PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The Pittsburgh Marathon is giving a hero’s welcome to a group of wounded warriors this weekend.

It’s hosting one of the largest contingents ever of paralyzed veterans.

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They’ll be competing in the handcycle division.

They served in Afghanistan and Iraq and are now confined to wheelchairs. But these veterans arriving in Pittsburgh for Sunday’s marathon are overcoming adversity, finding a new freedom in handcycle racing.

“It’s about finding independence, finding something you love again and being able to compete,” said Ricky Raley of Westfield, Indiana.

The sport’s growing in popularity, but especially among our wounded warriors who’ve found it to be a godsend in coming to grips with their devastating injuries.

Veteran Zach Nelson, who suffered a spinal cord injury when the vehicle he was riding in overturned in Afghanistan, has found release in the sport.

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“If you’re having a bad day today, you just get out on your handcycle and start peddling, you just take the aggression out on those hand cranks,” said Nelson.

It’s an exciting sport and participants can reach speeds in excess of 40 miles an hour, causing some marathons to limit their numbers out of safety concerns.

But Pittsburgh has decided to be more inviting, hosting 12 members of the Paralyzed Veteran of America racing team – one of the largest in the country.

Pitt professor and paralyzed vet Dr. Rory Cooper says each vet will be escorted by a bicyclist and will have speed limits on the down hills and says there should be no problem on Sunday.

“Those that have been wounded, injured or become ill during our service, I think we owe a special debt of gratitude to and including them in the marathon is a pretty simple way to say thank you,” said Cooper.

On Sunday, as they have in protecting this country, the vets will lead the way and crowds along the marathon route will sure give them proper tribute.

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