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.