Los Angeles Marathon - March 2013
After working for one of my sponsors at their booth during the Abilities Expo in downtown Los Angeles, I drug myself out of bed for an extremely early Sunday morning. My girlfriend and I had already set out most of our things the night before in preparation for the dreaded early alarm at 4:45am. I threw on my race gear and we checked out from or very posh room at the Luxe Hotel, packed up the truck and headed to Dodger’s Stadium.
By the time we had gotten to our exit off the freeway they had already started to close down the roads for the giant production that is the Los Angeles Marathon. The volunteer parking lot attendants had us driving in circles and sending us in directions that didn’t exist before we finally asked the RIGHT person where we needed to be and parked after 45 minutes. Burning pretty much all of my allotted prep time. We rushed to unload everything and make our way to the start line. Pushing as fast as I could, trying not to lose my girlfriend Terri, who’s right behind me towing my bike. I was a lone rider competing in the handcycle division waving the Triumph Foundation flag, but had many friends riding with another organization whom I had ridden with in the past, Achilles International.
Once I found the entrance to the start line we were hurried in and I was told I only had 5 minutes to get ready for the starting gun. I threw on my jersey (later, during the race finding out that I had actually put it on backwards in the chaos), hopped in my bike and was dragged into my spot at the line with no chance to say good bye to my girl or find where my chair was going as she was hastily pushed out of the way. Luckily, one of the ladies I knew at Achilles took responsibility for my chair so that Terri could make it to work.
Undoubtedly unprepared in all of the commotion, I had forgotten some of my riding gear, but oh well. Game is on, now. As the sun is finally coming up and the bagpipes are done blaring, the starting gun shot sounds and we are off. In the mass of 40 plus handcycle competitors we crank our way up the hill and around the first corner. Cresting the first hill I bear witness to the first crash on the very first downhill of the race. I think to myself, hoping this doesn’t set the tone for the rest of the race.
The ride continues to get warmer as the sun climbs in the sky while we make our way down the streets of beautiful downtown Los Angeles (no sarcasm there at all), climbing hill after hill. The miles ticking by, slower than I would have wanted but my body is warming up and I just keep focus on the finish line.
Just after the mile marker for mile 14, I make my left turn and head down San Vicente. It is a good downhill, so I am cranking a bit harder to make up some time, cruising around 25 – 30 miles per hour. I am not sure of my specific speed as my cycle computer was one of the things I forgot back at the start line. Maybe 100 feet or so down the hill I see a black chunk of something get flung through my spokes and out the top off my wheel. Hmmm, that is curious.. Must have been a piece of asphalt or garbage left on the course.
Moments later, as I look down the hill ahead of me, I see a sharp right coming up rather quickly. Realizing that I am going much too fast to make this corner safely, I squeeze my brake lever. Much to my dismay, I am not slowing down.. AT ALL. The corner is coming closer and closer as I flash back to the mysterious black chunk flying through my wheel. IT WAS MY BRAKE PAD! Trying not to lose my cool, I reach for my emergency brake/parking brake further down the front fork, but I cannot reach it strapped into my riding position. I am reclined back as much as the bike will allow and even at 6’ 5” tall my arms are still not long enough to reach.
I reach under my race number to release the Velcro strap restraint in an effort to gain some extra room. Once, twice, three times, only gaining mere fractions of an inch each time. The corner is now completely impossible to make without laying my bike on its side, but I notice a small slot in between the barricades and thread the gap just large enough for my bike continuing down the hill, now off the course. Finally, I reach the brake and come to a screeching halt behind an L.A. Sheriff’s car. I narrowly missed cross traffic on Melrose Avenue, only 10 more feet in front of me.
Once I was able to put my heart back into my chest, I could explain to the Sheriff what had happened. He radioed for assistance to a “downed rider” and gave our location, where the marathon crew was now sending a van to come get me. The Sheriff was in control of a road closure for the race, so I didn’t have any traffic where I was. We were told that they would be coming from the finish line and not sure of the timing but it would be a while before they could get to me.
Time passed as I was sitting there on my bike chatting with the Sheriff and watching all the nice cars go by. Hours tick by before the Sheriff radios once again to check the ETA of the van. Now, he is told that they are bringing my wheelchair from the tent at the finish line to me and are going to bring me and my gear all to the finishing area. More hours go by waiting, waiting, waiting.. Sheriff Laughlin radios yet again, and the story changes back to the van just coming to get me and bring me to my chair still at the finish line.
I luckily had my mobile phone with me, so I scan through my contacts trying to find a way to the finish line on my own. By this time, most of my friends are already well beyond done and heading to their respective homes. I receive a call from a lady in one of the tents at the finish line explaining that she has my chair and that I need to organize someone to come and get my things within the next 45 minutes as they are getting ready to close down. I guess there was no van ever planning to come get me in the first place. LIARS!
Exhausting idea after idea, I am getting increasingly more and more worried. To my relief, I see the Sheriff flag down an L.A. Marathon van and he agrees to take me to the finish line. I climb in amongst 4 other runners heading to the finish line due to an emergency of one sort or another, and they pack in my bike with us. Not 5 minutes into the ride, the driver gets a call from his supervisor explaining that there was a van already coming to the spot where he picked me up and he was advised to bring me back and drop me off there. Apparently, a “family member” was coming to my rescue that I had no idea about.
As we are driving back to my original waiting spot, I get a call from yet another organizer (and I use this term loosely) and she explains that she has my chair and is en route to me and asks if the driver I am with can take me to Dodger’s Stadium, as it is closer to where she is. This is the mysterious “family member” coming to bring me my chair. He says that he will, only after getting clearance from his supervisor, so we sit and wait for the go ahead. Only to be told that he can not bring me to the stadium, that he has to drop these other runners off at the finish line, and to leave me there.
So, the driver and the Sheriff unload me and my bike out of the van and leave me to my own devices with a “have a nice day”. Back in my original holding position, with no idea what is next, there I sit. I get yet another call from this “organizer” lady, Laura saying that she is coming to get me and needs an address for her GPS, and that it is going to be close to an hour before she can get to me. At this point I talk my new friend Sheriff Laughlin into dragging me and my bike over into the shade and grass at the street corner. I figure I know for sure now that I am going to be waiting for a while. I might as well get a nap.
No nap for me, as miss Laura calls yet again to tell me that SHE is not coming to get me, that a firefighter is coming with a flatbed truck to get me and bring me and my bike to the stadium, where she is at with my chair. HOLY CRAP! Oh, and get this, that I should be “so thankful to the people of the L.A. Marathon for all that they have done for me and all the effort they put forth to get me back to my wheelchair”. REALLY? And, I “should write them a thank you letter”. I replied, “Oh, I’ll be writing a letter for sure..” It just won’t be a thank you. Ok, so now I am waiting for a firefighter and his big red truck to come get me. I am actually relieved just a bit, thinking I can trust a fireman way more than these folks. About 30 minutes later the fireman shows up and we quickly get loaded up and on the road.
On our traffic-stifling drive I get one last call from the same number that miss Laura was using, but now it is a man’s voice saying that he has my chair and wanted to know when I was going to arrive to get my it. Uhhh, ok, now someone else has my chair? On the way, a good friend calls and says that he is on his way from his home in Rancho Cucamonga to the stadium and can pick me and my gear up there and bring me to the convention center where I need to be. Now, plans are really falling into place. My wheelchair is on the horizon and I am almost home free!
We arrive at the stadium, find the gentleman with my chair and get all unloaded. I am SO relieved to see my chair and my bag with the rest of my gear. Not many people can actually admit that they are relieved to see a wheelchair, but after the journey I have just been on, this is one of those times. I am left with some water, a couple left over bananas and a protein bar. I give my utmost gratitude to the fireman and this mysterious man with my chair and take a deep breath waiting for my good friend Robert and his family to come get me and bring me to my final location for the day.
Thank you so much to my sponsors; Triumph Foundation, Supracor, Kenda Tires, Frog Legs, Inc., W.O.L.V.E.S. Surfshop, my main man Robert Tyler and his family, and to all my friends that helped me in even the slightest way that day. Thanks to Sheriff Laughlin and to the fireman whom I cannot recall his name, but coincidentally has a son with the same name as me. It was quite the day for me and a HUGE learning experience. I have already put together an emergency tool and parts kit for my bike, so that I won’t be stuck like that again.
Notice, there was no thanks given to the L.A. Marathon people.. Seriously, they need to really work on their protocols for all of the handicapped competitors that pay their ridiculous entry fee for a chance to race. I would expect way more from a race that has been going for almost 30 years straight and has had wheelchair athletes involved for a good portion of those years. You would think after all of these years they would have things pretty figured out. Or so you would think. All in all, I sat in my bike from around 8:15am until 1:30pm when I was actually picked up for the final time. That’s over 5 hours of time gone by waiting..
Some people said that next year would be my year. That the “third times the charm”. I am not quite sure I am going to give this a 3rd go. We will see..