Monday, October 24, 2016

Turning 100

From spectator to marathoner

"I think I can do that"
In 2006 I had no idea I could do a marathon.  The thought was as foreign to me as flying to Pluto.   

My niece was running in the Marine Corps Marathon 10 years ago this weekend.  I sat on the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Lynn Street in Rosslyn, VA.  I was waiting for the Marathon to start.  I was positioned at mile 1, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she ran by.
Spotting my niece in the runners

I saw several athletes pass by on handcycles, or crank wheelchairs, they are sometimes called.  I said to myself, “I think I can do that!”

Crank wheelchairs
My niece and I made a pact that evening over dinner to be back the next year.  Running the People’s Marathon together.
I went home and began training.  And training.  And training.  I also began looking for a cause.  Something to benefit casualties of the post-9.11 war.  In March of 2007 I took part in my first race.  It was a local 10K.  I was hooked.

Training and training

I began looking for another local race.  I found the Run For The Warriors at Camp Lejeune.  I emailed Sally, “Here’s our cause!”  We had a great time at the race.  We met many motivating individuals from the military and civilian communities.  We learned about Hope For The Warriors and their mission to give Hope to wounded military, their families, and the families of the fallen.  They also had a Team Hope For The Warriors for the Marine Corps Marathon.

Run For The Warriors 2007

Team Hope For The Warriors

Team Hope consisted on military members, community members, and wounded military, all united on a mission to raise money for Hope For The Warriors.  I vowed to be on that team at the Marine Corps Marathon.

Later in the spring of 2007, I visited Washington, DC.  Sally and I drove the entire Marine Corps Marathon course.  I knew I would have trouble with the hills.  Particularly the last quarter mile, the entrance to the Marine Corps Memorial, the last steep hill known to Marine Corps Marathoners as, “Iwo.”  We got a chance to ride the bike path next to that stretch of course.  Or, I should say, attempt to ride.  The hill was too steep for me.  I thought I could just use lower gears.  They just don’t make gears that low.
Marshall Drive, the final qurter mile, or better known as, "Iwo"
I returned home to regroup.  I had to have to become a lot stronger.  Sadly, I let Hope For The Warriors know I would not be on their team at the Marine Marathon in 2007.  I told my niece that we would re-focus on 2008.  My training centered around laps over the Atlantic Beach Bridge and a steep, block-long climb up East Atlantic Avenue at the Beach.

Ironically, during a workout about two weeks before the ’07 Marathon, I learned a climbing technique with my handcycle that would get me up the hill called Iwo.  It was a bittersweet success.  The technique would get me up a steeper hill than ever before.  But its discovery came too late to get into the race I had my sights set on. 

The climbing technique I learned that night eventually got me to the top of Iwo.  My focus was no longer on discovering “if” I could climb the hill, but “when.”

2008 Miles of Hope

2008 was to be my 30th anniversary of living with a disability.  I have been a quadriplegic since 1978 when I broke my neck in a pool while teaching swimming lessons to kids.  That’s another long story for another time.  I was going to celebrate my 30th year with a disability by conquering Iwo--completing the Marine Corps Marathon.

I started a fundraising campaign I called 2008 Miles of Hope.  All the money we raise goes to Hope For The Warriors.  Friends, neighbors, family, and local businesses support us with generous donations.  As of this writing, we have raised over $80,000 in donations for Hope For The Warriors.

Taking Iwo
In 2008 I climbed Iwo.  The hill itself took me 20 minutes to climb, I seem to remember.  It wasn’t exactly pretty but spectators screamed at me at the top of their lungs as I inched up Marshall Drive.  Two Hope teammates that had finished their race joined me and walked beside me to the finish.  Robbie Powers, the finish line announcer, asked all the spectators to remove their caps in respect to the flag I had carried throughout the Nation’s Capital.  Marines lining the finish rendered crisp salutes.

The Marine Corps finish line
And that was just the beginning.  Sunday will be my ninth trip to the People’s Marathon starting line.  “Hope”-fully it will be my 8th MCM finish.  There was a nasty little crash in 2011.  My best MCM time is 4:30-ish.  I’m hoping for a new MCM PR.

But most importantly, it will be my 100 finish of a long stretch of full and half marathons for Hope For The Warriors.  The journey has taken Sally and me to races in 15 different states.  My total mileage rolled in races, training, and fundraising events has well exceeded the distance around the world.  I completed the Chicago Marathon earlier this year and the NY City Marathon four times in previous years.  I completed the Air Force Marathon, the Army's All-American Marathon, and the Soldier Marathon; but the Marine Corps Marathon is still my favorite.

All American Marathon, April 2016

Help us spread Hope

Runners often ask each other, “What’s next?”  It’s an acknowledgement that you can’t quit.  For me the answer is simple.  Another marathon.

Please help us with our cause.  Donate to Hope For The Warriors.  Their mission is still critical.  Use our secure donation website:  Spread hope.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Never Quit!—2013 New York City Marathon

I've fallen far too far behind in my blogging to ever catch up.  Sunday I sat by my fireplace and watched the 2013 NYC Marathon on TV.  I was a bit overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia as I read facebook posts from families of friends as they wished their runners Godspeed.  As I watched the drama unfold, I remembered the thrill of crossing the starting line of the previous four NYC Marathons.  So I dusted off the following account of my previous journey through the Big Apple and finally got around to posting (As you read the tale, bear in mind the dates of events are a year prior to this posting).

If I make it to the starting line, I WILL finish!

The alarm clock blinked two AM when the phone rang.  I said to Sally, “That’s pretty rude;” expecting the wakeup call at three AM.  My watch told the bad news…it really was three.  In a fog of disorientation after travelling through six different towns, I thought “If today is Sunday, this must be New York”.

On the street around 4 AM, a “gleeful” couple invited me to help find a liquor store.  In the “city that never sleeps,” my ‘Sunday,’ was just the unwelcome conclusion to their Saturday activities.  “Yes, this must be New York.”

Two weeks prior, I rolled out of my hotel toward the starting line of the Detroit Marathon.  One week ago it was Arlington, VA, and my destination was the Marine Corps Marathon.  This day, the New York City Marathon was to be the capstone for a difficult and fulfilling year.

Sally and I raise money for Hope For The Warriors through my participation in marathons and half-marathons.  This year I attempted six marathons and three half marathons.  The New York City Marathon would be my 70th such event in the past six years. 

I reminded myself, “You’re not at the starting line yet.”

Leveling the field

I don’t consider myself an athlete.  “I’m a participant.”  For those that don’t know me, I’m a quadriplegic.  I use a unique crank wheelchair to ‘participate’ in road races.  For years I bragged of an unsullied legacy of last-place finishes amongst the other wheelers.  ‘Participating’ with other “quads” (quadriplegics) is rare.  But somewhere, I caught a competitive bug.

Last year, with the help of Bertram’s Machine shop, in Morehead City, and Crystal Coast Bicycles, at Atlantic Beach, I developed some unique modifications to a new handcycle.  Now I put to full use the few arm, shoulder, and back muscles above my level of paralysis.  I ‘participated’ in a few events with other quads.  Not only was my last place legacy behind me, but often, my competition, the other quads, were behind me too.

My greatest accomplishment was my final event last year.  At the Palm Beach Marathon, as I entered the finish chute, I could see the winner’s tape stretched across the finish line.  As I approached, the finish line crew hastily retracted the tape, which was intended for the runner behind me.  Nonetheless, it was a personal achievement to have crossed the finish line ahead of the winning runner.

The fall challenge

Early this year, that ‘competitive bug’ gnawed at me as I registered for these three events.  Each was uniquely exciting and rewarding to me.  The Detroit Marathon was a physically difficult event that included a crossing of the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and a return via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.  The grades of the bridge and the tunnel were no greater than the Atlantic Beach Bridge, so I was confident of completion.  More importantly, since I knew another quad who would be there, it would be a race. 

The Marine Corps Marathon has a sentimental meaning for me.  In 2006, I watched from the sidelines for my niece to pass by.  I witnessed crank wheelchair athletes for first time.  With the words, “I think I can do that,” my marathon career began.

In New York City, five bridges, including one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, make it strenuous.   A record 50,000 runners ensure a congested course, a problem for wheelers on steep downhill streets.  The biggest obstacle to the event’s starting line, however, is its popularity.  A limited field of crank wheelers are admitted into the event.  It was August before I knew I was in.

I knew the volume of runners would be my biggest challenge.  Hills slow down quads tremendously on the uphill climb.  The bigger problem is safely maneuvering through the runners at high speeds on the downhill side.  For that problem guides are essential.


Detroit provided bicyclists to guide the wheelers as they maneuver in the field of runners.  Many of the guides came from the legendary Wolverine Sports Club.  The club has trained more than 100 National Champions, 300 National medalists, and several Olympic and Pan Am athletes.  Certainly my Detroit guides would be able to cover me at any speed I could muster.

Ambassador Bridge:  Detroit Marathon
Unfortunately for my ego, the other quad I expected to race was recuperating from an injury.  I was the only quad in the field of approximately 30 wheelers.  The guides were crucial to my completion.  The two longest downhill stretches, the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel were extremely crowded.  My finish time of 4:35 was only two minutes off the self-proclaimed “quad course record” set two years prior by my absent counterpart. 

Marine Corps: paying it forward

The Marine Corps Marathon is my favorite marathon.  It is tough for a wheeler, particularly for a slower quad.  The fall colors, the national monuments, and the unique spirit Marines impart to the race provide an unending motivation throughout the course.  The first two and a half miles, however, are uphill.  For slower wheelers, that means falling behind a thick group of runners early in the race, making the downhills more difficult. 

That day, my goal was to beat the popular benchmark of Oprah Winfrey’s time of 4:29.  On the initial climb I was doing better than previous years.  Even with a few minutes earlier start than the runners, I fell well back into the thick of the runners by mile two. 

The Marine Corps Marathon doesn’t provide guides for wheelers.  I find passing runners who are deafened with their mp3 players blasting to be frustrating.  As I wheeled down Rock Creek Parkway I shouted at the top of my lungs to warn runners I was passing from behind.  Then runners along my path started their own impromptu guiding.  Some would run in front to clear a path, others would shout forward to runners ahead of me.

I was amazed at what I experienced.  Even in some of the most congested areas, runners moved over.  But at about mile eight, I started hearing some confusing shouts from runners.  When I started downhill and shouted "wheels on the right," runners started shouting "wheels left."  After about a mile of this I saw the reason.

I was close to another wheeler, AJ, who was on the left.  I knew AJ from my first Marine Corps Marathon in 2008.  AJ and another amputee, Zach, both had been “Warrior” team members in our Team Hope For The Warriors.  He wasn't being too aggressive about moving forward through the runners.  I transitioned over to the left and asked him if he wanted to move right and work the crowd together.  He said he was doing pretty well on the left.  I went in front and pretty soon noticed he was having trouble keeping up, particularly on the climbs.  I would lose him and stop for him to catch up. 

"Guiding" for AJ
I knew in that 2008, AJ and Zach had trouble with crowds.  A runner named Kip had spontaneously guided the two to help them get to the finish.  I felt AJ could use some guiding this year and maybe I could help.  From about mile nine until the final grueling hill affectionately known to Marine Marathoners as “Iwo,” I got in front of AJ and he followed in my ‘wake.’

Guiding for AJ was a unique experience.  I was unknowingly paying it forward for what I would receive in my next race.  I finished in 5:08, far better than any previous Marine Corps Marathon time.  Oprah's time stands unopposed, but I felt better about this race than any previous.

The Big Apple: Getting to the start

Four and a half hours was my goal for New York.  Some basic high school physics told me that if I wanted to do well in New York, I would need fast guides.  As luck would have it, this year I was given the opportunity to invite my own guides.  It was not the last time that luck, or maybe divine intervention would play a role in my New York experience.

In August, I contacted Heidi Tucker from Morehead City and Anne Wheatly from Beaufort to see if they were interested in guiding in New York.  I know several others equally capable of guiding me at a fast pace.  However, those that could be ready for a November marathon were already registered and training for a specific event.

I had spoken to both the previous year about guiding but neither were available at that time.  This year, luck was again on my side.  Both were already training at distances that were compatible with an early-November marathon schedule.  Both had expressed interest in the New York City Marathon in the past.  Most importantly, both women were sub-three hour marathoners.  In fact, all three of us held a marathon personal record time within five minutes of each other.

I knew that I could not complete New York at their pace.  But their speed would not be wasted on me.  Heidi’s and Anne’s quickness would enable me to attain better speeds on the descents, especially in the thick of 50,000 runners.

During the weeks leading up to New York, the two women often trained together.  As close friends and training partners, they also solidified personal bonds that were to benefit our run in New York.  On several occasions we coordinated training runs that gave them the opportunity to learn how my speeds would vary with the terrain.  They shifted the focus of their training to interval and speed workouts as opposed to endurance building.  In New York, there would be ample opportunities for rest as we walked up the hills.  But as they sprinted downhill, they would not be avoiding runners; they would be moving runners to clear a path.

For the first time I had an opportunity to train with NYC Marathon guides2

We discussed logistics of the race by email and in particular the AWDs (athletes with disabilities) divisions.  I wanted Heidi and Anne to understand unique issues associated with transportation to start.  Sally would meet us at several locations along the course and she could assist us by positioning clothing, drinks, and energy foods.

Bruce Gentry, at Crystal Coast Bicycles, had helped get my handbike as ready as possible.  I had new tires and new cables on the shifters.  With spare tires and tools, Sally and I prepared for our two and a half week, three-marathon trip in mid-October.  By race day in New York, it was a relief to have all of those preparations behind us.  I have always said of a marathon, “The 26.2 miles in front of me is not the hard part.  It’s the 1000 miles behind me that were difficult” (in this case the 1000 preparations too).

Some things you can’t prepare for

The New York City Marathon is a point-to-point race renown for a course that takes runners through all five of the city’s boroughs.  On the day of the race, 50,000 runners were transported to the start, mostly by bus or the Staten Island Ferry.  At just before 5 AM I met Heidi and Anne at the “AWD loading zone,” in mid-town Manhattan.  The pre-dawn light of Fifth Avenue street lamps and bus headlights cast a criss-crossing maze of shadows over the growing gaggle of wheelchairs, racing chairs, crutches, and canes as the congregation of AWDs grew.

An exercise in logistics
We were all buzzing with the excitement of race day as I was loaded onto one of the first busses.  Seated in my crank chair, I was picked up by the transportation workers who loaded me onto the bus alongside half a dozen or so amputees.  Heidi and Anne were getting settled in one of the passenger seats as were other guides.  In the well-lit interior of the bus, it was then that I saw “the look” on their faces.  In all our discussions of the AWD division of the race, the abbreviation “AWD” had become a euphemism for the very stark spectacle now before their eyes. 

Athletes with disabilities on the bus to the start.
Though fleeting, the look that flashed across their faces was that same “oh my gosh” look of disbelief that I saw on the faces of my friends 35 years ago.  Then they first looked on my disabled body after I had broken my neck.  It was the same look I had seen on the faces of previous guides when they first laid eyes on the multitude of AWDs in one place.  Nothing these ladies had imagined had prepared them for the hodgepodge clutter of prosthetic devices, missing limbs, scars, and every conceivable form of adaptive conveyance that was scattered in front of them. 

As we bounced along FDR Drive, the sky clung to the last remnants of darkness like a gray backdrop to the Brooklyn skyline reflecting off the East River.  The scene was accentuated by the lights of the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges.  All the while the chatter and conversation grew amongst the athletes and guides.  One Marine amputee took an interest in Anne’s stories of extreme trail runs while another shared with us stories of rehab at Bethesda and the “frat house” lifestyle they enjoyed during their convalescence.  The ice was broken. 

Only 26.2 miles left to go

We arrived at Staten Island around six AM and made our way through the growing sea of runners assembling throughout the east end of the island.  The weather was falling short of the promised temperatures in the upper 40s to lower 50s and abundant sunshine.  The 15-20 mph winds would be bitter while we crossed the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, but we hoped for comfort from the sun as New York’s tall buildings blocked the wind.

Organized chaos

We waited in a tent in an assembly area for the AWDs.  I had brought a breakfast with me consisting of boiled eggs, Fig Newtons, and milk.  Anne and Heidi were taking in the strange spectacle around them.  They asked if the other guides met their athlete before the race.  “It seems like there is not a lot of mingling between the guides and their athletes,” Heidi observed.  At about that moment, Adam, one of my guide runners from a 2011, stopped by.  We embraced and chatted for a few moments before he had to depart to locate his athlete.  I explained to Heidi that our opportunity train together was truly a blessing.  Many of the guides were from the New York area but the athletes come from around the world.

My former guide, Adam and I reunited
"I always took the time to try to get acquainted with my guides in advance via email,” I explained.  “But it has always been the weekend of the race that we met face-to-face.  Usually I arranged to meet for a warm-up run in Central Park.”  But the race always solidified our friendship.  “The bonds of friendship forged in the fires of a difficult endeavor are strong enough to endure a lifetime,” I later explained.  Indeed, the bonds between these two friends were growing as they were amongst the three of us.  Later in the day I would appreciate the value of those bonds to the endeavor that lay before us.

At 8 AM the AWDs and guides were called to stage short of the starting line.  The trip was probably about a half mile from our area.  Nearly entire trip was uphill.  We got our first taste of the warm New York reception in for us.  Runners awaiting their turn to start stood as we passed and welcomed us with applause.  At the approach to the starting line, we were personally welcomed by Mary Wittenberg, the President and CEO of the New York Road Runners, the host organization for the marathon.  We were also greeted by an NYPD Police Chief and numerous other dignitaries.  It seemed as if we had just stepped out of the celebrity tent.

Like everything else about the NYC Marathon, the first bridge is overwhelming

The view from the starting line was intimidating.  There was nowhere to look but up.  The Verrazzano Narrows Bridge in front rose to a height of 250 feet.  The towers rise to a height of nearly 800 feet.  It was a mile to the top of the roadway.  Even higher overhead two NYPD helicopters circled the bridge to protect us from the unthinkable.

Windy, raw weather for the slow climb
The starting horn sounded, but the start was anti-climatic.  It was a slow uphill roll off the line and a long climb to the top.  The weather reports were right about the winds and the temperature but there was no sun to be seen.  The wind on the bridge was raw.  I got a good workout on the climb but Heidi and Anne were freezing.  They were dressed to run.  Their work would begin in a few minutes. 

New York harbor
The Verrazano Narrows Bridge is normally off limits to pedestrians.  This event is the only time one can enjoy the views of the New York Harbor, Statue of Liberty, the lower Manhattan skyline, and the majesty of the bridge itself as a pedestrian.  And even during this event, only the guides and the slower AWDs are able to linger over the unfettered views.  For other runners, the roadways are too congested to stop and sightsee.  The three of us took it all in as I ground my way up the first mile.  As we neared the top of the span, a stir of activity behind signaled that the race was getting underway for the professional women.

Before we started our first downhill run, I asked Heidi and Anne to run ahead to warn the other athletes and guides in front to move to the left as I passed them.  The professional women had just started.  The elites were about to pass us on the right side of the bridge.  Heidi and Anne were about to have the rare chance to run alongside some of the fastest professional marathoners in the world on the left side of the bridge.

On the downhill side.  Anne and Heidi are behind me in the bright green shirts.  Elite women are on the left.
The two women took off and sprinted down the bridge.  Professionals Deba Buzunesh and her training partner, Tigist Demisse, had already stepped out in front of the lead women.  It looked as if Heidi and Anne were the only women who dared to give chase.  I topped the crest of the bridge and was buffeted badly by the wind down the second mile.  I passed Heidi and Anne near the bottom of the span and rolled into Brooklyn at the bottom of the bridge.  Crowds already lined the streets.  It seemed the AWDs and guides were getting as much attention as the professionals.  A handmade sign read, “We love you!”  A spectator shouted at the top of her voice, “Welcome to Brooklyn!”  The intensity of the welcome never diminished throughout the day.
Brooklyn loves you!


Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn comprises about six miles of the course.  The street is lined with homes, shops, apartments, and on Marathon day, spectators.  Heidi and Anne caught me about mile three.  They were emotionally pumped up after running alongside the elites.  We were also sheltered from the raw wind biting at us on the bridge.  I crawled up the hills and flew down the hills.  We, the other AWDs, and guides had the course to ourselves.  Our pace was good; we were well ahead of my position for this time in my previous NY races.

NYC Marathon icon Sister Mary Gladys
We caught up with my favorite NYC Marathon icons, Sister Mary Gladys.  I slowed to chat with her and her guides as she cranked her way up one of the hills of 4th Avenue.  Sister Mary has completed 29 New York City Marathons and is still going strong at the age of 81.  She once participated on foot, but now, as she puts it, “My knees aren’t doing so well.”  The crank wheelchair has become a blessing for Sister Mary as it has for me.

Farther up 4th Avenue we passed the 10K timing station.  I recall our time being around 1:15.  My GPS was not charged up so I did not record my timing.  The time was good since it included the time it took to cross the first bridge in a nasty headwind.  

At mile eight we paused briefly to meet Sally.  We also met Geeta and her new son, Avi, who is the same age as Heidi’s younger son.   Geeta had been my guide two previous years.    This was my first opportunity to meet Avi.  Geeta expressed her admiration of Heidi’s return to the marathon.  

Molecular biochemist, marathoner, former guide, and dear friend Geeta and Avi
 The girls handed off their jackets to Sally.  I took in some quick energy food and we launched quickly hoping to retain our pace.  I told Heidi and Anne that we were about to share the road with fifty thousand runners.  “Keep an eye open behind for the elite men,” I told them. 

New York uses three separate courses for the first eight miles of the Marathon.  We were just a few blocks short of the spot where the courses converge.  In previous years, the elite men had passed me around mile seven.  This year it was around mile nine.  It was another sign we were doing well.  The men came flying by as I was bogged down on a slight incline.  Heidi and Anne used the opportunity to release some of their pent up energy.  Once again, they sprinted ahead alongside the pros.  When we rejoined, they were unanimous, “That opportunity, by itself, was worth the trip,” as Heidi put it!

Anne running beside the Pros
Bad luck lay in wait for me around mile nine.  Heidi found a piece of paper stuck to my left tire.  She removed the paper, sensing it was annoying me.  Unbeknownst to us, the paper had a staple attached.  The staple was now embedded in my tire.  Our pace was about to pick up.  We took off up Bedford Avenue, and finally Heidi and Anne had a chance to get in some running.  The elevation drops slightly; perfect for me.  As more and more sub-elite runners passed us, the congestion on the streets began to increase.  Occasionally, we got a long downhill stretch clear of runners and a chance to take off.  Heidi and Anne would catch me on my next uphill climb.  We made good time through Williamsburg until about mile 12.  

Trouble in Queens

After one long downhill run, I began to hear a lot of noise from my left tire.  Heidi took a look and said, “It’s flat.”  She found the staple from the piece of paper she found back at mile nine.  I continued on the flat tire to mile 13 but I was being excessively cautious as I took corners.  I didn’t want that tire to come off the wheel.

Has the fun come to an end?
The Pulaski Bridge joins Queens and Brooklyn.  It is also the halfway point in the race.  Our time was a little over two hours at that point.  Even on the flat tire, we were doing better than I had hoped.  We stopped at the foot of the bridge where we could talk and started to put together a plan.  I felt I could drag the tire along for the rest of the race, but that was not a very wise idea.  Sally had my spare tire and was supposed to meet us anyway at mile 16. 

The originally planned spot was the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge.  Anne called Sally and asked if she could meet us on the east end of the bridge instead.  If she did, then we only had to go about two miles further on the flat and I would wheeling a good tire across the bridge.

Our little team drug our way through Queens, stopping to check with race officials to see if any assistance was available.  No joy.  We were on our own.  Our only hope was meeting Sally with the spare tire.  We continued our progress, be it only a slow grind.  

At the east end of Queensboro Bridge, our optimism was as deflated as my tire.  There was no Sally.  Without a tire, this was potentially going to be either a very long day or a very short one.  Regardless, forward motion was critical so we continued our way up the bridge on the flat tire.  We were heading in the direction I thought Sally would be coming from.

Confusion also played our mindset.  The west end of the bridge is where we had originally planned to meet Sally.  I assumed she would just walk over the bridge heading east.  After the phone message from Anne, garbled by background noise and cell-phone-grade audio quality, Sally asked a New Yorker for directions to the east end of the bridge.  

Cultural differences played into the confusion.  Living in a rural environment most of my life, I would opt to walk anywhere I had to go if it were a mile or closer.  The New Yorker, however, directed Sally to a subway to take her beneath the East River to The Queens end of the bridge.  As Heidi, Anne, and I trekked upward and westward, Sally emerged from the subway behind us, waiting for us to arrive.

Most runners overlook the challenge posed by the Queensboro Bridge.  At a point in the race where the miles are beginning to take their toll, this formidable beast rises high over the East River.  Fifteen miles beyond the excitement and adrenaline of the start lies one of the most difficult challenges of the race.  Runners climb to nearly the height of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge, but in only half the distance.  On the downhill side, bales of hay line the turn off the bridge into the streets of Manhattan.  Wheelers quickly recognize those hay bales are there to mitigate the consequences failing to heed one's speed in a steep turn.

Crossing the bridge, high above the screaming throngs that lined the streets below, runners find an eerie quiet.  The hauntingly muffled pitter-patter of thousands of sneakers on the steel grate is mind numbing.  It is a time of introspection for many, when the aches, pains, and stress of a marathon play their horrid tricks on the mind.  Having drug a flat tire for five miles, the difficult climb and the raw conditions were wearing on my mind, too.  Cold was sinking in again.  Not only had the weatherman forecasted non-existent sunshine, but it was now starting to sprinkle.  Atop this steel pathway, the wind was bitter. 

Certainly, my enthusiasm was at its nadir.  Was this how the race going to end for us?  Was months of training by myself and these two women going to be wasted?  All because of a mere staple?  I was trying to decide the best strategy.  I also pondered ‘plan B.’  I told Heidi, “In the event I have to DNF (do not finish), I will drop out and link up with Sally.  You and Anne continue ahead and connect up with the next AWD you meet and continue guiding with them.”  These were not words I wanted to say and not words Heidi wanted to hear.

High above Roosevelt Island, a few rays of sunshine seemed to signal that our bad luck had run its course.  Heidi spotted Sally behind us, jogging to catch us.  From her vantage point on the ground, Sally had spotted us, specs about halfway up the bridge.  Anne jogged back to meet her while Heidi and I continued upward across the bridge.  Sally and Anne caught up with us near the top of the bridge. 

I'll take Manhattan

Because of the bitter conditions up there, I made the decision to continue on the flat and try to find a place out of the wind on the ground to do our work.  I began to coast downhill and rolled out ahead of Heidi, Anne, and Sally.  At the bottom of the bridge, directly in front of me was a sight that was so unbelievable, I had to stop and stare.  A policeman walked over to see if I was OK.  “Is that a bike shop?” I asked.  I wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating.  The policeman assured me it was real.

Never a more welcome sight
I coasted over to the sidewalk in front of the bike shop while the policeman stepped inside to ask if they could fix the flat.  Sally, Heidi, and Anne caught me in a few minutes.  Now there were four who were dumbfounded by our luck.  Not only was the tire about to be fixed, the buildings sheltered us from the wind.  To top off our good fortune, the sun appeared with its overdue warmth.  Anne attributed our good fortune to her best fans, her mom and dad; now angels watching over us.  Indeed, in the warmth of that spot and amidst the reception of our new neighbors, at that moment I felt as if I might be back in Beaufort.

Not exactly a NASCAR pit crew, but exactly what I needed
The first attempt with a new inner tube was unsuccessful.  Even though the bike shop guy checked my tire carefully, when he inflated it, the new tube exploded with the crack of a gunshot.  Did I mention the nearby policemen?  As they walked over to check us out, Sally thanked them for not drawing their side arms.  On the second try, Sally's spare tire and a new inner tube did the trick.  We were back on the road.  We had lost about an hour and a half by being slowed by the bad tire and the ensuing stops.

A whole new game

At mile 16, the course runs northward up 1st Avenue in Manhattan.  It is one of the uniquely 'New York' aspects of this marathon.  Runners are rousted from their quietude on the Queeensboro Bridge as they turn onto 1st Avenue.  The contrast is electrifying.  New Yorkers lining the streets screaming to cheer on the runners provide a jolt of energy that is non-stop through the end of the race.

As we rolled out with new rubber, our relative calm at the bike shop was replaced by the deafening screams of millions of spectators packed along the entire street.  The tall buildings reverberated the roar of the crowds and the bands.  “Toto, I think we’re not in Kansas any more,” I told myself.  Just before they stepped onto the street, I reminded Heidi and Anne that their work was about to begin in earnest.  After our delay, more and slower runners were going to be in front of us.  Their job was about to become much tougher.  However, what I was about to witness, was when the going got tough, the tough got tougher.

Finding room to roll amidst the crowds
Almost immediately we hit a downhill stretch amidst a throng of thousands of runners packed shoulder to shoulder.  It was far too noisy to communicate by voice.  I was having no problem keeping up with the two.  They sensed the downhill grade and pushed forward.  Heidi, being taller, and hence, more visible, took point and raced up ahead.  Anne ran just to the side of my front wheel.  The technique they improvised worked amazingly well.  Heidi plowed through the crowds, I followed in her wake, and Anne screened me with the ferocity of an offensive tackle, zealously guarding the space that Heidi had opened.

All three of us shouted ahead to clear the runners.  At water stations we moved to the center of the street and slowed to a walk.  We used this technique for the rest of the course.  On the uphill grades we slowed and Heidi and Anne would catch their breath.  On the downhill sections, they sprinted flat out.  On a few spots where I caught a long open stretch, I would pass them and crank flat-out.

It seemed like only minutes later that we left Harlem and started up the Willis Avenue Bridge.  I had just witnessed an amazing transformation.  Before the flat tire these two ladies had not been challenged by our race.  They had enjoyed the sights and the experience, but in terms of flexing their muscles, they were itching for a run.  Between mile 12 and 16, we were held back by the flat.  But after mile 16, there was nothing holding us back except the crowds.  New York is the world’s biggest stage for a marathoner.  Both were eager to make the most of their debut.

Anne is an accomplished runner and marathoner.  She established her prowess on the dominant NC State University Women Cross Country team.  In 2009 she placed second in the women’s open division at the Shamrock Marathon.  She finished that event in 2:52, only 48 seconds behind the first place winner.  But injuries and the recent loss of both her parents made her set aside marathon aspirations.  The New York Marathon had been one of those aspirations.  Getting back onto the course with a close friend like Heidi in a non-competitive role like guiding turned out to be the perfect emotional boost.  “It was so much more than a race for me, it was a way for me to start placing the pieces of my life back together,” Anne reflected.

Marathoners Heidi and Anne
Heidi, too, was ready for a comeback after a hiatus from the marathon.  In her first marathon attempt 10 years ago, she surprised herself by qualifying for Boston.  After Boston she ran 12 more marathons with a personal record of 2:57.  Bringing two baby boys into the world changed her lifestyle completely.  Like Anne, marathon training and aspirations took a back seat in 2009 to the commitments of her family.  “When Paul offered this opportunity, it was just the push I needed to get back into the marathon,” Heidi shared.

Bronx:  Get ‘er done!

Finally things were going well.
At mile 20 we crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge into The Bronx.  The two women running before me were on a mission.  They had transformed into a people-moving machine that tore through the streets of New York at a breathtaking pace.  It was amazing to see their responsiveness to each other as they found the path of least resistance.  At times I was hesitant to exert all-out in such a heavy crowd, but the two never once let me down.  It seemed the faster I went, the faster they would clear the path.  “I think Anne and I surprised ourselves with the way we were able to plow folks out of the way and with how much of a thrill we got doing it,” Heidi later reflected.  I never guessed how much of a role their close friendship would play in the success of our team, but as Heidi put it, “…whatever it is we do, we want to do it the best we possibly can!”

The final mile
Of my four trips down Fifth Avenue, the last few miles of the race, I have never felt such a boost of energy.  I enjoyed the race so much at that point I was tempted to slow down and savor the last few miles.  But on the heels of Heidi and Anne, with millions of screaming New Yorkers lining the streets, our trio entered Central Park and cruised through the crowds to the finish line.


In retrospect, I could not have asked for more out of this marathon.  If I had not succumbed to the flat tire, at the speeds we tore through Manhattan, we would have beaten the 4:30 goal I set for myself.  But absent the added challenge, I don’t know that that I would have pushed myself as hard.  Or if Heidi and Anne would have either.  Once we hit the streets after our delay, there was new purpose in their steps and a more focused, shared determination in our hearts.

It was not the New York personal record I had hoped for.  Our time was 5:41.  Either of my guides could have easily run this race almost two hours quicker.  But their speed had its effect.  After significant delays, we made up enough time in the most congested miles of the course that our time was within six minutes of my PR for the course! 

Both Heidi and Anne were moved by the experience working with AWDs.  Heidi credits the experience with, “opening my eyes to what it takes for an AWD to not only get to the starting line but also what it takes just to get through the course.  It was incredibly humbling and motivating to be around such an upbeat and determined group of people.”  For Anne, the experience was spiritual; she drew on an inner strength derived from the memory of her parents. “From this experience I now stand tall on my own two feet; for the first time as a true adult and I'm facing the sunshine.  I know that my family extends so much further past its physical characteristics.  I know that I will never truly be alone.” 

After the race the two gals savor a hard-earned accomplishment
For me, the experience was an undeniable success.  If I had to recap the sum of the experience that day, I would have to recant Anne’s insightful words:  “When God gives you a flat tire, just keep peddling until you find the bike shop at the end of the bridge.”  Words we can all live by.


2008 Miles of Hope

With the help of my beloved wife, Sally, and support from hundreds of great people like Anne and Heidi I have been fortunate enough to complete 77 marathons and half marathons.  This is my way of raising money for and awareness of a great cause,  Hope for The Warriors.   Hope looks out for our Nation's wounded service members, their families, and the families of the 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 page.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Message of Hope

 We're still out here:

News Channel 12 story

Hope For The Warriors blog

Join us at the 2013 Run For The Warriors:
Run For The Warrrirors


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