Last weekend (March 1, 2015) I had the opportunity to watch a friend win the Little Rock Marathon. He is 53 years old, has a C6/7 complete spinal cord injury, and was the first person to cross the finish line – minutes before any the “elite” runners. Pretty impressive! Add to this that it was 40 degrees outside with a light rain and that his handcycle broke just before the race started so that he only had one gear. Now we’re up to really impressive.
On two of the hills on the marathon course, James couldn’t push through and his handcycle started to roll backwards. He turned his front wheel so that he rolled back into a curb. He rested and tried again. Nope. Still couldn’t make it up the hill. The bicycle rider assigned to escort him through the race asked if James had considered changing gears. James said “I consider it on every hill!” And then he explained that his derailleur was broken and he couldn’t change gears. He tried a third time, uphill from a dead stop, with less muscle control than you or I have – and he did it! He made it over the hill. At the end of the race the bicycle rider asked to shake his hand. He said “that was incredible”.
While this is a great story of dedication and perseverance, it isn’t the best story that I have from the race. You see, James is married to Tammy. They were married when Tammy was 17 years old, which was over 30 years ago. As James rode back to their truck after the race with Tammy walking beside him, the gear changing mechanism completely failed and James couldn’t crank at all. Tammy pushed the handcycle for nearly a mile – in the rain, with James in it.
While I am in awe at the accomplishments of the people with disabilities that work with us, somehow it pales in comparison to the dedication of their spouses. No one tells Tammy “congratulations for all the work you did to make it possible for James to win the marathon.” She just proudly watches James as the TV stations interview him and afterwards pushes him to the truck. That takes real dedication. That takes real love. And I am in awe of the unsung spouses who give so much.
Congratulations Tammy. You are incredible.