Amanda McGrory Is Enjoying Life Behind The Mic
by Ryan Wilson
At this year’s Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, one of the pre-race favorites in the wheelchair division, Daniel Romanchuk, was trailing after the first of six miles.
He was in fifth or sixth place, and some of the broadcasters were confused why one of the fastest wheelchair racers in the world was behind the lead the pack.
One broadcaster wasn’t worried about him, however.
“He’ll be fine,” said Amanda McGrory, a racer-turned-commentator. “Daniel climbs.”
McGrory retired from wheelchair racing after the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, and she knew her former Paralympic teammate Romanchuk was intentionally staying behind the fastest racers early on. Then, just like she predicted, Romanchuk accelerated and eventually took the lead on the uphill climbs.
Romanchuk won the Peachtree Road Race, and McGrory shined in her new role as a commentator for the broadcast. On top of commentating the Peachtree this year, the 37-year-old from Savoy, Illinois, also worked for NBC 5 Chicago’s coverage of the Chicago Marathon last year and ESPN’s coverage of this year’s Boston Marathon.
“I love being able to go and share what I know, share my experiences and talk about the things that are happening and not actually do the marathon,” McGrory said.
McGrory’s full-time job is serving as an archivist for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. Her broadcasting work is on the side and focused on marathons. She said it has been a pleasant way to stay involved in the sport she knows so well.
McGrory is a four-time Paralympian and seven-time Paralympic medalist in the sport, and her new role allows her to add context and lived experience to broadcast teams that are not as familiar with wheelchair racing as she is.
Her accurate prediction of Romanchuk’s strategy was an example of that. and so was her calling out Susannah Scaroni’s loose tire at the Boston Marathon. Scaroni had stopped mid race to tighten her wheel, and McGrory was quick to call out her former teammate’s unexpected halt.
McGrory is not sure whether non-racers would have known just what was going on with Scaroni’s tire.
“We got to talk about how every athlete is responsible for their own chairs and their own equipment; (how) they’ve got to carry a spare tire and all of the tools they need to know how to use during the race,” she said.
While Scaroni pushes several dozens of miles a week to prepare for a marathon, McGrory’s pre-marathon prep consists of talking with athletes, coaches and race directors. She is given media guides before races, but she tries to “get in really, really deep.”
She’ll anticipate who the top-five finishers will be and seeks out personal stories about them outside of their competitive career. She also seeks out interesting trivia. For example, prior to the Peachtree race McGrory asked Romanchuk and fellow U.S. Paralympian Aaron Pike what their top speeds were going downhill.
Pike’s top speed is 42 miles per hour with the help of gravity. Most elite racers, like Romanchuk, can reach the mid-20s on flat surfaces.
“It's also fun to be able to … have those little pieces of information and to be able to say, ‘Oh, I was talking to so-and-so before the race, and they’re expecting to hit 42 miles per hour down this first hill,’” McGrory said.
She said the hardest part about commentating is getting used to the production side of things. The first 30 minutes of the Chicago Marathon broadcast, she said, were stressful. The various divisions were starting pretty close together, and the broadcast team had to time the intro with the national anthem.
Plus, there were multiple monitors showing the various camera angles. One had the broadcast shown on delay, while the others were of the cameras mounted on motorcycles following the racers. Show runners were indicating which cameras were live, researchers called out course records and producers talked in each analyst’s ears.
That all got a lot easier to manage once the race was underway.
“Once the race started, then it was surprisingly comfortable and super natural to just see what was going on and talk,” McGrory said.
McGrory knows that any stressful broadcast is worth it in the end. It helps elevate the presence of wheelchair racing, and it sends an important message to the disability community. McGrory said it is in important for people with disabilities to see someone who looks like them on TV.
“If you pop on the Boston Marathon … and then you get this whole other part of the race, I think that's kind of a fun bonus,” she said.
Ryan Wilson is a writer and independent documentary filmmaker from Champaign, Illinois. He is a freelance contributor to usparatf.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.