When Nick Draper and Ted Painter chose the name for their running team, it became more than a play on words.
Team "In the Nick of Time," currently the fastest members of Team Hoyt New England, came together at a time when Mr. Painter, 42, was rethinking his running, pondering whether the long training sessions, marathons, 5Ks, 10Ks and the related travel that took time from his family were fulfilling enough.
"I was starting to feel like it was a waste of time," he said. "It made me happy, but it didn't seem to have any other purpose."
Mr. Draper, 24, and living in a Southbridge group home, had undergone surgery that left him unable to compete in the wheelchair track and field events he'd once done at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton. He still had a need for speed, but no way to fulfill it.
Earlier this year, Mr. Painter was talking with a friend and fellow marathoner who suggested he join Team Hoyt. She'd been working with Team Hoyt New England, part of the larger Team Hoyt started by Dick Hoyt, whose son, Rick, a spastic quadriplegic, has taken part in hundreds of races with his dad lending the muscles. The team was recently honored in Boston with a statue depicting father and son.
Mr. Painter had seen "Dick and Rick" running together and had always been inspired. The Hoyts have been seeking other runners to become partners with athletes who can't run on their own. Mr. Painter "absolutely said yes" and started making plans to join the running team he so respected.
"I don't think anyone can watch that video of Dick carrying his son in a triathlon and not get a little misty," he said.
And so, just in time — in the nick of time, really — Mr. Painter changed how he ran. Instead of trying to cross the finish line first, he was now trying to cross second, putting Mr. Draper ahead of him.
Their first race, a 5-miler, was a new experience for both men. It was also new and frightening for Mr. Draper's mother, Sheila Smith, who said that having to prepare her son for weekend races suddenly had her feeling "like every other mother," and she was a nervous wreck.
Mr. Draper had no worries at all, trusting that Mr. Painter, someone he'd met moments before the race, wouldn't fall and lose control of what was basically an oversized jogging stroller.
"He kept telling me to go faster," Mr. Painter said.
"He's damn fast," Mr. Draper said, his words drawn out but his grin unaffected because of Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease.
Mr. Draper was born with the disease, which is an inability of the body to form the covering that protects one's nerves. It affects the ability to transmit nerve impulses. Two of his uncles also had the disease, which Ms. Smith said is genetic, prevalent in men and, she believes, sometimes misdiagnosed as other, better known diseases.
Mr. Draper is an only child who loves shopping — and it matters not for what. He is interested in lights of all kinds and once had his mother follow a truck driver until they could let him know he had a taillight out.
"He could get stopped by the cops," said Mr. Draper, who is also an animal lover.
He gets along fine with Mr. Painter, a former Army Ranger who advocates for veterans, sings and plays rockabilly music on his guitar, helps with his wife's endeavors for angiosarcoma research, and is the father of one son and two daughters.
Mr. Painter said he has become a better runner since teaming up with Mr. Draper. At times when he would have made excuses for running slower or even walking, he now pushes harder because someone is counting on him and he doesn't want to let anyone down.