During the last week of January I had the chance to visit Scott Porter, who works with us. As we planned the trip to discuss InvoTek research projects, Scott told me that he was participating in the Miami Marathon and invited me to come along. Scott has paraplegia, so this is an even more extraordinary statement than you might expect. He participates in marathons by riding a hand cycle.
I told Scott I would like to go to Miami with him and I planned my trip accordingly. I flew to his home town and then Scott and I drove to Miami Saturday morning. When we arrived at the hotel there were people with disabilities everywhere! Approximately 70 people came to participate through the support of Achilles International, a nonprofit that does the tremendous amount of work necessary to give people with disabilities this opportunity. The lobby of the hotel was electric. There were runners who were blind, while others had lost one leg in war and planned to run the marathon on a prosthetic leg. Still others were paralyzed, and a few had lost both legs in war. These men and women either rim-pushed a bike (right), or used a hand cycle like Scott. The one thing they had in common is they were all athletes.
We left for the starting line a little after 3:30 AM on Sunday. Once we arrived downtown there was a flurry of activity as everyone prepared in the dark for the race. A special moment for me was when one of the athletes asked me to help her get into her hand cycle. With help, I picked her up and gently got her ready for the race. She provided very specific instruction on how to move her legs and how to strap her in. I was very careful. I have to say that the process was very intimate, in the sense of feeling very close to someone and caring about them. After I got her into the hand cycle she thanked me and we exchanged names. I’ll remember this for a long time.
There were many memorable moments over the next few hours, but watching these athletes make their way to the starting line among all the two-legged runners was especially moving. It is so important for us, as human beings, to belong. The athletes I watched were excited to participate – and they belonged. Scott finished the 26.2 mile marathon in just under 2 hours, using his arms.
Adaptive sports are important. I bet you won’t be surprised if we start working on some ways to expand the number of people that have the opportunity to participate in these activities. It is just one more way to help people be extraordinary.