Sunday, March 8, 2009

Thrice Honored

How can you beat the experience of finishing third in your division in a home-town half marathon, when by all, rights with a severe disability, you should be a shut-in?
How about by getting to take part in that race beside some world-class disabled athletes who are Marine Veterans? Well then how do you top that experience?
How about to be escorted through the race by bicycle escorts who are wounded warriors on their road to recovery?
Crystal Coast Half Marathon
This year it rained again. This year, too, the rain was no match for the spirits of the Crystal Coast Half Marathoners. Like last year the temperature was mild. Unlike last year, the winds were mild too.

I had made a desperate attempt to get in some decent workouts in the past few weeks. The weather and my schedule keep fighting me. I need to quit whining. I get out there as much as I can and that’s about it. It’s just not as much as I wish.
Last fall I emailed Butch Robertson, the race director about participating this year. He wrote back a few weeks ago and said to invite some other athletes. So after the Myrtle Beach I wrote to OneLegDan and David Swaim. I had no idea they would be interested in coming down to Morehead City. Lo and behold they did come. Yee-ha! We’re going to have a wheelchair division this year!
OneLegDan was wounded in Viet Nam and later lost a leg in a motorcycle wreck. He’s an all around great guy. His wife, D- and he travel all around the world racing in marathons for the Achilles Track Club’s Freedom team of disabled veterans.
David was a Cherry Point Marine during Viet Nam and is a low-level paraplegic with a non—service related disability. Now this part of the story illustrates how one person can change the destiny of another’s life. During his recovery, a PT took an interest in him and recognized that his restless energy could be constructively channeled into sports. She got him interested in wheelchair racing. The rest is history. Not only did he marry that girl, but he went on to train to become a world–class athlete. He has won the Marine Corps Marathon, the Shamrock, the Myrtle Beach Marathon, the Rock n Roll Half and many more races that I don’t even know about.
To put it in perspective, on a good day, I grind out 8-minute miles. My PR for a half is almost a 7-minute pace. The word I heard most associated with his CC Half performance was “rocket.” He trashed that course, complete with an eighty-foot bridge with a 3-fifty something pace! Here is a picture of him in the Myrtle Beach Marathon returning to earth from a light speed journey through the town.
Photo by Steve Jessmore–The Sun News
Marines to the assist
In a later email from Butch, he asked me to arrange for some bicycle escorts for the chairs. With little time left before the race and very little time in my schedule, I emailed some local athletes to see if they wished to ride bikes as escorts. While they couldn’t they passed my request on to others. I got CWO G-, a Marine from Cherry Point, and BC, a banker in Morehead City.
I also got in contact with BG, a cycling coach for the Wounded Warrior Battalion-Det. East. BG couldn’t ride because he was running. He did, however get two civilian members of his Window Gang bike team to volunteer, BS and PJ. BG also got 4 volunteers that he coaches at the WW Bn-E. Sgt. T-, Capt. E-, LCpl. D-, and CWO R- all turned out to volunteer to escort the wheelchair division in the race.
Having 8 escorts for 3 chairs, I knew, would make things a lot easier AND safer. Right away Dan and David hit it off with their escorts. T-, who had been literally blown apart by a suicide bomber listened intently as OneLegDan described his encounter with a ’Bouncing Betty.’
Butch came up with a scheme for starting the wheelers so as to minimize the interaction between the runners and the wheelers. He started me about 2 minutes earlier than David and OneLegDan and then started the runners almost immediately afterward. I don’t know how the timer kept track of all that.
The race
We launched out in the rain Saturday morning with Capt. E- and LCpl. D- beside me. For a few brief seconds, I was in front of David Swaim in a race for the first time ever. It really was no race for although I was a few blocks ahead of David, I soon heard the shouts from the rear, “ON THE LEFT!” In a blink, this blue flash rocketed by.

I shouted “Go David!” and he was gone in a blink. Bicyclists CWO R-, BC, BS, and PJ were around him. I’m not sure if they weren’t struggling to keep up. OneLegDan zipped past a few minutes later with Sgt T- and CWO G.

The lead runners came racing by a few second later. They were looking strong. I think that all these fast folks blasting past me gave me a bit of a mental boost because I was cranking pretty hard. I think my last few workouts on the AB bridge were paying off.

After two loops around downtown Morehead City at a pretty good speed (for me, anyway) we took off toward the AB Bridge. I got into my lowest gears and cranked continuously all the way up. I normally have to stop several times but today I could keep going. I had communicated my plan for crossing the bridge to my escorts. Basically the same idea I used at OBX; it worked well today. On the uphill, they dismounted and walked behind me. On the downhill, they wend 30-50 yards in front to warn the runners to move over.
Just as I peaked the bridge about mile 6, I think, I saw a police car and then saw David’s escorts as he was returning. Man, he was flying!
My trip down the AB side of the bridge top out at about 22 mph. The escorts were great. There was no problem with other runners. Everything was going well At the bottom of the bridge I hit a bump and the bracket that holds my race number on my bike fell off. When I caught back up with LCpl D-, I asked him if he would mind going back to get it.
Capt. E- and I pressed on toward Fort Macon. The other runners were great. I was passing most of them by now. They were the folks that passed me on the uphill side of the bridge. My coworker D- was one of them. I met OneLegDan on the return. He and his escorts seemed to be having a great time.
The runners were offering great support. I was having a good time and shouted encouragement to them too. As we approach the turn around I told my escorts I may need the whole road to turn around so watch for traffic and be prepared to warn cars on the other side. On the trip back I got to see the “rest of the pack,” the runners behind me and I could see them face to face. Even after eight miles or so everyone was all smiles and the spirit was high.
Again I was surprised at my energy level on the second bridge climb. I think the excitement of race day had me stoked. I coasted down the Morehead City side of the bridge while the bikers made sure folks were aware I was passing. I think I hit 27 mph on the return.

David and OneLegDan were waiting at the finish. We waited around for the awards.
Butch was very gracious and awarded all three of us an award. We also had another surprise. My teammate came in second in her division in the 5K! You go girl! My time was 1:52. In third place, I was a half hour better than last year. But then no gale winds this year. But to put my accomplishment into perspective, David Swaim the new course record holder, beat my time by over an hour!
So that was Saturday. Sunday the weather was rotten. Monday it snowed. Wednesday it was bitter cold. On Thursday we got a break and I went back to the AB Bridge to work out. I couldn’t even come close to the climb I had done on Saturday. Yesterday was Thursday and I got in a 13 mile ride over varied terrain. Again, I was no where near the level of my Saturday performance!
All in all it was a great weekend. I say I was honored three times. With my level of disability, to roll across the starting line is an honor in and of itself. To be associated with and start beside world class athletes and honorable veterans like David and OneLegDan is an honor can’t describe. But to be assisted in my humble endeavor by the very individuals I support with my 2008 Miles of Hope campaign, is going to be a memory and a source of pride that I will enjoy for many years.
Return the honor
So as you read these words, put our freedom into perspective with the lives of many people around the world. We take more freedom for granted than most people will ever know. The fact that we can take that freedom for granted makes me grateful to people like Sgt. T- who was blown up by a suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest. And now as he recovers from his wounds, he volunteers his time to the community to make an event like this successful. It makes me grateful for people like LCpl. D-, who, while the truck in which he rode in the turret position drove over an IED that killed his comrades and shattered his legs. And yet he finds the time in his recovery to help folks like me and hundreds of others have a fun and safe race.
Remember our warriors like these and remember their sacrifices. It is because of their courage and their suffering that we sleep at night. Join me in my campaign to honor them with a contribution to Hope For The Warriors.
Donate today. You can easily make a donation to Hope For The Warriors by using our secure credit card donation site:

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