she says.
But they swiftly found their stride, each holding one end of a lanyard that tethers them. They learned to take love slower, too. After months of building a deep friendship, the two started dating.
Granted, there have been some bumps along the way, running-wise. “We don’t trip too much, but it happens,” Rix says. “Sometimes I even trip and he catches me.”
Together, they’ve run marathons and half-marathons all over the US and in France and Spain, but their true passion is circling the Central Park loop at 5 in the morning. It’s easier to get together these days: Last summer, Rix moved into Butler’s Harlem apartment, close to their favorite running path.
Butler, who’s completed six marathons — four with Rix — clocks his best time at just over five hours, but insists he’s not in it to win.
“I meet people who are so competitive and running rules their lives,” he says. “We all have 9-to-5’s — this is supposed to be a relief, not add more stress. I tell Jessie to go with other people sometimes because I don’t want to slow her down.”
In fact, they’ll have other partners at Sunday’s NYC Marathon. “As much as we love to run together, we also like to have our time running with other friends,” Rix says.
Achilles athletes have all kinds of disabilities, including brain injury, autism and the loss of a limb. Rix says she was surprised to find how guiding Butler and others made her a better runner.
“You quickly realize how tough these people are, and they will leave you in the dust if you don’t push yourself, too,” she says. “I had to do so much more training than I’m used to, just to keep up with them.”
At the same time, she adds, “Anthony’s helped me realize that you can have fun with it.”
“They say you meet someone with a common interest,” Butler says. “It’s easy, it’s seamless. It’s like people who meet in church. We’re in this for the long haul.”
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