Like many others amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Michael Fenster is working from home these days.
The New Albany graduate, a seven-time seated state track and field champion with the Eagles, is keeping himself sharp as a member of the University of Illinois wheelchair team despite persistent injuries. As part of his rehabilitation from a February surgery to deal with persistent nerve issues in his left shoulder, Fenster gets in five to 10 miles of work in an average week from his basement on a machine often used by wheelchair racers.
"I've been able to drop some time in each one of my races," said Fenster, who has competed in both the Chicago and Columbus marathons each of the past two Octobers. "My current goal right now, and it's been my goal ever since I got into college, was breaking the two-hour mark. That is the qualifying time for (the) Boston (Marathon)."
Fenster has cut time in each of the four marathons he has competed in during college, from 2 hours, 23 minutes, 52 seconds in the 2018 Chicago Marathon to 2:09.24 in the Columbus Marathon last fall.
"The two-hour mark is a bit of a lofty goal for me right now, but I am shooting to try and hit that again next year. Of course, that will be my goal until I hit it," Fenster said. "It's (about) getting bigger and stronger, being more conditioned and just having more race experience. Some of it depends on, at least for someone like me who is trying to drop as much as eight minutes, it comes down to weather sometimes, too. Not only do I need to be on top of my game, but I'm also hoping for a day with no rain so I'm not slipping, and no wind.
"Then I have to hope I have no malfunctions that slow my time."
That happened two years ago in Chicago, as a pothole destroyed one of Fenster's tires halfway through the marathon. Fenster was able to change the tire -- something he said Illini coach Adam Bleakney teaches in addition to racing techniques -- with some help from a spectator before continuing.
Fenster finished 41st that day. Two weeks later, he was fifth (2:17.07) of five racers in the wheelchair division of the Columbus Marathon.
Fenster finished 45th (2:12.19) in Chicago last fall.
A 2018 graduate of New Albany who took up racing in the seventh grade, Fenster swept the seated 100-, 400- and 800-meter state championships his junior and senior years and also won the 800 as a sophomore.
Fenster has sacral agenesis with caudal regression, meaning he does not have a tailbone.
"He is tracking along really nicely to be in full racing shape down the road," Bleakney said. "He's always been very mature and able to engage in a mature dialogue with adults. He's very respectful.
"Each day is an opportunity to work and get closer to whatever goal it is you set for yourself, and he believes in that."
Fenster works out at home on a roller, which he described as "basically a treadmill for the wheelchair," while continuing academic studies toward his degree in recreation, sport and tourism with a concentration in sports management.
Despite his relative youth, Bleakney considers Fenster a leader in his program.
"I have athletes in graduate school and some who have graduated but still work with the team. I have 18-year-olds up to 34-year-olds," Bleakney said. "What I see in (Fenster) is the same tendency as demonstrated by my older athletes, to take on the goal of mentoring young athletes and being a role model. That's one of the value points of this program. It's very much a virtuous cycle."