In years past, I’ve chosen to spectate the Vermont City Marathon from the safety of my bike saddle. I wouldride along side of runners we knew and shout things at them like “Looking good!” and “You’ve got puke on your running shorts!” I’m pretty sure they really appreciated my support. This past Sunday, I decided I would follow the marathon atop my bicycle again, only this time I would try to serve as a bike marshal.
The marshalsfollow the first and last runners and the first and last wheelchair athletes. They needed someone to follow the last wheelchair racer, so I offered to help. I caught up with the last wheeled participant halfway up the Beltline. He was in a standard push chair, not a racing wheelchair like all the other wheeled participants. His name was Danny Perry and he’s a VCM regular.
I couldn’t believe he was pushing his way up the lonely, sodden hill in a regular wheelchair. Granted, that’s what he does every day, but he probably doesn’t push himself up the Beltline or Battery Street all that often if he can help it. Obviously, heading up the Beltline, Danny was getting passed by every single runner. And just about every single person who ran by him said something like “Good job, man!,” “Yeah, buddy! Push it!,” “You’re awesome, dude! Keep it up!” Some of them evenfelt the need to touch him while he was pushing. Danny didn’tacknowledge any of them. I wondered what he was thinking. Maybe he wasthinking “Don’t touch me, you schmaltzy cornballs.” Maybe he wasthinking “All your treacly cheers are screwing up my cadence.” Or maybe he wasn’t thinking anything at all. Perhaps hewas zenned out and too focused on making it to the next mile that hewasn’t listening to the platitudes and praise.
The fact that Danny could get up those huge hills didn’t surprise mesince he’s likely been a chair user for some time. But what was sort ofastounding to me was that he wasn’t wearing gloves or any sort ofsporty tech gear. He was just wearing worn out sneakers, cargo shortsand a cotton T-shirt like he accidentally ended up in the race on hisway to the grocery store. And the fact that he wasn’t using a racechair was pretty unbelievable. All of his fellow wheeled competitorshad handcycles with gears and brakes. Danny had no gears and no brakes.