As a freshman at Granby High School, Hanna Adams was a back-of-the-pack runner for the cross country team.
That she was running at all was impressive. Adams, who has cerebral palsy and limited use of her right leg, grew up going to the Shriners Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where she was fitted with braces to help her walk.
After shedding the braces in middle school, Adams ran as a high schooler. She loved it, but she was tired of finishing last. So the next summer, Hanna would get up early with her father, John, who was training for a marathon, and run with him at 5 a.m. before he went to work. Then she would go back to bed.
Not surprisingly, Adams improved, moving up to the middle of the pack the fall of her sophomore year.
Now 28 and living in Somerville, Massachusetts, Adams is still pushing her limits. She will compete in her third Boston Marathon on Monday for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, as part of the race’s adaptive division. The 2021 Boston Marathon will be Adams’ 10th marathon.
“I’ve gotten stronger,” said Adams, whose best marathon time is 4 hours, 40 minutes. “It was hard work and a challenge from where I started in the beginning until now. Now I can challenge myself and keep pushing myself.”
Adams was adopted as a baby by John and his wife Cindy.
“It’s a story you hear too often,” John said. “We had infertility issues and we were getting ready to adopt and then we get pregnant.”
Hanna’s brother Ben was 10 months old when her parents traveled to Colombia to get her. She was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after her parents noticed she had trouble using her right hand. She underwent years of physical therapy at the Shriners Hospital.
“I was born with a right-sided hemiplegia, which means the right side of my body is the weak side,” Hanna said.
“She’s a fighter,” John said. “She did have a tough time as a kid. She had seizures and whatnot, but she’s grown out of all that. So she’s in middle school and wants to run cross country. We never said no, so she ran cross country.”
She ran track and cross country for four years at Granby. Upon graduating in 2011, Hanna, who has a learning disability, went to Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she enrolled in the Threshold Program, a two-year course of study for students with learning challenges. She graduated in 2013.
Hanna, now certified as an early-childhood teacher, works at a day care in Arlington, Massachusetts and lives in Somerville. Inspired by her father, who ran his first marathon in 2014, she ran her first at Marine Corps in 2015 with John. She ran her first Boston Marathon as part of a charity in 2019 and ran the race virtually last year. This year, she has raised money for and trained with the Flutie Foundation.
“The reason why I’m running for the Doug Flutie Foundation team is the foundation helps anyone with autism and it’s a great way to help it grow and help people with autism,” she said.
Her father, who has run five marathons with her, said she likes the structure of marathon training.
“She’s had tremendous experiences through her running,” he said. “She thrives on structure, she loves having a running schedule. ‘On Tuesday, I have to do three miles, Wednesday I have to do seven miles with seven hills.’”
John said Hanna’s left leg is more muscular than her right leg and she works with physical therapist on occasion when issues come up, but she doesn’t have trouble running.
Next year, Hanna is signed up to run the New York City Marathon. But first, there will be Boston.
“I just like the atmosphere and how the city has so much energy,” she said.
Her parents will be there at the finish line.
“Every time, it’s amazing,” John said. “You’re so proud of her and so amazed that she’s accomplished this feat.”
Lori Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.