Monday, April 22, 2013

Message of Hope

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Friday, January 25, 2013


Putting together what I’ve learned

This blog post is somewhat different than those that precede.  Most of those prior posts shared my excitement over an event or an accomplishment.  This one will be similar in those regards.  This post, however, is intended to share a little technology that I have recently put to use.  So pardon me in advance if I get a little geeky.  There is some information here that can hopefully benefit folks with disabilities like mine.  And for others, maybe there is some inspiration of your inner creative genius that will allow others to do more with what they have.

I have used two handbikes for years, a Quickie CycleOne I call, “Tortoise,” and a Top End XLT I call “Hare.”  Tortoise is generally my exercise bike.  It attaches to my wheelchair and is useful for getting around town without having to use a power wheelchair.   Because transferring to a recumbent handbike is more difficult, Hare only got on the road for longer distances including a number of half and full “Harethons.”  I wanted something a little more competitive than Hare and something a little more reliable.  The Top End XLT has a number of features that are less than ideal for me.  I wanted something that would give me better hill-climbing ability, easier turning, and more gears-both higher and lower.

So you understand me a little better, I’m a C-6 quadriplegic, complete.  I’m a little stronger on the left side but I am right handed so I tend to do the more complex tactile functions with my weaker side.   I’m 5’ 11” and around 175 pounds or so.  I have good biceps but no triceps.  I have no grasp but a slight pinch through tenodesis movement of my wrists.

There was not a handbike on the market that would fulfill all of my needs and objectives so I eventually decided to embark upon a project of modifying a new handbike for my unique needs as a quad.  It turned out that several mods would be required to make a bike “quad-friendly,” but it turned out to be the synergy of those mods together that made the outcome so exciting.

The bike

It seems to me that everywhere I go these days, the popular ride of choice is the Top End Force in all its various configurations.  Bike-On also modifies a Force with a set of modifications specifically for quadriplegics.  My hat is off to Scott Pellet at Bike-On for working so diligently to bring the sport to so many us folks with higher-level disabilities.

My own disability is about as high as anyone whom I have seen on a handbike.  Just the cycle of transferring on and off from my everyday wheelchair consumes an hour of my and my wife’s time.  One of my biggest problems with handbike is steering.  There is a blessing/curse in cycling called rotational inertia.  It’s the force that makes a spinning top resist falling over.  On an upright bike, you don’t turn the front wheel to turn the bike.  You lean in the direction you wan to turn and the rotational inertia of the wheels generates a force to turn the bike and counteract your leaning.

On a three-wheeled handbike, the bike doesn’t lean.  You actually have to force the front wheel left or right against its rotational inertia to turn the bike.  There is very little force required at slow speeds.  It is quite a bit at higher speeds.  Most handbikes have condition known as “wheel flop” built into the front end geometry.  Wheel flop is basically a tendency for the wheel to “flop” to the left or right in the absence of rotational inertia.  The tendency to “flop” correlates to a tendency to turn hence it offsets some of the difficulty steering at riding speeds.   On the other hand, at low speeds, the wheel flop itself is difficult to overcome if the front end is quite top-heavy as was the case with Hare. I was hoping for higher speeds so I need a steering geometry that is as easy as possible.   My ‘turning muscles’ are pretty weak.  One of the reasons that I opted not to go with a Force handcycle was that I felt the steering would be harder than I wanted.

I chose the Freedom Ryder FRH-1 because from the limited analysis and observations I was able to perform, it looked like the FRH-1 was about the easiest-steering bike available to me.  It did, however pose some challenges, as would any bike.  I need:
  • Grips that give me positive engagement with the cranks 
  • Grips that I can separate my hands from and reengage quickly
  • Shifting I can operate without taking my hands off grips
  • Thoracic supports for trunk stability
  • Braking I can apply without grasp and without taking my hands off the grips
So, for the techno-geeky types, this blog post is the story about how I implemented these features and how I continue to refine them.  I first rode the Freedom Ryder about 7 months ago without any mods except the grips.  As of this post, I’ve accumulated over 1,300 miles on the bike in various stages of the mods you will read about herein.  I would have posted this article sooner, but frankly, I’ve been having too much fun riding the bike.


The QuadGrips by James Watson are, simply, the best grips for quads out there.  I did my own trials of Top End tri-pins, Quickie V-grips, the C-5 Grips, and the German-made Stricker quad grips.  After a few years of experimenting, numerous blisters, and more than a little blood spilled, I started trying to design a grip myself which turned out to be a lot like what James Watson came up with.  My approach was to attach the tri-pin grip to a bicycle pedal but attach the front pin vertically vice horizontally.  It worked out pretty good.  James Watson’s grips work far better, though.

Here is my homemade quad grip built from a modified tri-pin grip installed on a Quickie CycleOne
As a quad, I don’t grasp the handle; it grasps me.   The ability to detach your hand and reattach it quickly is the ‘game-changer’ with James Watson’s QuadGrips.  His website is full of pictures and videos of the advantages of his grips.  He is also a great person and willing to share his technical advice and suggestions.  It takes a bit of adjusting to find the best combination of all the adjustments available with QuadGrips.  They don’t come with a foolproof procedure for adjusting them.  All I can say is if they are not working great for you, then you don’t have them adjusted quite right.  I don’t have any specific procedures, either, except to suggest that when you are trying different settings and you don’t know whether to go one way or the other, do both.  Adjust one hand one way and the other hand the other way.  You will find out pretty quickly which one works best.  Also, I found the fit after 15 minutes of use was different than when I started out.  So if you adjust them during your ride, don’t un-adjust them when they seem not to work at the beginning of your next day’s ride.

James told me a lot of things about his grips that I would have dismissed as salesman-speak except that from my own experimentations, I knew to be true.  When he told me about operating an index shifter by extending my wrist, I was skeptical; or at least in my case, with only the slight functionality in my right wrist.  He had turned out to be accurate in nearly every other suggestion he made so I decided to give it a try.  The exact position of the shifter lever turns out to be a very sensitive adjustment, but lucky for James’ reputation, we hit the sweet spot right away.   I could shift up and down the cassette without taking a hand off the grip!  I rode around the neighborhood all night, a shiftin’ fool.

Shifting ‘up’ on the cassette by flexing my wrist
Shifting ‘down’ on the cassette by extending my wrist
I have found that adding a grip to the shift lever improves the traction of my pinkie knuckle on the shift lever.
I added grips to the LX shifter to give a little more positive contact with the back of my hand.

Thoracic Lateral Supports

When I first rode the FRH, I did not have any lateral supports installed.  It felt a little shaky since I don’t have any lower abdominal strength.  After riding the bike a bit, I was starting to enjoy being able to lean hard to the left and right as I set up for turns.  I started to feel like I would not install them.  Logic told me that I could have a lot of fun without them as long as everything stayed under my control, but only a fool would believe that that would always be the case.

As a quad, I don’t have much trunk stability.  Reclining with the FRH’s articulating backrest makes me fairly stable in the fore-and-aft axis but in the side-to-side axis, my stability came from hanging on tight to the QuadGrips.

Riding without lateral supports installed
The FRH has the ability to make sharp turns through corners faster than I am strong enough to control it.  That fact means I can find myself with enough lateral G-force to lose my balance.   If I counteract by pulling against the grips, that will only tighten the turn and increase the force de-stabilizing me.  After I installed the lateral supports, I had two great advantages, one of which I had not foreseen.

The first advantage is the obvious one, the added trunk stability.  The other advantage the lateral supports offer is they enable me to make turns much faster and tighter than without them.  The faster the front wheel spins, the more rotational inertia it builds.  That rotational inertia resists me trying to turn the wheel.  On a handbike, you have to muscle that front wheel against that inertia in order to make it turn.  It literally takes strong muscles in parts of the arms, back, and chest that I can’t use.  Picture yourself holding a heavy book straight in front of you and then moving it to the left and to the right except against strong resistance.  You would be using those ‘steering’ muscles.

Most quads have fairly strong biceps and when locked into QuadGrips, can pull on the cranks very hard.  The lateral supports, when positioned correctly, give the quad the ability to plant one elbow against the end of the pad.  Doing so will allow him/her to lock the crank in that rotational position.   When he/she pulls on the crank with the other arm, it can result in some ‘breathtaking’ turn rates.  I can enter a u-turn on a normal width two-lane road at 7 mph and turn sharp enough to complete the u-turn without running out of pavement.

The left thoracic lateral support is seen behind my elbow.  They can significantly aid in turning by allowing the rider to turn using the stronger biceps muscles.
The added turning ability the lateral supports offer makes them a must for a quad, in my opinion.  There is a significant risk with their use, however, but a greater one if they are not used.  The risk is that the quad becomes dependent on using the supports for faster turn.  The faster the turns, the more wear and tear the equipment experiences.  If the lateral supports break, it will be at a time of maximum stress, i.e., fastest turning.  Hence my ‘don’t try this at home’ disclaimer:  If you wish to copy my application of the lateral supports, keep this fact in mind as you design them and maintain them.

The supports I used have some modifications.  The model I use has the swing-away feature which is very handy for transferring, but the swing away bracket significantly reduces the strength of the bracket and is much more prone to catastrophic failure.  If the swing-away bracket were replaced with a solid aluminum bar, the danger of breakage would essentially be eliminated.  My brackets also have a quick-release feature hence the entire bracket slides out when you retract a retaining knob.  Simply removing the lateral support using the quick-release feature would be adequate to give you the clearance necessary for transfers.

There are also some quick-release brackets without the swing-away feature that should also eliminate the failure mode.  I simply haven’t had time to research the dimensions to select an equivalent replacement.

The FRH-1 back has an aluminum sheet metal plate that is not strong enough for mounting the lateral supports directly.  I had Bircher, Inc., make a stiffener from high-strength aluminum. The stiffener attaches to the seat back and the mounting brackets for the lateral supports install on the stiffener.  The photos below show the design.  Again, a caveat:  note that proper surface treatment and corrosion prevention are important when using the high strength aluminum.

Backrest stiffener shown with lateral supports attached.  Depressing the red lever allows the pad to swing outward.  Pulling the silver pin on the bracket mount allows the bracket to be positioned inward or outward or completely removed.
The stiffener is attached to the back plate and will carry the load of the lateral supports directly to the FRH-1 frame.  The holes in the stiffener are threaded.  The screws pull the back plate up tight against the stiffener; the screws are then secured with self-locking nuts.  The longer screws extend through the mounting holes on the bike frame.
The front of the back plate.  The screws are flat head with finishing washers.
All assembled and ready to install.
Once I got the lateral supports installed and operating on my FRH-1, I started losing skin in large areas on my elbows and forearms.  I immediately had to modify the lateral supports to keep from bleeding to death at my second favorite activity.  Notice in the picture above how there is a Z- bracket attached to the padded part of the lateral support.  The mounting brackets stick out and the padded supports are positioned inward with the Z-bracket.

I wanted the mounting bracket moved inward and wanted to reverse the offset provided by the Z-brackets so as to get the swing-away brackets out of the way of my elbows.  Step one was to shorten the quick-release brackets so I could slide the swing-away bracket in closer.  The quick-release bracket was longer than needed and it was limited in its depth it could adjust because it would bottom out against the FRH backrest mount.   I had Bircher, Inc., shorten the bracket.

This picture shows the various mods and features for the Thoracic Lateral Supports.
With the brackets shortened and adjusted inward and with the Z-brackets offsetting the pads inward, the spacing would have been too narrow for my trunk.  It was not simply a matter of flipping the Z-brackets.  The Z-brackets would not install on the pads in that direction.  So I flipped the entire pad with Z-bracket attached.  I installed the left one on the right and the right one on the left.  That took care of the offset but because the pads are curved, they were then curving outward.  I used a sophisticated metal bender, a Ford model E-250.  I placed the pad under the wheel such that the weight would reverse the bend.  It did the trick.  The picture below shows the finished product with the mounting brackets shortened and moved inward.  The pads are swapped and the curvature is reversed, all of which has moved the hard metal parts well inward and away from my elbows.  I also added D-rings to the back of the seat to attach a Camelbak.

All of the HARD-ware is now tucked in behind the seat.  With the support pads reversed, the lateral supports are about as compact as you can make them.
I made a few other mods based on my experience with lateral supports.  I took out the hinge pin and replaced it with a socket-head cap screw with a self-locking nut.  I had experienced problems with the hinge pin backing out in the past.  Again, if you try to copy me, note that the pin is tapered so you can only remove it in one direction.  I also removed and replaced all the attaching screws and added medium strength thread locker.  I did the same for all the mounting screws attaching the backrest stiffener to the back plate and the screws attaching the quick-release brackets to the backrest stiffener.  Again, if anyone tries to do this, I recommend you forego the swing-away feature and its wear problems unless you have a specialized need.  For transferring, the brackets can be removed with the quick-release knob.

A lot of work went into the lateral supports.  For a high quad like myself, turning is difficult because muscling the cranks left and right demands the use of muscles unavailable.  However, by bracing one elbow against the end of the lateral support (left, in this case), the cranks will not rotate.  When the rider pulls with the other crank using biceps, the front end turns (to the right, in this case) and the rider can literally achieve the maximum turning speeds available from the ultra-nimble FRH-1.

Bike-On Quad Brake

I sat on these ideas and read and researched for a long time before I started fastening metal.  The first thing I did was to get on the bike and ride with the brake/shift levers installed on an accessory bar that Mike, from Freedom Ryder, gave me with the bike.  It is an arrow shaped device made of 3/4 " welded steel tubing.  I had it installed with the brake/shifters installed forward of the crankset.   There is a lot of adjustability in the position of the crankset on the FRH-1 and that makes this a great choice for a quad.

Literally the first ride on the new Freedom Ryder with the brake and shifter levers mounted on an accessory bar in front of the crank.
One constraint for a quad like me is no triceps.  That means you want to minimize the need to push anything and position everything that you do have to push lower than shoulder level.  That was all possible with the cranks and brakes on the FRH.  By lowering the crankset until there is only about 1/2 " clearance between the chainring and my belly, I had the cranks as low as they could go and minimized the amount of pushing necessary in the top/forward sector of the cranking circle.

I was enjoying riding the FRH with the Deore brakes and shifters so much that I was riding when I should have been engineering.  I got hot on the project after trying to make a sharp left descending turn on a steep hill and had one hand on the grip and the other on the brake.  The wheel was turned hard over and there was no way to straighten from the turn without releasing the brake to move my hand to the other grip and committing to the drop.  I could envision many scenarios where braking and turning simultaneously would not be optional.  The Bike-On Brake was a necessity.

Mike made a crank spindle for me that was 2 inches longer than the standard FRH-1 spindle.  I had Bircher Machine make a sleeve for me that slides onto the 3/4” diameter spindle.  One end of the sleeve is reduced in diameter to fit inside the bottom bracket lock ring.  The other end is drilled and tapped for set screws.

The sleeve is not visible but it adapts the 3/4” dia. spindle to the 30 mm bearings.  On the right end, the sprag bearing extends up against the bottom bracket lock ring.  Since the cable lever is normally not rotating and the cranks are rotating I placed a thrust bearing on the left next to the lever and added shims to cover the sleeves where the set screws are applied.  A 3/4” inch washer holds everything in position.
To prevent the brake levers from sliding on the sleeve, the right end of the sprag bearing butts against the bottom bracket lock ring.  I placed a thrust bearing and shims against the cable pull lever and slid a 3/4” I.D. washer over the spindle to hold the entire stack-up in place.  I found a gap of about a fingernail thickness when I installed the crank arm allowed the sprag bearing to rotate with little drag.  By swapping the left and the right cranks, the extra length of the spindle is approximately compensated.

I added a 7/8” tube under the cable lever to provide a rest for the lever.  I padded the end with a ring of rubber cut from the end of a handlebar grip.  I attached the tube with a cross clamp from a set of aero handles.  For a brake cable stay, I added a second tube mounted into a handlebar stem.  Bircher Machine fabricated a plug for the end of the stay with one face milled flat.  The plug is drilled and tapped for a adjusting barrel and locking nut.

Shows the brake cable stay on the left held in place with a handlebar stem.  The brake cable lever on the right rests on a rubber donut cut from the end of a handlebar grip.  The rest tube is clamped in place with an aero bar clamp.
In use, I find it more practical not to engage the plunger into the hole in the actuator lever.  Instead, I leave the plunger extended and let the outside edge of the actuator lever rotate around and contact the plunger.  This gives me approximately 3/4 of a rotation backwards before the brake engages.  This “play” is particularly useful on a steep hill when I can’t complete the crank rotation over the top.  Instead I can row crank my way up the hill or at least for a few strokes to rest until I can make a full rotation.

Another reason for extending the plunger outside the actuator lever rather than in its hole is that it allows me to choose the spot in the crank arc at which the brake will engage.  If the brake engages on a hill when I am rolling backward and the cranks are at a point in their circle where I have no strength, then I will be unable to crank the bike forward out of that spot.  By starting my reverse cranking from the spot of my choosing, I can apply my brakes at a point in the crank circle where I have the power to pull out of the stopped position.  I can also position the cranks in a favorable steering position when I need to brake and steer simultaneously.

Note that Scott really doesn’t wish for folks to be tinkering with something as critical as his brake.  Hence he doesn’t sell the brake to the general public except as installed on his Quad-Elite bikes.  He does sell it to Freedom Ryder these days.  If you need a Freedom Ryder and a Bike-On Brake, they are available now, to the best of my knowledge, installed at Freedom Ryder.

Shifter and accessory bar

Finally, I added some accessory mounts.  In one of the previous pictures you can see some D rings I added to the back of the upper seat back.  They are for attaching a Camelbak.  I also used an arrow-shaped tubing bracket Mike gave me with the bike.  It installs into the horizontal positioning tube on the bottom bracket.  I cut the ends off to reduce its size and weight and added 7/8” tubing to it to mount the brake levers.  With the disc brake operated by the Bike-On brake actuator, I have the caliper brake wired into the brake lever.  I added a cross brake lever to the other side to give me two levers to operate the caliper brake.  There are times when it is preferable to use one hand instead of the other because of road crown or other factors.  I now have the Bike-On brake for a primary brake and the caliper brake can be operable with either hand as my secondary brake.  This whole accessory bar is going to be modified at a future date to be a little lighter and more aerodynamic.  I’ll offer one observation regarding placement of brake levers.  For a quad without use of triceps, they should be mounted below the height of his/her shoulders for maximum effectiveness.

I also added a short tube perpendicular to the frame to mount accessories. That mount gives me room to mount the lights, GPS, etc.  If you notice a number of these pictures are taken at night.  I ride at night to avoid the heat that dominates our summer days here in the south.
I’m enjoying shifting the gears with the shifter mounted on the QuadGrips.  However, I experience muscle spasms sometimes that make my hand clench on the grip.  When that happens, I have difficulty flexing my wrist.  I may change out the LX shifters in the future to the trigger shifters and relocate them to a bar that I can reach with my chin.


My quad mods turned out to be better than I expected in terms of the functionality they provided me.  It was a lot of work on my part and on the part of my wife, who I might add has demonstrated a considerable bike-mechanic prowess.  I need to extend some thanks, however, to some people without whose help, this project would have never started.

My one-of-a-kind Freedom Ryder FRH-1.
First of all there is the incredible bike, the Freedom Ryder FRH-1, that inherently makes a great handling platform for quads.  Its adjustability allows you a lot of options in accommodating specific ergonomic needs.  Mike Lofgren spent many evenings in conference with me over the telephone helping me get things the way I needed them.  If you are a quad considering a handbike, consider the FRH-1 before you buy.  Although, he doesn’t have a web page yet advertising his own quad mods, He has taken these lessons and his own experience to put together his own version of Quad-FRH-1.  Visit his website and contact him to learn more about how he has adapted the Bike-On Brake to the Freedom Ryder.

Speaking of Bike-On, I could have never gotten this bike up to speed without Scott Pellet’s Bike-On Brake.  I see a lot of European handbike makers with an extensive offering of handbike options for quads.  Scott is giving them a run for their money in the USA with his Quad Elite set of options for the Top End Force.  The Bike-On Brake is a game-changer for quads.  Without the dexterity to squeeze a grip lever, the Bike-On Brake gives you a simple ‘coaster-brake’ operation in a derailleur-geared bike.  Look for more great things for quads in the Bike-On inventory in the future.

Now speaking of burning up the telephone lines, discovering James Watson turned into immediate friendship.  Although we never met face-to-face, we hit it off immediately, finding we had a lot of mutually common background.  His QuadGrips are another game changer.  I’ve tried a number of other solutions, but so far, his are the best grips out there for quads that I have been able to find.

Locally, I couldn’t have done it without a couple of great gearheads.  A big shout of thanks to Steve at Beaufort Bicycles.   Steve is never hesitant to take an old bicycle and turn it into some kid’s pride and joy.  Steve is never hesitant to tackle any of my wildest experiments and was invaluable getting the Bike-On Brake cabled up and running.

Another bikeshop that has kept me on the road is Crystal Coast Cycles.  Bruce has literally adjusted my brakes and shifters every way conceivable and has solved every problem I could invent with my shifter cables.

I could never have gotten the shifters fine-tuned without the patience of my friends Bruce and Tricia at Crystal Coast Cycles
 Bruce and I met last April at a charity ride for Hope For The Warriors (you know I had to squeeze in a mention of my favorite charity).  I blew a tire in the first mile of the ride and he got me back on the road.  No easy feat with Hare.  The front wheel on that bike doesn’t come off without a BIG fuss.  Since I was essentially left behind by everyone else in the event, Bruce rode with me the whole way.  We got to be friends, having the whole course to ourselves.  I think we chatted on every bike subject imaginable.

I’ve never a lot of metal working before so this was a unique design experience for me.  I can say that Jim Bircher at Bircher, Inc. machine Shop made the process much less painless.  He wasn’t free, but his services were top quality and reasonably priced.  He helped me understand his metal working capabilities and understand how to integrate that knowledge with my design needs.  Visit his website and check out his unique naval armament!

A bike this nice shouldn’t be on the road without a nice paint job.  Dan at Roberts Body Shop made this happen for me.  The pictures in this post don’t do Redshift justice.  Yellow is the theme color for my 2008 Miles of Hope campaign (see there, I worked in a mention of my own fundraising).  My Freedom Ryder came with a beautiful candy red finish.  Dan was able to blend the red in the front into a beautiful yellow-metallic-pearlescent aft end.  I’d love to give Dan’s business a plug but he’s retired now and he sold his body shop.

Finally, I no longer had the billboard space of my bike basket on Hare to post my Hope For The Warriors decals, patches and memorabilia.  Instead, I have had to streamline my “signage.”  I have to thank Ralph at Ralph’s Sign Shop for making the decals for my new ride!


I hope the insight I’ve provided here helps readers appreciate the value of the products that it takes to get quads on the road.  I regret that we live in a world where large companies that can afford to offer products for quad economically choose not to because it’s not profitable or glamorous.  I also hope there is some value and insight conveyed by my work and that it may help others offer better products for quads.  The combination of the Bike-On Brake, the FRH-1 handbike, and the QuadGrips is a game changer for quads.

If you’re a handbiker and have an appreciation for this project, leave a comment below.   Hopefully you and I will meet in person sometime.  Hopefully it will be on the road.

Fort Macon State Park, Atlantic Beach, NC
Riverwalk Trail, Columbus, GA
Virginia Creeper Trail, Abingdon, VA

A Beacon of Hope

Morehead City Marlins Honor Sally at their annual Hope Week ceremony

A mother, wife, friend, volunteer, teacher, leader, and more.  Sally Kelly, Beaufort, is a true “Beacon of Hope” to all who surround her.  Her hard work helped her to raise two successful and moral sons while still volunteering within her community.  Her greatest work now benefits our military communities—specifically the wounded, their families, and families of the fallen.  Sally has given hope and helps to thousands and inspires others to join in her own personal mission of hope.

As a single mom, Sally often worked two or more jobs while raising her sons to become responsible, hardworking leaders.  Early in her career, she ventured out of the traditional women’s fields to build an income that would enable her to put her boys through college.  She built a successful career as a mechanic and then later a Quality Assurance Specialist for the Department of Navy (DoN). As a woman breaking into a male-dominated field, she became an example of strength, excellence, and hope to other women in the community.  Early in her career, she was recognized as the Fleet Readiness Center-East’s Woman of the Year.  When she retired, she was still one of a just a handful of women within the DoN who inspected crucial jet engine components, including critical components used in the elite Presidential Helicopter Program.

Although Sally understood the importance of her role as breadwinner in her family, her work also focused on her sons’ activities, ambitions, and dreams.  The consummate Booster Club member, her example inspired her sons to their own levels of success.  Rick DySard (WCHS ‘86), rose to football team Captain and later established himself as a successful personnel placement specialist.  Tim DySard (WCHS ’87) established his prowess on the baseball field in high school and later as the owner of a successful software development corporation.  Endowed with more than a little of his mother’s drive, Tim led his Raleigh tennis team to state-level championships in 2009 and 2011.

Sally’s dedication to her country has inspired many with her own spark of hope.  The daughter of a WWII-Bronze Star-decorated soldier, she understands the contributions and sacrifices of the military and their families.  Her own dedication to the military did not end upon retirement after 36 years of civilian service within the DoN.  Since 2007, she has volunteered countless hours with Hope For the Warriors®, a national nonprofit organization that assists combat wounded service members and their families.  She has been recognized as one of the organization’s top volunteers.

Sally and her husband Paul have raised more than $48,000 in donations in their fundraising campaign they call “2008 Miles of Hope.”  The funds raised provide a full spectrum of rehabilitative and morale programs for our Nation’s wounded heroes and their families. 

Sally has also been recognized by the organization for her leadership within her women’s group, Beta Sigma Phi International.  Within her chapter, she has been the kindling spark beneath the group’s service project, “Carolinas’ Torch of Hope,” which has so far brought in over $25,000 in donations from chapters around the world to Hope For The Warriors®. 

Sometimes Sally is a Beacon of Hope, by simply supporting others.  As a spectator, she cheers from the sidelines, providing the hope and encouragement that people need.  She is often at Hope For The Warriors® events and races, cheering on the runners and volunteering to make the event a success.  She has been there for her own husband through 53 marathons and half marathons as he participates using a crank-wheelchair.

In 2011, she was not content to be on the sidelines. Sally decided to “go the extra mile” for our Nation’s wounded by running the Marine Corps Marathon with Team Hope For The Warriors®.  At an age when most women are curtailing their physical activities, Sally finished a HIGHLY respectable 30th in her age bracket in the largest amateur marathon in the world.

Sally is truly a Beacon of Hope within our community.  Her infectious enthusiasm brings light to the lives of everyone she meets.  Her tireless dedication to her community, her family, and above all, to our Nation’s wound heroes are an inspiration and example to us all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Looking Back; Looking Forward

What a year!

2011 was quite a year!  It was a year of many firsts.  And if you have followed this blog it was a year of many lasts.  But 2012 should be the biggest year yet for this old country boy.

In 2011, I started off the year with my first experience with the Disney marathon where I finished last among the handcyclists like I always do.  Then at Myrtle Beach, I beat David Swaim for the first time!  Well, I beat him to the starting line.  I didn’t know such a thing was possible.  At every race I go to, there is David, no matter how early I arrive.  I accuse him of spending the night at the starting line.  The truth is he takes his game so seriously, the professional that he is, that he always gets to the start early enough to make sure that when the gun is fired, there is no one between him and the finish line.

In March, I beat David again!  This time it was at the Cherry Point Half Marathon.  For the first time in the twelve-year history of the event, they included a wheelchair division!  I had helped the race management come up with a new course that was wheeler friendly.  David, who was once a Cherry Point Marine, joined us for the inaugural event.  Unfortunately the road marshal who led the lead wheelers missed a turn on the course and led David and another wheeler on a ‘short’ half marathon.  While he could have done the course twice and still beat me, it was the first time I had ‘officially’ beaten him, even though I was last in the wheelchair division.  He enjoyed it as much as I did.

In the fall, at the Army Ten-Miler, I experienced another disappointing first.  This time it was my first DNF.  The entire year was problematic for me from an equipment perspective.  At about mile eight, as I started up the 14th Street Bridge, I broke the fork on my XLT.  This was actually the third time the XLT fork had broken on me.  Twice, new forks from Top End had broken.  This time, my first fork, which had been re-welded broke.  Thanks to a local custom motorcycle shop, I got the fork beefed up substantially and back on the road for my big races in the fall.

At the NC Seafood Festival Twin Bridges 8K, JK and myself made up their first wheelchair division.  The race officials were a bit apprehensive about wheelchairs on the high rise bridges of Morehead City.  We demonstrated it could be done safely and everybody had a lot of fun in the process.

At the Marine Corps Marathon, again, my equipment plagued me and for the first time, I found myself behind the sag bus.  When I finished the hills at mile eight, I got a little too over-eager to catch up and crashed into a curb at 23 miles per hour, another first (and hopefully last), and DNF’ed in my second major fall race.

Fortunately at the NYC Marathon, there were no more firsts.  I did, however, PR at that race, ending that nasty string of DNFs.  I was able to get a new wheel built to replace the one I destroyed at the MCM with the help of some super guys at iFixByx, Mark Purdy and David Sommerville.  They were even able to make me a belt out of my curb-bitten tire.

At NY, however, I got to meet Sister Mary Gladys.  You may remember that in 2010, I exuberantly proclaimed my legacy of last-place crank-chair division finishes had ended when I beat this 70-something (she corrected me on her age) nun from Connecticut.   Well, I looked up our finishes.  It seems that in the NYC marathon, men and women crankers are scored in separate divisions.  So it seems my last-place legacy continues unbroken.

I finished 2011 with my best race last.  Two years prior, I met YK at the OBX Half.  She was studying my crank-chair after the race.  She shared as how her husband was a tetraplegic also and owned a different type of handbike.  Her husband, JK, and I corresponded over the years and I encouraged him to enter the OBX Half.  Last year, he confirmed he was registered and I promised to cross the finish line beside him.

JK has an old Shadow Mach III, which was really very poorly accommodating to his abilities.  Even up to the day of the race, he was still apprehensive of his ability to get over the bridge.  Frankly I was too.  I knew he could push on the spokes if he had to.  He might come away with some scratches and it would be slow, but he could eventually make it.

Even our bicycle guides were discretely asking me how he was going to make it up the bridge.  I told them it wouldn't be pretty but I had seen his determination by mile eight and knew he was going to grind it out.  He had a little entourage of runners (really walkers) by the time he got to the top of the bridge.  We informally renamed the bridge in his honor.  My day was complete when I caught a little glimpse of a smile on his face when we reached the top.  He will never forget his achievement.  It was a milk run to the finish line and my teammate and I went ahead to work up the spectators to give him a warm reception.  He and I crossed the finish line together in my slowest half marathon ever but my biggest win.  That smile on his face, however, was better than any trophy I own.

Finally, 2011 ended with another first and last.  On December 31, I retired from the Department of the Navy after 32 years of service as a civilian engineer at NAVAIR.  Sadly, two days later, my colleague, my partner, and coworker, and my friend, Pat Hovatter died after a tragic after a sudden and brief illness.  My happiness at the fulfillment of my career was sadly dampened by the loss of my friend.

2012 will prove to be another year of firsts for me.  One of Pat’s last requests was that donations be made to help wounded warriors.  I pledged to Pat’s wife and family that in 2012, all my races would be dedicated to Pat’s memory.  And as with all my races, every penny donated from my supporters goes to Hope For The Warriors for their various rehabilitative, morale-building, and direct needs programs to ensure, "no sacrifice forgotten nor need unmet."  The organization has grown into a highly acclaimed national organization serving our wounded and their families and families of the fallen from all of the services.

Looking forward
My first race will be the Myrtle Beach Marathon this coming weekend.  It will be my busiest race schedule ever.  Please look over the “Upcoming Events” sidebar for a list of my attempts for this year, all dedicated to Pat’s memory.   Several marathons will be firsts for me, including the Gettysburg North-South Marathon, the Soldier Marathon, and the Pensacola Marathon.  My most ambitious undertaking in my life will occur on March 10 when I attempt the Graveyard 100, a 100-mile ultra marathon on the North Carolina outer Banks.  Then I hope to end the year by completing Four Marathons in Fifteen Days, the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the Soldier Marathon, and the Pensacola Marathon.  I am hoping that Pat’s sons can join me in the Soldier Marathon.  All in all, in 2012 I hope to complete 14 marathons and half marathons and one ultra.

Did I mention that I was a tetraplegic?  Why on earth would I invest such a chunk of my life into such an endeavor?  I won’t go into the heroics of our wounded warriors but this is my way of stating my gratitude for their sacrifice and for that of their families.

Please support me with your donation to Hope for The Warriors.  The world in which we live and the freedoms we enjoy would be vastly different without the dedication and sacrifice of our nation’s service men and women.  We owe them so much.  Freedom is not free.

Please help with a donation to my fundraising campaign. All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  Learn about the great things they do.

Please make a secure online donation at my donation page: 2008 Miles of Hope donations page.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bridges burned, doors busted down!

10.30.2011  NCSF Twin Bridges 8K

Changing attitudes and training the spirit
After 25 years, the NC Seafood Festival Twin Bridges Road 8K accepted the first wheelchair participants.  Two crank-wheelchair participants crossed the two Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Bridges to the cheers of support of hundreds of fellow runners.  Their participation dispelled years of unfounded reservations that wheelchairs and runners could not cross the high rise bridges safely together and opened another door for athletes with disabilities.

My teammate finished second in her age bracket.
I finished, well, er, uh, second  in mine (last place as usual).

After the race my teammate (my loving wife) and I extended our running in training for the Marine Corps Marathon as part of Team Hope For The Warriors.

Teammate's training goal:  18 miles. 
8K race-5 mi
Training-17.7 mi
Total distance for the day: 23.7 miles!  Holy Cow!

My training goal:  40 miles. 
8K race-5 mi
Training-41.5 mi
Total distance for the day: 47.5 miles

It's not the miles but what the miles do.  

JK, the other participant in the 8K, completed his first crossing of a high-rise bridge.  He's got the itch now to complete a marathon.  During my training ride I met up with my dear friend, One-Leg Dan.  He was on the road cranking in one of the first Force-R crank chairs ever built.  Five years ago, few in the county had heard of a crank wheelchair.  Today there were three (at least) on the road training and competing. 

The idea that a life with a disability is a life filled with despair is another 'burning bridge.' 
Life with a disability is a life filled with Hope.

Our fundraising campaign, 2008 Miles of Hope has raised over $37,000 to date to benefit Hope For The Warriors and their programs to provide relief for combat-wounded service members,  their families, and families of the fallen.

Please join us in our cause.  Make a donation at

Lets Roll!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coping with the heat

Summer 2011 has been blistering.  Even before summer got here.

For folks with certain disabilities or using certain medicines, the heat is a bear! Training in the heat is a bear, too. For example, high SCIs, such as myself, don’t sweat. Working out in the sun and in the heat is double jeopardy. I’ve observed other quads' techniques for coping with the heat and I’ve come up with a few of my own. Most of them involve water. Here are my helpful hints for quads training in the heat.  Some may may be used by able-bodied athletes, too.

1) Training is the worst activity. You’re generally out there on the road for long periods with no support. My friend GM once suggested that I do my most intensive workouts in cooler (and colder) weather and just try to moderate and maintain during the hot months. I have started working out in the early AM, about 0540, before going to work and making no attempt to work out in the evening. I have actually extended my daily target workout to 10 miles. I remember doing this last year (with 10K target workouts) and was pleasantly surprised to find that it worked. As soon as cooler weather came in the fall, my energy level picked up immediately as did my endurance and my distances.

2) Get wet. In races when I am going all-out, I overheat even on cooler days. I ask the water stop volunteers to pour a cup of water on top of my helmet or throw a cup of water into my face (just make sure you're at the water table, not the energy drink table). Even if the heat doesn’t cause me to overheat, it still robs me of my energy and makes me lethargic. Many bike races that have a quad division will provide sag riders who will administer cooling water to quads. I almost always go through sprinkler stations in races and I look for lawn sprinklers that overspray the street when I workout. The Beaufort Road Race in July is the hottest race I do. I tell the Boy Scouts on one particular corner to let me have it with the water hose when I come by. My teammate said the kids’ enthusiasm was a little overzealous when other runners came through behind me and unexpectedly got the same treatment.

3) Seek shade.

The biggest advantage of working out early in the day is that you avoid the sun more so than avoiding the temperature. By about 10 AM, most of the shade is gone. I have even gotten up at 0330 to put in a long workout in the dark. Morning works better than the evening because the bugs aren’t as bad.  Even in the early AM, I can still overheat.  One recent morning, even though the air temperature was 77 when I started my workout, by 0715 when I finished, I measured my body temperature at 103 degrees!

4) Chill out. I like to eat an icy-pop right after a hot workout to recover more quickly. A rag soaked with cold water and Sea Breeze feels good too. The alcohol in the Sea Breeze also aids in cooling. I have eaten those frozen icy drinks at Dairy Queen that normally give you brain-freeze…without getting the brain-freeze.

5) Take water.

I take a thermos tank that I have modified with two tubes that go to the bottom of the tank. I had to modify the tank to make it airtight too. The tubes go to my helmet. One goes to my mouth. The other goes to the top of my head. I can suck on the mouthpiece a get a cool drink. I can blow into the tube and force cold water up to the top of my head. I also suck up a mouthful of water and squirt it out my lips onto my legs and shoulders.  And yes, I'm the geekiest guy on the course...

6) Take ice.

I also have some fabric tubes made of nylon fabric that I have my teammate fill with ice. We tie them around my neck and they keep me cool for about an hour. As the ice melts, it wets me thoroughly, prolonging the cooling.

7)  Take cover.  Your head is the most sensitive part of your body to the sun's heat.  Wear a runner's cap made of breathable polyester fabric.  Preferably white.  Likewise for your clothes.  The coolest shirts I've found are lightweight polyester made of an open-knit fabric.  Wal-Mart Sells them for 8 bucks.  Brooks Running sells them for $40.  When you run through a water station in a race, drink the energy drink (for hydration, fuel, and electrolytes) and pour the cup of water inside your cap.

8) Work out with a partner. You may not think clearly when you overheat. Let your partner know that.

Don’t forget to visit our donation site and support Hope For The Warriors. Make a donation and support this great cause!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beyond Hope

An incredible challenge

To readers of this blog, you know that my niece T- is one of the greatest inspirations in my life.  Tonight, she stands on the brink of one of the greatest physical and mental challenges in her life.  To her, this post is dedicated. 

To others that face challenges in their lives, find the motivation and inspiration in these words that I hope she will find; the motivation in over 9,700 miles that I have logged in training, races, and fundraising events since that day she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006 for the first time; the day when I said, "I think I can do that."


I want to say some things that may not come across with the same positive encouragement that you have known from me in the past.  But do know that they come from my heart with all the love and respect that I can convey.

First of all there is the issue of success.  I know in your mind there is self doubt and worry that you  may not achieve success.  I could say that there is no need to worry about passing or failing; that you are a success in the eyes of all that love you.  I could say that you have already achieved success.  Both are true.  But saying either would be giving you the comfort in defeat that you do not wish to enjoy.

I will say this instead.  You are only now beginning to understand the enormity of your challenge.  It is only now that you are beginning to glimpse how is high the climb, how far is the distance, and how preciously short is the time before you. 

And finally there is the issue of hope.  We who love you can offer encouragement, advice, and prayers.  And we can hope.  And you can hope.  But hope is not a strategy for success.  It is a reason to move forward against all odds; it is the reason to persevere.  But it in itself, is not a strategy. 

This is the time where you must recognize the goal is not in what you can see, it is not even in what you know; the goal lies far beyond that which you can comprehend.

The distance is not what you can measure, it is beyond where you have been.  And the time you have is not what you remember, it is the flash between what lies ahead and what has been.

Hope is not enough for what you must do. You must do more than you can even know.  You must push yourself farther than any goal you have now or have ever set in the past. You must push yourself faster than you can go.  And you must think smarter than you have ever thought before.

Because winning is not just about crossing the finish line.  It is about using every faculty you possess.  It is not about using your best to the best of your ability.  It is about using everything you have to outrun, to out-distance, and to out-think those that hope to lure you into believing that what you have done in the past is good enough.

Let them rely on hope.  You must push yourself beyond hope.  Beyond what you have known.  Beyond what you believe is possible.  And beyond what you call success.  You must push yourself beyond what you can dream. 

Only then will you know a success that no one can impart to you.  The success no one can take from you.  The success you earn!

And only then will you know what few others know--what lies beyond hope.

With all my love and my deepest respect,
Your Crazy Uncle,

Success is not measured by the challenges you are dealt, but by the challenges you set before yourself.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fall races and 2010 recap

ALMOST the year of “almosts”

Chasing the elusive sub-4:00 marathon
This year it seems like I ‘almost’ did every thing I wanted in regard to my 2008 Miles of Hope goals. It seemed like my races were turning into a lackluster legacy of “almost” meeting my goals.  The big ‘almost’ was my elusive goal of beating the 4-hour mark for a marathon.  Two other times, I ‘almost’ made it to the starting line.  And I can’t count the times when I almost PR’ed in a race.  The only positive thing that I can say I did was getting together a group of running friends at work to train for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Now, I’m not fast. In fact, my legacy of finishing in last place amongst the handcyclists was unbroken.  Not so intolerable if you’re the only participant, but I wanted to do better. 

I don’t mean to sensationalize my accomplishments.  My very first marathon was less than 4 hours.  I wanted so dearly to do that again.  In March, at the Shamrock, I missed my goal by less than a minute.  It seemed like for the rest of the year, or at least my training season, I was getting slower. I felt like something was going wrong.  As it turned out, it was.  Read on for a recap of my fall races, as Paul Harvey said, “for the rest of the story.”  It would take a trip to New York City to turn my luck.

The Marine Corps Half Marathon 9.25.2010
Most people think of the of the Marine Corps Historic Half, in Fredericksburg, VA, when they hear of this race.  In fact, Mike Marion, the MCCS race director at Camp Lejeune, has been putting on this race at Camp Lejeune, NC, as part of his Grand Prix Series for as long as I remember.

My theory:  You tend to run faster when chased by Marines...

It is my favorite half.  It winds around through some of the most scenic parts of the base, particularly through the tall Carolina pine forests and the views along the New River.

I was able to race with 4 other handcyclists at the MC Half.  David Swain, One-Leg Dan, and BN were there.  I had raced with all three in the past.  I had been in communication with RA, a wounded warrior stationed at Lejeune.  He had been training on his new handbike but had never raced. I think I got him pumped up and excited.  He was ready to roll.  A combat reporter on the base did a very nice article on us.  Handcyclists make a difference

My time was great, but not a PR. For a half.  While I could sense some improvement since the summer, it was still just ‘almost’ what I had I hoped for.  Read my full report in a previous blog.  Another 2008 miles

Distance workout 10.2.2010
This time my teammate ran a race on her own.  She was running the Twin Bridges 8K.  I was still trying to get in some distance workouts prior to the MCM. I got started on my workout and she drove on to the finish of her race where participants were bussed to the start.  Since all the participants were driving past my workout route, a number of friends in the area passed and honked or waved as I started out on my workout as they were heading to the race.  MC was running in the race also.  My teammate joined up with her and ran much of the race.  MC was training for the MCM also.  She planned to finish her race and then extend on down toward Indian Beach make her distance workout.

My plan was to ride to Fort Macon then toward Indian Beach.  That day, because of the race preparing to start, the Atlantic Beach Bridge had a lane coned off for runners.  Since the race hadn’t started I had a whole lane to myself. Yee-ha!  I was blasting down the Atlantic Beach causeway as fast as I could crank, having a very large time, when I noticed the cones on my left had a rope attached to them.

All the sudden, I looked up and there was a rope crossing my lane straight in front of me.  I was in the finish chute set up for the race and was about to be clotheslined!  Several friends that were standing around the race finish area waved and yelled to greet me.  I didn’t mean to be rude, but all I could say was something like, “YIKES,” as I ducked to avoid the rope.

After riding to Fort Macon, and starting back west at Atlantic Beach, I thought I saw MC in the distance.  I started cranking a little faster caught up with her.  We ran together for a ways while my teammate caught up with her bicycle after her race.  By the time she did, I was starting to bonk badly.  I had gone longer than I planned without refueling before she caught up with me.  In my haste to get started so my teammate could be on time for her race, I forgot to bring anything to eat.  She brought some food with her that got me going, but I just gutted it for a while before I had to stop and rest.  At Salter Path there is a parking lot for a public beach access.  I parked under a shade tree and my teammate rode across the street to a seafood restaurant and brought back a couple of take out containers of clam chowder and some hushpuppies.  Now that was a treat!  And it got me going.  The ride home was against a stiff headwind and just plain tough.  I knew I had to pay more attention to refueling.  But something else was wrong.  More than just the headwind was bogging me down.  I was worried about the MCM now.

One evening the following week I was working out on a steep hill at Atlantic Beach.  All the sudden my handbike was impossible to crank.  I could barely make it up the hill.   My teammate was out for her run.  I quit early about the time she returned.  Totally exhausted, I was wondering, “What’s wrong with me? This hill never kicked my butt before.  And Saturday, I had been struggling to keep up with MC.”

When I got off the bike, I noticed it didn’t roll downhill like it usually did.  I didn’t remember setting the parking brake. We spun the wheel, or tried to. It was nearly stuck in place! The coaster brake was jammed. The next day I took it to my bike shop guy.  This was Thursday. I was registered for the Neuse River Bridge Run half marathon on Saturday.  So was my teammate and many of my MCM teammates at work.  My worry factor was climbing.

Neuse River Bridge Run 10.16.2010
My bike shop guy, and there is none better, was swamped with new inventory just delivered for Christmas and every one needing assembly.  Added to that it was the peak of the fall riding season and everyone had gotten their clunkers out of the garage and found they needed repair.  He promised me he would do the best he could.

Friday, we went to the packet pick-up and I asked the event coordinator about switching races. I explained about my uncertainty of my handbike’s availability.  I was considering pushrimming my day chair or maybe even using Tortoise for the 10K.  Meanwhile my cell phone was ringing.  I was oblivious in the din of the registration crowd.  My bikeshop guy had good news for me.

When we left for home, my phone beeped with a new message reminder.  I called the bike shop guy and found out he had Hare ready for me.  He said it wasn’t repaired but he had it rolling freely.  He couldn’t get a part in time to replace the defective brake drum. Nonetheless, if I was going to be on the road Saturday, I was happy.

Saturday’s race was awful.  I wasn’t concerned about my time.  It was just hard. It started out OK, but about 4 miles into the run, the brake started dragging again.  This persisted about 4 miles then it released and I was OK.  Then the brake was off and on for the rest of the race.  It took me over two and a half hours to finish.

Again, I wasn’t worried about my time.  I had fallen back at the start to try to guide for Matt Bradford across the bridges.  That’s a story of its own.  Another 2008 miles  The brake drag problem was now high on my worry list for the MCM. 

Several wounded warriors from Camp Lejeune were there on handbikes.  Some I knew from other races. As it turned out, with some of my coworkers, MC, and some of the WWs, we had a small contingent of the2010 MCM Team Hope For The Warriors.  Pretty cool! Rolling to the Finish for Wounded Warriors

I did a training ride the following day and learned the brake would engage at the slightest provocation.  I also learned a trick to disengage it when it did.  My only problem was that sometimes I just couldn’t stop cranking to disengage the brake for various reasons.  I started putting the puzzle together now.  Two things had been plaguing me all summer.  Lack of energy and lack of strength.  I decided that the strength issue was really not lack of strength but too much resistance from the brake.  The energy thing was probably lack of fuel.

Back to back half centuries 10.23-24.2010
I could not find the part needed to repair the brake.  I was desperate with the MCM a week and a half away.  I couldn’t even wait to order a new hub because I still needed training, I felt.  I made the decision to cannibalize the hub from Tortoise and have the whole wheel rebuilt for Hare with the hub from Tortoise.  I ordered a new 8 speed hub for Tortoise (which I like very much). The following weekend I set out for my longest training rides of the year. My plan was to keep fueled up with gus, energy drinks, and of course, Snickers.

On Saturday, I put in 50 miles, fueling about every hour.  At one point, I was a little hot and my teammate met me with a cup of ice cream from the General Store.  I think I could live with this fueling strategy.  The new hub was great.  With no brake dragging, I felt like I had lost my anchor.  With the new fueling strategy, I felt like I had more energy the last 10 miles than I did the first 10!  Sunday I did another long ride.  This one was at Bogue Banks.  It included the Atlantic Beach Bridge, AND a steep hill I use to gage my readiness for the MCM.  Since the grade is the same as the unforgiving hill at the end of the MCM.  I saved that climb for the end of the ride.  When I did it without a hitch, and still had energy to spare, I KNEW I was ready for the MCM, the NYC Marathon and the OBX Half—my triple crown from last year, Two and a half Marathons in 15 Days.

As I finished my ride by crossing the AB Bridge I was ready.  Two half centuries back-to- back and I still had plenty of energy. I was about two miles short that Sunday and running out of daylight but I didn’t need the two miles to prove anything further.  The next weekend would be the MCM.  I had been entertaining the idea of one more marathon this year.  I signed up for the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, FL.  I was hoping to finish the year with a relatively flat race and, you guessed it, beat that 4 hour mark.

Maine Corps Marathon 10.31.2010
Since it was the MARINE Corps Marathon, I will summarize in one word.  OOHRAH!

If you’re not familiar with the term, run the race. I’ll skip the part about how the weather was perfect, the trees were beautiful, the spectators were awesome, and the runners were incredibly supportive.


The weekend before the race, I’m feeling great. I did my two most strenuous workouts this training season.  I know it was too close to race day but I had to prove it to myself.  I had many setbacks this training season:  bonking, weather, overheating, schedule problems, and finally, last minute equipment problems.  Honestly I think my brake problems have plagued me off and on all summer; I just nailed it down recently.  The previous Saturday I fueled regularly every hour and amazingly had as much strength at the end of both workouts as I did at the beginning of the first.  Both were half centuries because I wanted to be out there cranking for a time period longer than I knew would be in either upcoming marathon. You end the Marine Corps up a 14% grade (you read that right).  The previous Sunday I finished my workout with a climb up another 14% hill and then an 85 foot high bridge (a.k.a. an eastern NC hill).

Mentally and physically I was ready. This was going to be my third MCM and my 11th marathon.  I wanted to do two short strength workouts to maintain my peak but it didn’t happen.  I picked up some kind of respiratory bug that messed me up for a couple of days.  Fortunately it wasn’t severe and a little Tylenol to keep fever down was all it took.  The night before the race, I got a good dinner and a good night’s sleep.

We were up at 4 AM and though I had lost all advantage from my physical conditioning the weekend before I was psyched with the knowledge of a successful fueling strategy, knowledge the hills would at least not kick my six, and some significant mental positives.
My 2008 Miles of Hope fundraising goal of $1000 for every mile in a marathon was not only met—it was smashed!  We wrote a check for a personal donation of about $127 to bring it up to a nice round number: $30,000.  I was pretty proud of that.  Finally, we enjoyed some good relaxing camaraderie over dinner with our Hope For The Warriors teammates including several wounded warriors.

I had hoped to finish quicker this year but overall I was about the same as last year, about 6:18. The first two miles of MCM are up a significant hill then you lose all that elevation by mile four.  Miles 6-8 are uphill again then you lose it all in about ½ mile, actually most of it in about 1/10 of a mile.  We got a fifteen minute head start but with all the elevation in the first eight miles, I was trying to make up my time the rest of the race.  The only other hills are the 14th St. Bridge (actually 3 bridges) and the last 2/10s up the hill with the14% grade.

By the time I was at the top of the mile 8 peak, 20,000 runners were in front of me including the “iPlodders.”  I met my teammate at 4 spots on the course met T- at two places.
Though I maintained my energy level by frequent refueling, I couldn’t plow my way past the mp3 headsets.  The other runners gave me great support and many guided for me during various stretches, including Carlos, who was an Achilles guide, guiding another handbiker.  I rode with Carlos’ handbiker for a mile or so and Carlos ran with me separately for another mile or so.  Many others guided for me spontaneously during other short stretches, but for much of the race, I was wasting my inertia by braking to avoid running into someone who couldn’t hear me yell.  At least the brakes were working now, or should I say, not working when they weren’t supposed to.

T- joined me at the Pentagon and jogged the last couple of miles with me.  The 14% hill took me about 15 ugly minutes to climb. T-, walked behind me to keep others from pushing.  As I rocked the bike back and forth to inch my way up the steep slope, the crowd yelled, almost in tears.  T- dialed up my 82-year-old mother on her cell phone to let her listen to the crowd.
The finish line announcer’s name is Ken Berger.  He is called The Voice of the Marine Corps Marathon. His is the most beautiful sound you ever want to hear; “Welcome to the finish line!”  He knows me through 3 previous Run For The Warriors and two previous MCMs, as well as my fundraising for Hope For The Warriors.   Ken gave me a real VIP announcement at the finish and had the crowds yelling at the top of their lungs.  Marine 2nd Lieutenants. all along the finish were yelling OOHRAH! 

  It was a great finish to a  GREAT day.

At the finish area I met up with many of the folks I had trained with all summer.  We ALL had a great time and a great race. I was already looking forward to my next MCM.  But more importantly, I was thinking about NYC and how I would do.

Maryland and New Jersey 11.1-4.2010
Last year I remember feeling incredibly stressed after the MCM.  We returned home on Monday.  I went to work on Tuesday through Thursday.  Then we drove to NY on Friday.  In that whole time I managed one 2-mile workout.

This year we did some sightseeing in DC on Monday then drove to College Park, MD that evening.

On Tuesday we got on some great bike trails along the Anacostia River and put in about 17 miles.  The one thing that College Park lacks is good restaurants.  Applebee’s filled our hungry tummies, however.

Wednesday we drove to New Jersey to be close enough to NY to visit and do things in the City but far enough away to afford a room.  We hurriedly unpacked and drove to Central Park for a workout.  This year, like last, I would be supported throughout the race by guide runners provided by the New York Road Runners and the Achilles Track Club.  Achilles is the organization that handles the planning, registration, logistics, and other coordination for the AWDs--athletes with disabilities from all over the world for the New York City Marathon.

My team
This year, I was assigned three highly capable guides.  We had been emailing constantly for weeks. We were strategizing tactics for getting me through the crowds, the streets the hills, five bridges and five Burroughs that made up the NY City Marathon.  G- was one of my guides last year.  We had been corresponding throughout the year about getting last year’s team together again.  In May she wrote with some bad news.  Her participation was now in doubt. 

In her training for this year’s NYC Marathon she entered the Brooklyn Half Marathon, with a goal of under 1 hour and 50 minutes.  At mile 12.5 she was well on he way to a 1:47 finish when another runner in front of her unexpectedly stopped. 

“I shifted to get out of the way, lost my footing on the boardwalk and had an extremely nasty spill, G- described. “ My chin took the brunt of it all.  I stood up and blood was gushing out (its amazing how much your chin bleeds!) - a volunteer pulled me aside and asked if I was ok.  I could hardly breathe and could not process what had happened and all these spectators were gawking at I sat down on a bench facing the ocean to regroup.  The volunteer got on his phone, ‘I've got a runner down 600 meters from the finish’ 600 meters?!  I got up, told the volunteer that I was fine, that I could finish...He looked at me in shock ...then I was off, and as I was crossing the finish line, the spectators were cheering and then had a look of horror as I passed them!  I finished in 1 hr and 52 min, a little before 9am.  I was pretty bummed about (missing her goal).” 

A veteran of 5 previous NYC Marathons and a NYC native, she as the backbone of last year’s team. Not having her on the team was going to be a big disappointment.  As the summer progressed, I waited to hear if there was an improvement in her condition. 

About September, I got word from G- that she was ready for a marathon!  I contacted Achilles and they assigned me two additional guides, CD and PH.  The wires were abuzz with our email traffic.  CD was a pretty big guy who had played football at Notre Dome.  He was also an IronMan and had completed NYC before.  As he put it, “I can be as aggressive as u need getting people out of the way.”

As it turned out, PH had to drop out at the last minute with a foot injury.  While the team had started to bond and PH’s loss was sad to us, CD suggested that his girlfriend, KVD, join us as a replacement.  KVD had been training for the NYC anyway. This would be her 4th. She had also completed the Boston. Several months back, her interest in training for the marathon began to wane.  She was losing interest in the long runs and was ready to defer. On CD’s suggestion, she applied to Achilles to run as a guide.  She was accepted by Achilles to guide for another AWD.  She asked if she could guide for me instead, Achilles approved it, and now we had our little team firmed up. 

KVD brought her unique enthusiasm to the group.  As she put it, “I am SO excited and FIRED UP to team up with you all to run those city streets on November 7.  Everything happens for a reason, so let's get it done together!  I'm ready to kindly, yet aggressively, remove all human bodies in your path…to assist you from Staten Island to the west side of CP…”  I was starting to envision Moses parting the sea and in my mind, crowds were separating as my Achilles guides opened up a path in the sea of runners before me and my handbike.

Wheels turn in the Big Apple
Wednesday prior to the race, after unpacking at the hotel in NJ, we started toward Central Park for our first meeting with my guides.  We planned a little loop around the park.  My teammate and I got there first and we planned to meet CD and KVD around 5 PM.  G- was tied up at the office and planned to meet us a little later.  Right off the bat we hit it off.  After introductions and hugs we started out heading counter-clockwise around the park.  I wanted CD and KVD to learn how much difference there was between my speed going uphill and coming downhill.  G- already knew what to expect.

KVD described it like this, “It was there in Central Park that I realized that running this race would be most challenging, physically. We needed to clear out the runners in front of him so he can gain speed on the downhill and not run over any of the other participants.  I was about to cross-train for 26.2 miles come Sunday.  Oh my gosh!  My LEAST favorite form of running (until Marathon Sunday, that is)…I watched with eyes wide open how he crawled up Cat Hill and Harlem Hill, but flew down the opposite sides of the upgrades.”

We met up with G- on the west side of the Park.  I was excited.  We had a great team that was going to work together well.  I tried to caution the guides that during the race their excitement would tempt them to sprint when I started downhill. Instead, I told them they should only run their natural sustainable pace and that they could space themselves in font to clear a path for me by running ahead when I was just cresting the hill and staggering their lead.  In my heart I knew that with the combined enthusiasm we all felt, restraint would be the farthest thing from our minds.  All in all I felt great physically and I knew this little team was going to get me throughout the five bridges and five Burroughs of the NYC marathon.

On Friday we checked into our hotel in Manhattan.  Saturday AM we all got together at the expo.  The NY expo is not my favorite.  To me it seems it is dominated by the big sneaker manufacturers and none of the little mom-and-pop businesses that make the expo fun to explore. Saturday PM we got together for dinner at Salute.  We all stoked up on some excellent pasta for the big race.  We were also stoked up with some excellent training and some excellent camaraderie and THAT was destined to make this a great race!

Why is this man so happy?  Because he's looking at the most beautiful woman in NY--behind the camera!

NYC Marathon 11.7.2010
I learned a valuable lesson last year.  We had to be at the bus pick-up spot at about 5:30 AM.  I ate a quick breakfast about 4 AM.   By the time the race started for me at 8:55, my breakfast was gone.  By mile fifteen I had bonked.  This year, I ate a couple of bites in the hotel room and put the rest of my breakfast in my pockets.  Also, last year we waited forever at the pick-up spot to get loaded on the bus.  This year we got there early.  I think it was around 4:30.

It was a chilly morning, probably around 40 or maybe slightly cooler.  I met my guides at the bus pick-up spot for AWDs on 5th Ave.  We got onto a bus and on the road without waiting too terribly long. It was not clear whether that was going to be a good thing or not.  I was afraid that waiting at Staten Island would be colder than waiting on the street in Manhattan.  It was quite breezy.  The wind was about 15-20 out of the NW.  Waiting outdoors for a couple of hours would not be fun.

On the island
Again, we were lucky. We were able to wait in a tent at the assembly area and out of the wind.  What at treat that was.  Besides being out of the wind, they had food and drinks.  It also gave me an opportunity to meet some of the other AWDs, particularly other quads.  I don’t see too many other quadriplegics using crank chairs.  When I do, and I’m afraid this was my first encounter, I am very curious about their bike and its setup.

Inspiration is a strange thing.  You never know where you will find it.  It has been my observation than one has only to open one’s eyes to be inspired. There’s an inspiration in every mile.  And on this day, we were not yet at mile 0.

Next to me in the tent was a young lady from New Zealand on her own “incredible journey.” Catriona Wiliams is the founder of the Cat-Walk Trust, a foundation that raises money to further research for a cure to spinal injury.  She was an Olympic equestrian hopeful and broke her 6th and 7th cervical vertebrae in a riding accident.  After two years of training, she led her team to the NY City Marathon, raising $300,000 to fund spinal injury research. 

I was excited to meet other athletes with disabilities similar to my own and especially to have the opportunity to check out their crank chairs and the adaptations they had made.  I overlooked the fact that my guides may not have been around seriously disabled individuals enough to feel entirely comfortable. 

“I walked into a tent surrounded by disabled athletes,” confessed KVD.  “Without a thought, I stared. Some athletes with 1 leg, no legs, no arm strength, and some mentally disabled.  I was taken aback.  I thought, ‘You want to participate in a 26 mile race?’” 

I think KVD reflected deeply on how valuable her opportunity to run the marathon really was. She wrote afterward, “How selfish of me to think about throwing away my gift to run 2 months ago, and I have a full functioning body with well equipped joints!  It was then in that tent, that I understood and decided.  I'm going to run my heart out!  And it was a breath of fresh air to run marathon #5 with heart, desire, and guts…”

Soon we were called to the starting line.  Sitting there, staring a mile to the crest of that tall bridge, my mind went through a flurry of emotions including excitement, fear, and pride.  Mary Whittenberg shouts, “All of you, this moment is all of yours!  New York City awaits you!”  And it seemed that before we knew it, we were rolling across the starting line.

The first two miles
I think our slow start up the bridge was a strange feeling for CD and KVD.  G- had done this before.  Soon all the others were gone.  I was slowly cranking my way up the bridge.  My teammates were walking, feeling strange that they were not running at the start of the race.  The chilly wind blew hard across the bridge but despite our discomfort we were already having a blast.  The view from atop the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was spectacular. The Statue of Liberty was beautiful.  You could never enjoy this particular view at any other time.  We were all alone at the top of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with unabated view of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the New York harbor,  And we were just getting started!
Soon the elite ladies were passing us in the lanes on our right.  I wasn’t able to see them well this year.  As we neared the top of the bridge, the race started for us. My guides started running down the bridge as I neared the top.  Near the bottom of the bridge I passed them cranking as hard as I could; probably about 20 mph.  As we entered Brooklyn, the crowds were there with their legendary welcome.

Celebrities and other ordinary people
While most folks’ attention is drawn to the celebrities in the race, this year did not disappoint. Al Roker (I beat Al...) and Meridith Vieira from the Today Show both finished the race as did the Chilean miner, Edison Pena, and Subway’s Jared Fogle.  Besides my teammates, I found inspiration in some more ‘ordinary’ people.’
As I made my way up 4th Avenue I passed a few other AWDs that had gone ahead of me as I cranked up the bridge.  One of whom was 78-year-old Sister Mary Gladys.  She was on her way to completing her 27th NY Marathon!  Throughout Brooklyn the guides were having a large time, getting the crowds on the street excited and yelling.  During the previous week, we had driven through this part of town.  We had stopped at a drug store to buy a few things we forgot to bring on the trip.  I think I had been wearing a Hope For The Warriors shirt.  The clerk at the checkout counter asked if I was going to be in the marathon on Sunday and I told her I was.  Now as we came up 4th Ave near the store, I heard a voice, “Is that you, Mr. K-?”  It was the clerk, who remembered my name from my credit card.

Later in the race someone ran up beside me and patted me on the shoulder, yelling my name and shouting, “Go, K-!”  I didn’t think much of it because I had my name on the front of my helmet.  It wasn’t until a month later that I found out that the individual was my friend Mike, from Camp Lejeune, the race director for the Grand Prix Series races.  He was timing the race from miles 9-15.  Small world.

As we left Brooklyn, the runners were getting pretty thick but my teammates were doing a fantastic job of clearing out a path in front as I started down hills.  It made all the difference in the world.  I was keeping up a pretty good pace.  I was also keeping myself fueled up on Gus and Snickers.  So far everything was going well.  CD was usually leading the charge down the hills.  When an iPlodder couldn’t hear us shouting, CD would, rather assertively, put a hand on each shoulder of the self-deafened individual and physically “suggest” they move to the right.

This year we all went over the Queensborough Bridge together.  Yeah!  Unfortunately it was a long climb against a chilly head wind.  Even last year when I bonked at this spot, I don’t remember it being this long.  On the downhill side I held back instead of powering down the hill. I could see bales of hay on the side of the street where the course switched back.  I decided not to use the bales for their intended purpose.

Manhattan-like no other
All the length of 1st Avenue we made good time.  Crowds were unbelievably loud.  The guides were having a great time and were absolutely fantastic. As we started approaching the Bronx I noticed G- wasn’t pushing ahead on the downhills like she had in earlier miles.  The energy and enthusiasm that we all felt was taking its toll.  This was a brutal way for a runner to take on a race.  She was just coming back from a nasty injury in the spring too.  It is an incredibly motivating experience to work closely together on any type of team.  When you work closely together with a common goal, a common purpose, and for a cause you can identify with, no obstacle can stand in your way. This was probably G-‘s most difficult marathon of her life.
As she put it, “I tried my best to sprint with “y'all” (my southern influence has started to diminish her good English) but my legs were cramping and on a few occasions, when I didn't see that American flag wavering or two bright yellow shirts ahead, I thought I didn't have it in me to catch up.  But I just thought of you, thought of all of us crossing that finish line together and what that would feel like once again, and I pushed through the pain and fatigue because you inspire me to push through everything. Finishing the marathon with you last year has motivated me to get through any rough patches this past year, be it physical or emotional.  Finishing it with you two years in a row is hard to put into words...this experience has grounded me and will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.”

It all came together
Likewise for me the event had its motivating effects.  When others are working so desperately for your success, you feel motivated to push harder and to settle for nothing less than your best.  I think that this race was a turning point for me. I think that out there on those streets of New York, I no longer was willing to accept any more “almosts.” I had my fueling/energy problems solved.  I was trained and in peak condition.  I had an excellent team in front of me pouring their hearts and souls into every step of the race just to make my endeavor successful.  I had literally millions of New York spectators screaming at the top of their lungs.

Last year, I had nothing going for me as we returned up 5th Ave.  I was totally depleted and cranking pitifully slow in my lowest gears. This year, I had everything going for me.  The last few miles through Manhattan were not only exhilarating, but I had more energy than I could contain.  I couldn’t believe my pace.

As we entered Central Park, although the trees were still greener than I expected, the beauty of the fall colors was resplendent.  You could have easily talked me into stopping just to enjoy the colors.  The spectators were thicker and they were closer.  My teammate met us and snapped a few pics.  As we turned west onto 59th St., I suddenly had a sinking feeling.  This friendship we had developed over the past few days had brought us intensely close together for this very event.  Now in the final mile, the realization set in.  This great event which had brought together was now largely behind us.  Again, I wanted to slow down, not from fatigue but from a yearning to make the experience last.

What pushed me
I indulged in a few high-fives with spectators but for the most part pushed on.  I knew my time was going to be better than last year and that knowledge pushed me too.  But again the big motivation for me was the sight before my very eyes; the sight of this team of guides that were putting everything they had into making this a successful race for me.
KVD later recalled the experience like this, “Looking back over the race, I was delighted when K- was flying down hills.  This is where he would make up his time.  I was confident for 26.2 miles because I know we all felt the support and drive from our team as we worked together.  G- was an awesome supporter."
 "She ran Brooklyn screaming at the crowd to wake up and cheer!  Never will I forget watching CD sprint down Cat Hill at mile 25, at sub 7-min/mile pace, with DP on his tail, clearing the way and making running look so effortless.  I was so proud of everyone! The experience was special:  Volunteering to help K- was like no other volunteer effort in my life. I gave that race to him because I wanted to.  He will never understand how rewarding it was for me, but if words could dance, mine would do cartwheels!”

At 40K, CD and KVD in front make a wide opining for me
Believe me, KVD, I understand.  I witnessed your feat. I felt G-‘s pain.  And I could never forget the great time we ALL felt that day.  Hopefully this blog post will convey to others some small sense of the teamwork, camaraderie, and purpose that we all felt out there that day.

It can’t last
As we passed Columbia Circle and entered the Park for the last quarter mile of the race, we all felt like the eyes of the world were upon us.  There is no place better to finish a race than this race and this place, “where the world comes to run.”  It seemed like only a blink of an eye since our team first met the previous Wednesday evening and made our practice run in the Park.

At the finish line Mary Bryant from Achilles met us with a little dance.  We collected our medals and posed for a few pictures that will be treasured for years.  Through the hard work of these incredible teammates, my official time was 5:44.  They did an amazing job.  It was awesome to have so much energy at the end AND to have been able to take about a half hour off my time.  I wouldn’t have happened without them out in front as pathfinders.

The END of “almosts”
Since this was my second NYC Marathon, it was now a NYC PR!  Sadly, however, my legacy of an unbroken string of last place handbike finishes came to an end.  Without the guides, that record would not only be intact, but I would have been beaten by 78-year-old Sister Mary Gladys.  It’s harder to say which loss would be harder to endure.  Thanks, Achilles!  And thank you, my amazing guide teammates!

OBX Half Marathon 11.15.2010
Next our journey brought us back to our home state of NC for the OBX Half Marathon.  For folks that aren’t aware, NC is the most military-friendly state in the country.  These three races have a symbolic significance to me, the MCM, the NYC, and the OBX.  Since my races are motivated by helping the wounded heroes of the Global War on Terror, it is fitting that I honor them with my participation in events in the cities that sacrificed so heavily on 9.11.2001, and then to return to my home state where I enjoy the blessings of our liberty because of the protection and sacrifices of so many brave service men and women.

NC Outer Banks (OBX)

Our efforts benefit a non-profit called Hope For The Warriors.  This organization looks out for the needs of the wounded and their families.  They have renovated homes for the needs of the disabled troops, they have provided service and companion animals for those needing the assistance of a critter companion, and they have provided scholarships for spouses and caregivers who often pick up the burden becoming the family breadwinner.  Take the time to learn about all their great programs by visiting their website, Hope For The Warriors.

At the OBX, my teammate and I were the only Team Hope For The Warriors participants.  I took part in the half marathon and my teammate ran the 8K.  Hope For The Warriors allows individuals to take part in events to raise money for their cause. Some large events such as the MCM and the NYC include H4W as an ‘official charity partner.’ Team Hope For The Warriors;  Large or small, we’re proud to participate in any race in which I can benefit Hope For The Warriors.

I don’t get all the fun!
The OBX event features a full marathon, a half, an 8K, a 5K, and a kids’ fun run.  All the road races except the half are routed down a dirt trail for part of the course.  I hope they fix this access problem in future races.  2010 was my third year participating in this event. I have gotten to know some of the event management and they are becoming quite accommodating to the idea of wheelers in their race.  I hope more wheelers will participate in the event in the future. 

On Saturday my teammate ran the 8K.  I got out on the course and yelled and shouted to the runners.  At about the ¼ mile point some of the runners cracked up laughing at my good-humored encouragement, “You can do it! You can do it!  Only five miles to go!”  I had a lot of fun and I think I was one of the very few spectators out there on the course. The runners seemed to appreciate it, except for the deafened iPlodders.

After her race I got on my bike and rode from Kitty Hawk to a little community at the end of North Carolina called Stumpy Point.  It’s worth looking at Stumpy Point in Google Earth because it is a small fishing village that is nearly below sea level.  It was about a thirty mile ride but it was essentially all down wind.  I love riding in rural areas devoid of traffic so I had a good time.

Who’da thunk?
I did have a close call, or maybe I should say, a wake-up call.  Highway 264 in this part of Dare County has access to basically 5 features.  There is a land fill, an Air Force bombing range, a Navy bombing range, the community of Stumpy Point, and hundreds of miles of forest; mostly pocosin.  The road is long and straight; traffic travels fast.  As I approached one curve, I could see a car in front and one in back.  I knew they didn’t see each other.  I knew they would meet at the curve.  And I knew they wouldn’t be slowing down.  That meant that the car behind me would probably be in the other’s lane when they met.

I wanted no part of such an event so I made my way over to the edge of the road and squeezed onto the grass shoulder between the pavement and the guard rail.  The cars met as I predicted with plenty of room and without incident.  However, my troubles were just beginning.

As I got back onto the road, gravity got the best of me.  Anyone who has ridden a Top End XLT knows the front wheel, i.e., steering, is prone to a condition called “wheel flop.”  The best description I can offer is to picture a caster such as on a grocery cart.  Now picture the angle of the caster being changed such that the bottom of the wheel is angled forward.  The resulting geometry would make the wheel trail normally when the wheel is rolling, but would cause the wheel to tend to flop to the side as the wheel slowed.  In the trailing position, the caster actually holds the weight up higher and when the wheel flops, the weight of the cart will cause the caster to fall to the side.

Another proclivity of the XLT and most handbikes is a susceptibility to road crown or cross grade.  This curve had enough bank for cars travelling 70 mph or so.  When I pulled out onto the pavement with almost no forward speed, the front wheel flopped to the left and I rolled down the steep bank and into the ditch. All I can say is thank god it was the left ditch.  The right ditch is more appropriately called a canal and is big enough to swallow a semi.  A group of bikers came by after a few minutes and rolled me back and out of the ditch and got me back onto the road.  Fortunately the rest of the ride went without incident.

A “must-do” race
Starting with the Marine Corps Marathon, I had started changing my fueling strategy.  I started consuming more calories sooner during the race.  A friend recommended a endurance drink mix called Perpetuem.  I finally got my hands on some and decided to give it a try for the OBX.  I was optimistic for this race.  Even if everything went wrong for me; the course is wonderful and scenic.

Wright Brothers memorial
BS, my co-worker, is ready for his first half marathon
Karen, an OBX staff member, gets to run the half this year

We were staying at a motel near the start and I was rolling down the street to the starting line before sunrise.  The half marathon course winds past Jockeys  Ridge and through several sound-front communities before turning west and crossing the Washington-Baum Bridge and finishing in the historic town of Manteo, thought to be the site of Sir Walter  Raleigh’s ‘Lost Colony.”
The weather was perfect, probably about 45 degrees and almost no wind.  I started about two minutes ahead of the runners which was not enough.  One year they started me about 15 minutes ahead.  That lead allowed me  to get across the bridge before the runners got too thick.  By the time I got to the bridge this year, I was pretty well surrounded.
One nice accommodation the OBX has always availed me in the past is bicycle guides.  The guides are invaluable when I am descending the big bridge, but only if they move runners over in time.  I hate to say it but this year’s guide let me down there.  On the downhill side of the bridge, one young lady wearing earphones would not move out of my path. Though the bicycle guide moved in front of me as I crested the bridge, he never made her aware of her impending peril from behind.  He ended up being more in my way than she was.  As I got up speed coming down the bridge, I ran over a traffic cone as I squeezed past my bicycle guide and brushed his left pedal with my right shoulder as I passed him. It was a close call for all three of us.
The rest of the way to the finish was relatively flat.  I ran beside a young lady the remaining way in.  It turned out she placed in her age bracket.  I had lots of energy for the whole race.  Maybe the Perpetuem did the trick.  I finished with a PR for the OBX of 1:45. Maybe those ‘almosts’ were gone for good!  Back-to-back race PRs!

Next year’s star
The OBX folks gave me a nice framed picture as the division winner.  I met a young man I had emailed in the past.  I met Joe’s wife last year when she finished the half marathon.  She was curious about my chair and told me her husband was a quad.  I told her to tell him I said to get out there and take part in next year’s race.  We exchanged emails a few times and this year, he was waiting for his wife in the finish area.  Again, I encouraged him to race next year.  I handed him the trophy picture and told him to get used to the feel of it.  “I expect you to kick my butt next year,” I told Joe.

Gettysburg, PA, High School track team members run their first endurance event--and WIN!
Two race PRs in a row!  The end of 'almosts'???

Space Coast Marathon 11.28.2010
As if 2-1/2 marathons in fifteen days was not enough, late in the season I added one last marathon to my schedule. Space Coast Marathon, in Cocoa, FL, is billed as Florida’s oldest marathon.  My teammate and I drove down the Friday following Thanksgiving.  The day evening we arrived, we took the time to drive the course.  I had been in pursuit of that elusive sub-4 hour time all year long.  I hoped that this course would be flat and straight—just what I needed to do a sub-4.

It was dark when we reconned the course.  I was terribly disappointed.  In my mind, I could envision the streets on race day.  I could foresee a row of cones down the middle of the street with outbound runners on one side and returning runners on the other.  The streets were narrow.  They were old and steeply crowned.  And although the course was flat overall, the streets ran along the river bank and took every little dip and rise along the way. I could see myself getting bogged down in the runners as they filled the narrow lanes and I got bogged down in the uphills; unable to pass on the downhills.

After my teammate and I finished reconning the course, we started walking around the village of Cocoa, looking for a place to eat.  We finally settled on a pizza place and started working our way through the Friday night crowd looking for a table.  Over in the corner I saw a raised arm and two faces looking our way with big smiles.  BN, who lives near me, was also taking part in the Space Coast.  As coincidence would have it, we stumbled upon BN and his wife AN. That made it easier to choose a table.

Saturday we went to the expo at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex.  We drove around Cocoa Beach looking for a good place to ride bikes.  Later, we decided on a spot near the main highway near where we stayed.  That after noon I rode about six miles with BN.  While it wasn’t a particularly challenging ride for him, I felt like I was WAY out of shape.  “No big deal,” I thought.  With the difficulties, I predicted I would have with the course, this warmup was probably going to be the best ride of my weekend.

A dark start
For the rest of the day, my teammate got the bike ready for the race and we had dinner with BN and AN.  We got back to our hotel and turned in early to get up early in the AM.  Our race was supposed to start around 6:10 AM.  We would be starting out in the dark.  I had bright lights on my bike so I wasn’t bothered by the darkness for safety reasons.  In the hot summer months I have to train at night because I don’t sweat.  Night time is my only escape from the extreme heat.  I was used to training in the dark.  We had reconned the course in the dark.  The dark wasn’t going to bother me.  I just hoped that the road marshals kept the course secured. Cars DO bother me.  I kept my lights turned on.

BN Leads the way through the dark.
The course basically consists of a north out-and-back then a south out-and-back.  The start and finish are both near the middle of the course.  The half marathoners and the full marathoners start at the same time.  The half marathoners do only the south part of the course. Based on our viewing of the course Friday night, My teammate and I planned to meet so she could pass me drinks and food when I returned from the first half.  Then she would drive to a spot we had picked out to meet me near the south turn-around.

The first pleasant surprise was that there were no cones down the middle of the streets. Maybe I just don’t like being fenced in.   I like an OPEN road.  On a handbike, you can use the road crown to your advantage if you can move left and right freely. You can set up your compensator for a particular amount of cross grade.  Since most roads have a dome-shaped surface, you can move to a spot on the street where that amount of cross grade is available.  You can also use the right side of the crown to turn right and the left side to turn left.  The big advantage of having an open road as opposed to separate lanes for outbound and returning runners is that you have more room to pass particularly on downhill stretches.

At 10K I was about 55 minutes.  That was not all that good for me.  I was not having any problems passing runners when I needed to.  In fact, most runners moved aside willingly AND offered a lot of encouragement.  Only when I got behind a pace group did I have any problem passing.  But even then, they were very cooperative when they heard me coming.  And they usually yelled back in support.  It was a great crowd to run with.

At the half I returned downtown and met my teammate for a fueling stop.  By now the sun was up and I didn’t need the battery for my lights.  I unloaded that brick and tanked up with more perpetuem and another Snickers.  My split was 1:50.  I can normally do a flat half in 1:40.  Again, I wasn’t excited about my time, but if I could maintain my pace, I might actually beat 4 hours.  I was pushing myself pretty hard however.  So with the road in my favor and a belly full of Perpetuem (and a Snickers), I was moving along pretty well.  At least at this point in time, I was passing runners mostly, instead of them passing me.

I felt the south leg of the course was going to be more difficult.  I was going to be heading into the returning half-marathoners.  Surprisingly I seemed to have a little more energy.  The Perpetuem must be working.  The little uphills along the course didn’t seem to be so bad as I thought they would be two night previous.  I wasn’t really watching my GPS.  At about mile 19.6 I crossed a timing mat with a clock.  I looked at the time on my GPS and asked the timer what mile he was timing.  He said it would be mile 20 on the return. 

Unexpected strength
I looked at my GPS and it said my time was something like 2:30.  I should have been elated.  However, I surmised that I had accidentally turned the GPS off at some point by hitting it with my chin.  It happens pretty commonly.  Just before the south turn-around I passed my teammate. She was waiting for me as we had planned.  As I passed she snapped a few pics then I told her what energy goodies I wanted.  I went on down to the turn-around and found the road to be too narrow to turn around my handbike.   I extended down the course a tenth of a mile or so and turned at the point where the single lane rejoined the other lane.  I had had the same problem at the northern turnaround, too.

I stopped for refueling and drank a Spark mixed in a Powerade and sucked down two Gus. My teammate didn’t say anything about my time so I didn’t think it was anything but average.  I started heading back for slightly more than 10K left to the finish line.
About that time, however, I started feeling a slight sensation of a condition that is common to quadriplegics called autonomic dysreflexia.  To the non-medical reader, Wikipedia describes AD “as a potentially life threatening condition which can be considered a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. AD occurs most often in spinal cord-injured individuals with spinal lesions above the (T6) spinal cord level. Acute AD is a reaction of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system to overstimulation. It is characterized by severe paroxysmal hypertension (episodic high blood pressure) associated with throbbing headaches…”

Well, at least for that point in time, that episode of AD was not anywhere near the “acute” stage. I take medicine which suppresses the effects of AD.  It also suppresses my blood pressure.  It is one of the things that makes vigorous activity so difficult for me. My blood pressure normally runs about 90 over 50.

When I was heading back, I could see the race clock at the 20 mile timing mat.  I looked at my GPS to compare the times.  I could subtract the times and figure out how long my GPS had been stopped.  I could keep up with my time for rest of the race by adding the difference to my GPS time.

I was shocked! Both times were 2:42!  I knew I could finish in an hour.  I only had to maintain a ten-minute pace. That shouldn’t be a problem. For the rest of the race, I poured it on.  I had more energy than at any point in the race.  It felt good.  The whole way back I could think of nothing but that elusive goal of beating 4 hours.  It was looking like I was finally going to make that goal.  Where I had called this year, “my year of almosts,” as I look back, it was really the year of fulfilling many goals.
I call my main three goals Hope, Inspiration, and A Promise.  This year, as last, I completed my goal of ‘Hope’ by completing the Marine Corps Marathon, the New York City Marathon, and the OBX Half Marathon, completing the two and a half marathons in fifteen days.  I had reached my goal I call ‘Inspiration’ by handbiking 2008 miles early in the fall during a training ride.  I was able to organize a small group of runners at work that crossed the finish line of the MCM having raised over $2800 for Hope For The Warriors.  I was able to accomplish my personal goal of back-to-back half centuries one weekend in October.  The goal that brought me greatest happiness was the fulfillment of my goal I call ‘A Promise.’  Our ‘promise’ was to raise $26,200 in donations, or $1,000 for every mile in a marathon.  With the steadfast help of my teammate, we have raised over $30,000 for the cause.  In short, it was looking like I would have many reasons to celebrate this day.

All smiles
If you were to have seen me in the first ¾ of the race you would have seen someone with a big scowl on his face.  I had no idea I would beat 4 hours until now.  During the final leg of the race, you would have seen a guy beaming with a smile almost too big for his face.  I glance at my speed several times on the return and could see that I was easily bettering a 10-minute pace.  I really didn’t know how well, there were just too many endorphins running around in my brain to do the math.

Although the AD was getting a little worse, it was still under control.  In fact, I was probably enjoying a ‘normal’ blood pressure level and benefiting from a better energy level as a result.  As I cruised into the finish area, I forgot to check the clock but I did remember to stop my GPS.  I collected my medal and heard my teammate shout at me. It wasn’t until I cleared the finish area that I looked at the GPS and saw my time.  I was amazed.  When I met up with my teammate I asked her if she had seen my time.  When they finally posted the official results, it confirmed I had a marathon PR.  I had not only beat my 4-hour goal, I had blown it away by nearly a half hour!  My official time was 3:31:08!

We stayed around the finish area until the awards and hung out with BN and AN.  BN received a nice framed picture as an award for his winning crank chair time.  I was on cloud nine with my time so I was just happy hanging around with other folks.   Overall, it was a great race.  It was probably the most scenic of any marathon I have ever participated in. For BN and me it was a great time—he with his first pace finish and I with my PR.

Strength in my weakness
So I always say, “Life with a disability is not a life filled with despair, it is a life filled with hope.”  It was a year filled with great accomplishments.  The falling short of my goal made me train harder.  But ironically, every goal I achieved, I did so because of my disability, not in spite of it.  In the end, when the episode of AD elevated my blood pressure to what was probably normal for most folks, I had more energy than I do most times. That which made me weak, on that day, was the source of my strength.

In a world that measures us by what we cannot do, i.e., dis-abled, my greatest accomplishment was to use that disability to do what others cannot.  Though many say I inspire them, I am the one who is continuously inspired by others.  But to them I would say, to find your strength, look to that which makes you weak.

As I look forward to a new year of events, I must pause to remember the sacrifices of the wounded and fallen.  The world in which we live and the freedoms we enjoy would be vastly different without the dedication and sacrifice of our nation’s service men and women.  We owe them so much.  Freedom is not free.

Please help with a donation to my fundraising campaign. All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  Learn about the great things they do.

Please make a secure online donation at my donation page: 2008 Miles of Hope donations