How Seeing a New Side of the Sport #MovedMe

How Seeing a New Side of the Sport #MovedMe

Professional wheelchair athletes Tatyana McFadden, Manuela Schär, and Amanda McGrory work hard together in Brooklyn. 

Professional wheelchair athletes Tatyana McFadden, Manuela Schär, and Amanda McGrory work hard together in Brooklyn. 

Like my colleague Gordon Bakoulis, New York Road Runners’ editorial director who just celebrated 15 years with the organization, my race-day role at the TCS New York City Marathon #movedme.  

As part of NYRR’s digital content team, my job was to capture photos and videos of the women’s professional wheelchair race. But I ended up doing more than tweeting and ‘gramming.

The day actually started the evening before the race. After finishing a shift at the TCS New York City Marathon Expo, where I helped runners make last-minute changes to their race-day transportation, I hurried to a meeting in Midtown. There, I met the staff and volunteers who would make sure the professional athletes in the men’s and women’s wheelchair divisions had an amazing and safe race-day experience.

Next up was a meeting for all the pros, able-bodied and wheelchair athletes alike, who hailed from 29 countries around the world.

I stood off to the side and looked around. I kept a straight face, but in my mind, it was very much like: Oh, there’s Michael Wardian—what a badass. Ernst van Dyk is just as big in real life. Is that Jared Ward? OMG, Tatyana just smiled at me.

I’d seen many of these athletes at events throughout race week, but this time they were all in one room and it was now the night before a really big race.

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Because wheelchair racing requires a special set of instructions—where to put timing tags on racing chairs, for example—there was also a special meeting just for this group.

As I gathered the background info I’d need to be at the right place at the right time on race day, I giggled at how tight-knit this group is. The athletes were Snapchatting and joking around with one another like they were at a summer camp reunion—except they all knew each other from racing the most prestigious marathons in the world.

The next morning, I was back at the hotel to meet the group at 4:30 a.m.

I helped load daytime wheelchairs onto a bus for about a dozen athletes. Wow, these chairs are so light! I thought. My mom, who’s an amputee, uses a traditional wheelchair and I struggle all the time getting it in and out of the car.

By 5:00 a.m., we were off to Staten Island, daytime and racing wheelchairs all packed up, police escorts guiding us to the start.

The bus ride was quiet, as the athletes were nervous and tired, and I’m unfortunately only fluent in English. I made sure the chairs didn’t go flying every time we hit a bump.

I thought back to race morning last year. I was on a bus, on my way to Staten Island, but I was running the race. This is really happening! I remember thinking as the bus pulled away. This year was no different, except my excitement was for the athletes who were sitting in the seats around me—Amanda McGrory, who would be outfitted with TCS Performance Metrics during the race; Brian Siemann, a quadruplet who raced last year with his three sisters; and Marcel Hug, who’d go on to win the men’s race.

When we got to Staten Island, I very quickly got each athlete on my bus his or her chair so they could get to the tent and start prepping for the race. In addition to the regular pre-race things that all runners have to do—stretch, hydrate, use the restroom a million times—these athletes also need time to get their racing wheelchairs ready. They inflate tires, use tool kits to make adjustments to the chairs, and fill up the unique water bottles they drink from during the race.

Great Britain's Simon Lawson gets race-ready.

Great Britain's Simon Lawson gets race-ready.

University of Illinois alums Brian Siemann and Amanda McGrory have cameras mounted to their chairs to capture the race from a new perspective. 

University of Illinois alums Brian Siemann and Amanda McGrory have cameras mounted to their chairs to capture the race from a new perspective. 

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Next, it was off to the start. Staff watched for traffic as the athletes made their way to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to warm up.

Out and back, out and back. I was tired just watching the wheelers move up and down the incline.

These three were my company for 26.2 miles. 

These three were my company for 26.2 miles. 

As the 8:32 a.m. start time approached, I hopped inside the lead vehicle for the women’s wheelchair race.

For the first time this year, the wheelchair races had a cannon start just like the men’s and women’s open division races do.

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And we were off! Up over the Verrazano, the steepest part of the course, and into Brooklyn.

I was totally amazed by the athleticism in front of me. I can’t do a single pull-up, yet these women were using upper-body strength to propel themselves forward for 26.2 miles—over pot holes and uneven pavement, up the incline of each bridge and controlling their speed on the way down, navigating turns throughout the five-borough trek. 

I had to restrain myself from posting minutely updates on social media. I was so excited for these elites and wanted to share that with the world. But, you know, social media etiquette and best practices.

By mile 16, Switzerland’s Manuela Schär had taken the lead.

Schär went on to win the race, with Tatyana McFadden taking second and Amanda McGrory in third.

I spent the rest of the day writing, editing, and getting misty about Shalane Flanagan’s historic win. (You know you did, too.)

As I walked from the NYRR offices to my subway stop around 9:30 p.m., I saw some familiar faces while crossing the street in Columbus Circle. It was the athletes I’d spent the morning with. The American elites were returning from Central Park, where they had welcomed some of the final runners in the TCS New York City Marathon across the finish line. Brian recognized me and waved.

On the train ride home, I reflected on a day that would stick with me long after November 5. The most important thing I learned: Wheelchair racing is full of amazing athletes just like Shalane Flanagan and Geoffrey Kamworor—these men and women just can’t run with their legs. There’s no pity here, just inspiration to work harder in the sport we all love.

“NYRR Group Training Has Made Me a Happier, More Confident Runner”

“NYRR Group Training Has Made Me a Happier, More Confident Runner”

Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2017

Meb Marathon Moment Mondays: 2017