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Dad Pushes Daughter with Rare Disease in Wheelchair as They Finish Boston Marathon Together

·5-min read

A Massachusetts father is going the distance with his 10-year-old daughter as they race to find a cure for her rare neurological disorder.

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abigail "Abby" MacCurtain recently competed in their second consecutive virtual Boston Marathon on Oct. 10. Greg pushed Abby in a running wheelchair as they raised money for research on Leigh's disease, with which Abby was diagnosed as an infant.

Competing under the name "Team Abby Mac," the pair have raised over $10,000 this year, which Greg says is a testament to Abby's positive spirit.

"It feels great," Greg, 44, tells PEOPLE (The TV Show!) on Tuesday's episode. "With any marathon, there's a lot of ups and downs... but she keeps me going. She's all smiles."

"I know it's Abby's bright smile and laughter and determination and her fight to beat this disease that everyone sees," he adds. "Everyone is quite supportive of and advocating hard for Abby. We're very thankful for that."

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby

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Abby was just 9 months old when she was diagnosed with Leigh's disease, Greg says.

The inherited disease, which affects the central nervous system, is typically caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

In Abby's case, Greg says his daughter has been "affected globally" and the disease has slowly shut down her body's functioning.

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Greg MacCurtain and Abby as a baby

Today, the 10-year-old girl requires a wheelchair and a G-tube feeding regimen and is non-verbal.

"It was really tough in the beginning," he explains. "We didn't have any of those baby milestones that every parent kind of looks forward to. That was tough for us."

"They said her life expectancy would be about two years from diagnosis," adds Greg, who also has 9-year-old son Tomas. "So we obviously surpassed that, thankfully."

Despite her condition, Greg has always made an effort to keep Abby active by having her participate in triathlons, marathons, 5K races, 10K races and half marathons with him.

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby at the Boston Marathon

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The father-daughter tradition started with a triathlon when Abby was 5, Greg says.

"She loved it," he explains. "For the swimming part, she's in a one-person inflatable kayak [and] I have a rope attached to me. When we get out, I pick her up and we run to the bike."

During the biking portion, Greg says Abby is harnessed into a seven-foot-long bike from Copenhagen called a Triobike.

"She sits in the front and it's almost like she's got the front seat of a rollercoaster," he notes. "We go for a little ride, and we finish that and then we get back in the running chair and we finish that."

The task has been no easy feat for Greg, who notes how he's had to train every morning at 5 a.m. to be able to compete with his daughter.

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby

Though challenging, the father of two says every moment has been worthwhile.

"We prefer to run together," he notes. "That's what we're doing yearly up until COVID. We haven't done [a triathlon] since, but we plan to get back into it."

With their most recent race, the 2021 Boston Marathon, Greg says they opted to compete virtually. However, because they live in Plymouth, they were able to run the exact same route as the in-person marathon on Oct. 11.

"Since our backyard is the marathon route, we still ran the route," he says, noting how Abby provided inspiration during tough moments of the race.

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Abby MacCurtain

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"She knows when I'm struggling. And she kind of looks back up at me and she does laugh at me," he explains. "Say I'm pushing her uphill, so she's a little more inclined. I'm a little over her, and she's looking up at me, smiling and laughing. And it makes me smile back and forget about the suffering from the running."

"Abby gets really excited about doing these races and doing fun things together," he adds. "She enjoys the wind in her hair."

Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.
Greg MacCurtain and his daughter Abby, who lives with a rare condition. They have competed in 2 Boston Marathons together and are raising money to fund research for abby's rare disease.

Greg MacCurtain Greg MacCurtain crossing the finish line with his daughter Abby

With more races slated for the fall and winter, the father hopes they'll be able to inspire others.

"She's making this world a better place, and we are trying to make it a better place for other parents that are going down our road," he says. "Maybe they're new to it, so hopefully we can make it a little bit easier that way."

"We've always hung on for hope and eventually treatment and a cure," he adds, "and we're working towards that."

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