There are many reasons to admire Rick Asselta. Twenty-two come to mind immediately. That's how many marathons the Roots & Shoots Caribbean Regional Coordinator has completed—and by the end of November it will be up to 24.
A cancer survivor who has battled many physical ailments in his life, Rick started running as a way to clear his mind and maintain a positive outlook on life. His running led to marathons, and then more marathons, and then two ultramarathons. This fall, he'll cross the finish lines of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 12 and the ING New York City Marathon on November 2.
Rick's health problems stem from exposure to chemical warfare in the 1960s, which caused esophageal cancer. Although he underwent a dangerous operation to remove his esophagus, the problems persisted. Rick began depending on crutches to get around and, eventually, had a pacemaker implanted.
Did that stop him from competing in marathons? Nope, he just changed his style.
He learned how to compete in a wheelchair, building strength in his upper body and, since making the switch, has earned two first-place finishes at the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Because of Rick's inspiring story of struggle and triumph, the Chicago Marathon posted a special runner's profile on him last year.
Rick says he's most inspired by the camaraderie of all the athletes with disabilities gathering from all over the world to participate in the event.
"At mile 23, it doesn't matter who you are or where you're from," he said with a chuckle. "You're all going through the same pain."
As part of his participation in the Chicago and New York City marathons, Rick is soliciting sponsorships for the Tanzanian Wheelchair Project, which raises money to build wheelchairs for people with disabilities in Tanzania, enabling them to live healthier, more independent lives. is affiliated with a program.
Since it began in 1998, the Tanzanian Wheelchair Project has established National Sports Day for the Disabled in Tanzania and raised more than $35,000 (USD), providing hundreds of wheelchairs to Tanzanians in need. In addition to the wheelchairs, which cost $100 (USD) each, the project, which is affiliated with the Achilles Track Club, has provided Tanzanians with scholarships, micro loans and funding for refugee camp construction initiatives.
A long-time Roots & Shoots supporter and staff member, Rick recently retired in Maunabo, Puerto Rico. He and his wife, Nelly Asselta, have established the Roots & Shoots Caribbean Office on a local organic farm and are working to help Roots & Shoots grow in the Caribbean region.
Want to help the Wheelchair Project? Make your check out to "JGI Tanzanian Wheelchair Fund" and send it to:
ATTN: Tanzanian Wheelchair Project the Jane Goodall Institute 4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Ste. 600 Arlington, VA