John Long, with his brother Tanner Long giving him encouragement, heads toward the finish line of the Heart O' Dixe Triathlon Saturday.
John Long, with his brother Tanner Long giving him encouragement, heads toward the finish line of the Heart O' Dixe Triathlon Saturday.
John Long may have had faster triathlon times in the past.

But none were sweeter for the Louisville resident and his family when he crossed the finish line Saturday in the 34th Heart o' Dixie in his wheel chair.

Long was a nurse and a personal trainer in 2010 when he was injured in a car wreck. He was going home to Louisville from Philadelphia when the accident happened. He broke his neck and he never walked again.

"I am a C-7 quadriplegia which means I am basically paralyzed from my chest down," Long, 32, said. "I had run the Heart O' Dixie in the past and I wanted to do it again. I was only able to do the swim and the running part but I'm getting a bike and plan to ride the bike part next year."

After his accident, Long went through months of training at the Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson and then spent more time at the Winston Medical Rehab Center. He may have had an edge because he was a personal trainer and knew how to train. Plus, he had a goal.

"I wanted to do the Heart O' Dixie again," Long said. "I just wanted to complete it."

He accomplished his goal by working as a team with his brother, Tanner Long. John did the swim.

"I put on a wet suit and we tied my legs together," John said. "Then I swam on my back. It went well."

Tanner then did the 21-mile bike ride and stayed with John when he was in his special wheelchair on the running course, all the way to the Neshoba County Fairgrounds.

"He worked hard for this," said Tanner Long. "He trained hard before his injury, and he never slacked up."

As the end came into sight, John said he was tired but never felt discouraged. And he did run into some obstacles.

"I was happy to see the front gate," John said. "I had a blowout on my front wheel and my brakes were broken, but we kept going. I finished on the rim."

He still had a ways to go but there were plenty of cheers when John made it to the horse track and began his final lap. He received much encouragement as he started around the track. And it was really a special moment for everyone when he came around and crossed the finish line.

"Not many people could do what he accomplished today," said his grandfather, Nathan Boydston. "He has worked hard. That's my grandson."

It was truly a Neshoba County Fair moment to remember.

"As far as I know, he is our first wheel-chair athlete to compete in the Heart O' Dixie," race director Shan Winstead said. "That was awesome to watch. It was very powerful."