So we were prepped and rolling out at 7:40 am and arrived at 7:50 to the starts (Race starts at 8:00 am). Officially, the application form had no box for “Wheelchair” section (I had to write mine in) even though there were already three females listed as “Wheelchair” in the online registration. Oh yes and Mr. Soot did made the journey down with me on a thing they gave me to go around my neck (it is blue, look for Soot-san in pictures!).
We were supposed to line up behind the women with babies in strollers, by which I can conclude that a) someone at the TC was a moron or b) they hate babies? Anyway, we asked a few people holding “Ask me” signs and they looked at their paper and it said the times and places for every group from elite runners on down. Nothing about wheelchairs. I had my electronic tag chip on my shoe (placed by a volunteer), my number pinned and we were talking to ANOTHER volunteer when I heard on the speakers, “That’s right folks it is now only 30 seconds is the start of the Wheelchair race, these wheelchairs always prestart…”
What? Well you could have told ME! I started pushing through the crowd to where I knew a gate was and we are about halfway there when I hear over the loudspeakers, “5….4…..3….2…..1 and they are AWAY! What an inspiration these folks are…” (Why do they ALWAYS say that?) And I start screaming, begging people to PLEASE get out of my way and to get the gate opened, I mean they STARTED my race I am still in the crowd. I got the 5 people in front of the gate to move and then begged them to open it and then I booked over the start line, about 2-2.5 minutes after the start of the wheelchairs. Damn.
After that it got kind of odd because there was a full kilometer of uphill to start with, and second because after I turned the corner, this looked a lot like normal wheeling (except now I was all emotional and full of adrenaline) with no one around. So between strokes I put on the Mp3 player, picked my tunes and got out a drink of Gatorade (which I then found I couldn’t open, the stupid plastic wrap! Found a volunteer to do it later.). And then keep going as hard as you can when you are all by yourself and there are a bunch of volunteers and people watching you shouting, “Go!” and you feel kinda stupid because, it is just you. I had just made the first corner, about 2/3rds to the first km, when I heard the blip of the police siren right behind me. I of course looked and then ignored it. It was the police lead motorcycle and there was a cop with a mustache and he pulled up next to me and said, “You need to clear off the course, the runners are coming.” And then pulled ahead.
I was stunned, Fuck dude, I AM the course! Apparently no one had told him that there were wheelchairs in this race or that there might be someone in a wheelchair that a) had started late and b) wasn’t in one of those multi-thousand dollar clamshells they call racing wheelchairs. Anyway, the pack of 14-16 booked past me and I am wheeling as hard as I can because I do NOT like to be passed. And there are people passing me like no ones business. Not like one or two but dozens ever second. Because it turns out that 12,000+ people came to the Times Colonist 10K (here is a pic of the end of the "runners" streaming out, Linda is waiting with the 'walkers' though she jogged 6K). I just said to myself, “It’s the uphill, once you get on the flat things will get better.” Well they didn’t, people just kept passing me, like crazy, even on the downhill! I mean, these WERE the people planning to finish in 30 minutes so I guess I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did.
Of course, every time I saw the police drive by in the motorcycle (since we did a 2.5 km down a road and then back in the opposite lane), I would flash him the victory symbol, except it kept getting reversed, so it was fist towards me with two fingers thrust upwards. That’s not rude I hope? And I would say loudly, “Here comes the fuzz, pretend we’re not jaywalking!” Which got a laugh.
I did see the lead wheelie in his clamshell and gave him the true victory sign along with “Go Wheelies!” and then to the guy in second as well. They were cooking. And then came the lead runners (because they had run down and now while I was still going down, they were running back). I have seen some people put in anorexia wards who looked healthier than these guys. Apparently seeing a skull instead of a face and having sticks for legs is “elite” – who knew? Good news is that in months/years, I might get to be “elite” too!
Okay the BAD new about having several THOUSAND people around at all times is that is a lot of peer pressure. First, unlike wheeling on your own you don’t stop and have a drink. I don’t drink on the go because our roads are so bad that I needed both hands to navigate. Plus, I could only listen to one ear of the tunes because of so many erratic runners. I can tell you that after FINALLY cruising past some people on a downhill, I deeply regretted that wheelchairs only had one gear because I was ready to put it in second and leave those people behind.
“Go wheelchair girl!”, “Go Wheelchair”, “Good job.”: that’s what I heard every second. And several times I was PASSED by people over sixty, once by a woman over seventy all who said, “Good going wheelchair girl.” This is one messed up town when it comes to jogging. Twice I heard someone go, "Hey Elizabeth.” Or “Hey Liz!” (must be someone from the boxing class). Before I went up the BIG Hill I pulled off, had a big drink and put on my oxygen and then put my MP3 player to “Paint in Black” (in french). And then it was the fast assult, the three pushes a second until you are just adding more and more speed to the wheels which are almost too fast to push. That was the hill I screamed on. And cried. Damn if I was going slow down, it wasn’t like several hundred people weren’t watching (see if you can spot Mr. Soot!). Only two hills did I cry on and that was the first and the one after it, the second. I cried because I was in PAIN. But that’s just a body reaction like the inability to sit up anymore, it is to be ignored and onward! I cooked up the hill and I was, thinking, Geez, this is a LOT faster than I practiced. But everyone was still running past and every time it went downhill I would catch a few and then came the BIG downhill (1 km). There was a couple who told me, “Only downhill from here.”
I said, “Uh there are those uphills near the fairgrounds!” And they swore.
And then I started shouting, “On the left!”, “On the right!” and “Coming Through!” so often that I was hoarse by the end of the race (I shouted it HUNDREDS of times). I had to assess who wasn’t totally plugged into music and find a space near them and then shout coming through. And we are about 12 abreast and I am going at least twice the speed of everyone else so there was a LOT of shouting. I had a little flag so people BEHIND me could see me.
Linda asked me what the hardest kilometer was and I said it was the 8th to the 9th. I mean, I did the hills, and here we are in James Bay and everyone is going my pace about and I am SO tired. And every little uphill I have to get the Drill Sgt. Voice in my head to keep up the pace. There was one guy who passed me with a “Good going wheelchair girl!” at km six and who I smoked by on the downhill and he passed me on another uphill at km seven and I passed him again between seven and eight and he was PISSED. It was no more, “Good going wheelchair girl” it was “Damned if I am going to finish behind a wheelchair!” So of course, I did everything humanly possible to stay with and pass this guy. Also there were about eight or nine females that I hung with and we kept passing or passing each other and I would make jokes like, “That street going up at that 15% angle up there, that’s a downhill right?” The last kilometer was a slight uphill and the stupid people who THOUGHT they were going to be elites and then walked for a while sudden decide they need to run REALLY fast for the last km where everyone can see them making it all the more hazardous to me. But I saw the big clock and the guy who wasn’t going to finish behind a wheelchair was behind me, and I pushed across, doing the long stroke I call the “swimming stroke” on this long but minimal uphill (because the stroke, if you let your arms extend after doing it is like doing the breast stroke).
Well, that’s actually when it got exciting because I hadn’t really been able to talk for the last km or so, and I wheeled on another 25 meters or so past the finish line and then sort of rested. And I tell you, how many runners stop and lean on a post 25-50 feet after a 10K? A lot! Me? Within about 3 seconds I was hustled into the first aid tent (or as I now refer to it, the tent of surreal slapstick medicine).
The first thing they did was put me next to a GIANT space heater. Even though I was making lots of hooting and I am sure the parts of my face that could move were looking terrified. I indicated that they get something out from under my chair because I was already on a cot (transferred at some point). They got out the pack with the two snap-ice packs and the ID, and medical numbers. I got out the ice pack and ALL they had to do was SNAP it and shake it to make it freezing. But all five of them got in a flummox and no one bothered to read the instructions and after some debate they decided to cut it open and sprinkle the stuff inside on me. The stuff inside is Ammonium Nitrate – the stuff you kill lawns with, which is why it says in bold letters on the front “DO NOT OPEN PACKET”
When I told they guys at St. Johns ambulance later they killed themselves laughing. I had come to do a “where were you?” on them because it seems the EMT’s are out on the course were they think the heart attacks will happen and so the trainees are left with the tent by the finish as a sort of “see lots of people, and lets see how you do.” I kept drifting in and out. St. Johns said that since I don’t sweat, once I stopped my cooling system (going forward quickly), I went into heat exhaustion almost immediately. Plus, I couldn’t actually sit up for the last 3-4 km or so. I TRIED, but was going to fall out of the chair so I kept my breasts on my legs and wheeled from there.
Well, back at the amateur hour they had decided that I was a) deaf (because I couldn’t speak clearly maybe?) and b) diabetic. I have no idea how they arrived at the last one. This one woman kept slapping my face and telling me to breathe and open my eyes. I do, and what to I see, a guy ABOUT to inject me with a syringe of insulin (Now, Neil says this is not so, but I know what a blood suger tester looks like and I know what a pen syringe full of insulin looks like and what he had in his hand going toward my arm was the latter). A hoot of terror and he backed off (St. John’s said that with my Reynaud’s the blood sugar at my extremities would be low anyway, so that would just send them down a dead end). I did manage to write “Autonomic Failure” and “Reynauds” at which point one woman says, “Oh, you’re a secondary school teacher at Reynauds! That’s great!” Huh? I am writing my medical conditions, not having a chat!
Anyway they brought in two first aiders who “knew sign language.” So I tried to fingerspell “Shock” because my body was doing it’s tremble thing. They didn’t know the letter S. Then they wanted to know who to contact. They asked, signing BOY, “Do you have a boyfriend?” So I nodded but signed, “I have a GIRLfriend.” The two of them looked at each other and said, “She’s confused.” Then signed again a few times, BOY, going “You have a BOYfriend?” And I signed back, GIRL. And then made the sign for marriage and pushed up my glove so they could see the ring. Well, that caused another tizzy as they weren’t sure what to do, but they understood my partner was out on the course and wanted to know here name. They got L, they didn’t get I, they were stuck at N. N is two fingers pointing down with your thumb tip separating it from the rest of your fist. It LOOKS like an N. Anyway they guessed Linda and then did the whole, “Should we put the call out for Linda McNult?”, “They might not have the same names.”, “what if we ask for someone called Linda who knows Elizabeth McNult to come to the first aid tent?” At this point I tried to fingerspell my last name. They couldn’t get M. I got another first aider to get me a pen and wrote out McClung (it is the name of a LIBRARY in town!). It is also on my medical card and the ID I carried in the ice box under the chair AND on my number pinned to my top.
Meanwhile first aiders had been placing bags of ice on my eight pressure points, like…my wrists, my ankles, my knees and so I gestured for them to give me the bags (the break ice bag, I had confiscated back and broken and shoved in my bra) and then stacked them all on my vagina, except one for my neck and torso. Reynauds isn’t a high school, okay!
At this point I went into either lactic acid or shock spasm, where all my muscles that I knew of went into total spasm and deadlock. I can’t see anything, all I can hear are these two terrible sign language first aiders go into full panic screaming for scissors as they plan to cut ALL my clothes off me. I just bought this top yesterday, and the exercise bottoms last week! Finally the real trained guy showed up and told them to take a chill pill and held them off until the spasm passed and then wanted to know if I wanted a drink; I did. Water (no), Sugar water (no), your Gatorade (yes!). “Do you need a straw?” he asked and I nodded and didn’t want to let go of his hand because he was the only person in that tent who seemed medically sane (little was to I know that instead of sitting me up and opening the Gatorade and putting in a straw they chopped a hole in the top of the Gatorade lid, put in a straw, then sat it on my lap where it fell over and covered my legs with Gatorade – so between four ice packs on my vagina and Gatorade elsewhere I looked like I “lost control” BIG TIME by the time I left that tent).
Anyway, Linda showed up, I was in the chair and she got me out of there as fast as could be (away from the heater). We went and got cookies and orange juice and stuff like that and took a post 10K pic of me and Soot-san! Then I started questioning people about HOW many wheelchairs started at the start exactly? Most people could only remember 1 or 2, maybe 3. They told me to talk to the blah blah organizers tent. Cheryl had arrived and I sent Linda home to shower and recoup and I was off to find out if I needed to hang for an hour because I had happened to be in the top of my group in Wheelchair class? I mean, free prize, being called on stage, these are not things from my competitive experience (well a little in epee – just not the prize). And if I get it by DEFAULT, well, hey, I showed up, not going to pass on a free prize! We finally found the “Volunteer’s Tent” and the wheelchair toilet, which was atop a flight of stairs in the middle of a full city block with no curb cuts for at least a hundred yards. I pointed out that having ONE wheelchair toilet in such a location might be not really “accessible” and they wrote it down for the “meeting afterwards.” So I mentioned that SOME mention either a) on the website, b) on the race packet, c) on the newspaper full page of the race events the day before or d) on the packets given to the volunteers themselves on where and when wheelchairs should be would be handy.
They pointed us to the “organizer and prize tent” So we went there and I have to say that the idea of a prize for wheelchair racers seemed to flummox them (I found later it didn't exist on the webpage either), or the woman in charge organizing the prizes specifically. They found the sheet of competitors and said, no, no prize because I finished fourth. I looked at the sheet and pointed out that the three ahead of me were all MALES, so that means I was the first female wheelchair finisher, right? This caused some confusion and I was told that no, in wheelchair, only the first three get the prize.....they were pretty sure.....yes, just wheelchairs.
I asked if they gave prizes to the top three finishers of FEMALE running racers? Well, yes, of course. And even if they finished after three MALES had finished? They looked at me as if I was crazy, “Of course, what does that have to do with it?”
“Well, see, according to this sheet you have here, I am the top FEMALE wheelchair competitor.” This is when they said that the though that prizes were for “Olympic wheelchair racers” – which I was waiting for because apparently because I didn’t shell out a couple grand for a 10K, I wasn’t “competiting” in my five grand titanium chair. So I had to wait another hour for the awards to find out what they would decide.
So Cheryl and I went to St. John’s ambulance and told medical stories with them, as they had a ramp. They thought the whole thing about “Wheelchair class doesn’t have sexes” was so funny but SO Victoria, especially when Cheryl in that dry wit drawl of hers said, “See, ya gotta turn them over, like kittens, to find out the sex…” They admitted even buying a ambulance bus with a ramp was an accident (they had never planned on it, it just sort of came with the bus), so bad is disability rights in Victoria/Canada. So time for the awards and it was pelting and I was under the tent with some other people (who had raised like tens of thousands for Stoke/Heart research and were the top fundraisers - they didn't get an award either, though they had been promised one) and I eventually asked, “So am I going up, am I getting an award or what?” and the woman conferred with Jason (in blue) who was the guy in charge and it seemed the decision was "No."
But then I made a little skit where I asked if people with legs who ran (and did a little running person on my arms), would be getting prizes according to the gender? And there was a look and a mutter and then the woman shoves a ribbon with a piece of medal on it. And I take it and put it on my lap because this really hasn’t cleared up the issue with me about why wheelchairs don’t have a gender split which they are saying is like “the age classifications.” While I am puzzling how the top 40+ age males is equal to “all wheelchairs” when Jason says quite clearly, “Look, you got your medal okay, so just go away now.” And I was just speechless because, well, I haven’t been spoken to like that since, I dunno 7th grade?
So I went next door to the Times Colonist Booth where the Times Colonist representatives were and they said that they had no influence over policy particularly the “There is no gender in wheelchairs,” and that the TC just fronts the MONEY. I said, "so the Times Colonist 10K run, and I write a $40 check to the Times Colonist Run and you have no influence." Nope, she said, they just contribute the money.
Well, I said, maybe you could bring it up at that review meeting you are going to have after the race (the ones the volunteers told us about). She said she definitely would.
I said, that’s odd because when we talked to the head of the volunteers about something to bring up at the meeting, they wrote it down on a piece of paper and you aren’t writing anything down at all. She just put on her, “This isn’t my problem smile” and stared at me (and wrote nothing down). And I eventually went away, which is what she wanted.
So I went back and got my camera and started taking photos of the people and then went and asked nice as pie what the guy who told me “you got your medal….go away”, what HIS name was. It was Jason. What is his last name. Now Jason, perked up at this and said (I quote), “I am a private events coordinator, I don’t have to give you my name.” And wanted to know what this is for. I said, this is for an article for the BBC, because there are over 10,000 wheelchair paralympians coming to our Country, of which this is the largest 10K running event at the capital of our province and they might be VERY interested to find out that they don’t HAVE a sex, that they are “wheelchair.” And that maybe in the Paralympics which will be held but a little bit away, in just over a year, in the 10K, if all the males in wheelchairs are faster, will they be the only ones to get medals and presentations?
Well, Jason and this woman who appeared started to explain there was this whole thing where they keep calling the wheelchairs a “classification” and then a “division” and “only the winners of “classes” go on stage because there is money involved.
“So there is NO money for winning in a wheelchair?”
No. Yet, by my logic, if we were but a division or a class or a whatever and just part of the “bigger whole” like “children” (because actually the top children actually DID go on stage and get awards), then wouldn’t the fastest, whether in the “child” or the “age 40+” group win the event? And since a wheelchair beat the fastest runner by five minutes shouldn’t the MALE in the WHEELCHAIR be getting the money? And if not, then shouldn’t they be acknowledged as a different “class” and be given public awards instead of a few minutes of TV and the world “inspirational.”
At this point I had all I needed for the BBC piece since they were saying that no, no THEY had nothing to do with the decisions that was all done by Diana Hollefreund who wasn’t there and could only be reached online (how..typical). And was elected by the board. Well, who was on the board?
I was told “over 40 members” – when the website, which also says about the “Wheelchair race category” that it is ‘coming soon’, that there are seven members (some of which I think were there right then!). By the way it turns out that for males and female runners you get money awards up to fifth place (and up to third in the over 40 class) in BOTH male and female – wheelchairs, gender or not get nada.
We headed home and I asked Cheryl why the Breast Cancer 5K could have so many more disabled toilets while this one had NONE at the start, NONE along the way and one poorly placed at the end. Cheryl said, “Because the Breast Cancer 5K was organized by women.”
“That actually makes sense.” I said.
Now, this may seem like sour grapes to you that I made such a big stink about the wheelchair issue (or being handed this medal with no marking on it all at). But I expect to show up and have five women to compete against, they were registered and had paid. Several dropped out. Probably because they thought it would rain (which is hell in a wheelchair). I don’t know why, all I know is like someone said at an Epee competition, when someone finished 21 out of 21; one woman pointed out, “no you didn’t, you finished 21 out of 24, because 24 people signed up to come.” So I find out that not only did I beat my time for the 5K by doing the 10K in 68 minutes (I passed the finish clock at 1:05, I was 2-2.5 minutes late starting but it seems they started my chip because I was a wheelchair while in the crowd or something so I am listed as 1:10). So I am happy about that because I tried really hard.
And if there was no award because other people got it or I didn't qualify, fine. But if you tell me that Wheelchairs don't get specific awards (when runners do) and then say that three guys are getting some award because there is no difference in sex/gender once you are in a wheelchair; that pisses me off. When you tell me that wheelchairs are “different” and don’t get presentations or money, even though they compete, they pay TO compete (the same as runners), and that I should take my piece of metal you gave me calling it a "medal" and “go away!” THAT makes me mad.
And when these are the same people who will likely be ON committees making decisions about wheelchair athletes (who they obviously don’t see us as – since Cheryl said they never once talked to me as if I was an adult), that makes me mad. This is the second largest 10K in Canada. If there was ONE woman in the 40+ class running and she finished, she would get a presentation plaque and a cash award. So why, it is because there weren’t 20 or 30 wheelchair today? Or that there are less wheelchairs than signed up does that make our efforts less? What makes us as athletes less? Or us as competitors less? As for Medals, Screw Bronze and screw committees and Jason of no name who play the “Someone else’s problem” game to avoid what is discrimination (I take it there wasn't an award for the white and 'coloured' runners as might have happened 100 years ago in Victoria). Wheelchairs are not “coming soon” as the website indicates, we are here, we WERE there, and all that shows is that the Times Colonist, the Victoria International Running Society and the city of Victoria STILL are not ready for us. When, I ask, when?
Oh, and yes, I am VERY, VERY sore!
3 hours ago