Philadelphia man completes marathon after knee injury and vision loss


PHILADELPHIA, PA — Mike Zampella isn’t done yet. Not halfway.

The Blue Bell resident took a long flight to the West Coast last Friday to do something that frustratingly eluded him in 2018 after years of training – finish a marathon.

He crossed the finish line of the San Francisco Marathon on Sunday, completing a goal he had had for more than 10 years.

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Zampella, who began losing his sight in his early teens, was one of three runners on Degree Deodorant’s Not Done Yet Marathon team.

“I’m so excited to be associated and connected with Degree. They pump up their disabled athletes and are on a mission to get everyone moving,” said Zampella, 47, who was brimming with excitement on Friday as he spoke to Race patch. .

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Mike Zampella, a Long Island native, now from the Philadelphia area, completed the 2022 San Francisco Marathon as part of the Degree’s Not Done Yet team. (Photos courtesy of Degree Deodorant)

Degree works with Achilles International, a global organization that helps transform the lives of people with disabilities through sports programs and social connections. The company said it is donating $50,000 to Achilles to help athletes with disabilities prepare for a race.

“It’s part of the degree’s broader mission to inspire people’s confidence to push beyond their limits – including self-doubt, which is one of the main reasons runners don’t complete their marathons,” said the company said in a press release.

Degree has also teamed up with model and “The Bachelorette” alum Tyler Cameron, who served as a “team coach,” and a host of professional athletes to amplify the cause.

Zampella is a Long Island native who now lives in Philadelphia and is a member of the Achilles International running club there.

Mike Zampella, a Long Island native, now from the Philadelphia area, completed the 2022 San Francisco Marathon as part of the Degree’s Not Done Yet team. (Photos courtesy of Degree Deodorant)

Zampella was eight years old when doctors told his parents he had a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa.

“My parents must have told me, ‘You are going to go blind and we have to prepare for it.’ And I’m a happy kid, aren’t I? he said. “My whole life has been turned upside down. »

Zampella began to lose his sight as a teenager and eventually had to stop playing the sports he had loved all his life. He remained involved in athletics well into his adult life, working for a men’s college basketball team and becoming a physical education teacher in 1997.

Zampella could still see well enough to study textbooks and take notes, so he took night classes to become a teacher and later earn a certification in administration. He retired as vice principal of a public school in New York in 2012 as his vision continued to deteriorate.

He stayed active as best he could and took up running as a hobby. His first race was the Philadelphia Half Marathon, and he was training for a full race. But in 2018, Zampella crashed his knee after falling from a ladder while cleaning up storm damage on Long Island.

A competitor by nature, he still tried to finish the race.

“Between miles 8 and 9, I couldn’t move. My knee had just ended,” Zampella recalled. “I was so disappointed and then COVID happened. I tried to get into other adaptive sports and it took its toll on my body so I really couldn’t train straight away. .”

But finishing a marathon was always on his mind. Zampella had trained for another and was preparing to go to a triathlon training camp. Then Achilles International began looking for athletes to be on the Degree’s Not Done Yet team (and advertising campaign) earlier this year.

Zampella filled out the application, waited, and then learned he would begin a series of interviews to see if he was the right candidate for a campaign giving runners a second chance at their first marathon. He certainly was.

Two other athletes were on the team with him: Sagirah Ahmed Norris of Houston, who lives with multiple sclerosis and couldn’t complete her first marathon; and Seattle’s Ashley Zirkle, who donated a kidney and was recovering from surgery at the time of her marathon.

All three finished the race.

Left to right: Saghira Ahmed Norris, Mike Zampella and Ashley Zirkle were part of the Degree’s Not Done Yet team at the 2022 San Francisco Marathon. (Photos courtesy of Degree Deodorant)

The three teammates spoke during training and Zampella said they helped motivate him when he was struggling.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? It inspired me,” he said. “When I’m going through tough times, in my head, I think of them and keep pushing.”

He said he hopes the children who have seen him run the marathon will realize that they too can overcome their obstacles.

“People think because you have a disability you can’t do things,” he said. “That’s not true.”

His next big challenge will be this triathlon – and after that, the sky’s the limit.

“I do things to stay motivated and challenge myself, that’s what helps me,” Zampella said. “I’m going to see how well I can do it and how far I can push it. The Paralympic Games are back in the United States in 2028, in Los Angeles, and they have just opened a masters division for triathlon at the Paralympic Games. be a big goal.”

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