The following is a guest contribution from Gary Roback, Co-Director of the Boilermaker Wheelchair Division. It includes a letter from Jacob Moore, a 2017 Wheelchair Challenge competitor.
It seems like everyone that volunteers, races, walks or watches the Boilermaker has a particular part of the event that they thoroughly enjoy. For some, it’s the challenge. For some, it’s the enjoyment of helping others or being part of something much bigger than oneself. Still for others, being a part of the Boilermaker is a passion. In the early 90’s my wife, my two kids and I started as goody bag “stuffers” and we all got hooked. We then ‘graduated’ to helping stuff race packets with bibs and safety pins. A few years later an opportunity evolved within a relatively new committee – the Wheelchair Division. Ever since the first time I ran the Boilermaker in 1983, the ‘chairs’ were the most inspirational, powerful part of the entire event for me. There was just something about what I saw that drew me in. So when the opportunity came up to join that committee, I did just that. One of the first tasks I was asked to do was, along with Richard Panetta, develop what became known as the ‘Wheelchair Challenge’. With runners, getting a quality pair of running shoes, although they can be expensive, is typically your major investment (other than your time and effort). Wheelchair racing is a bit different. You can’t easily do a wheelchair race without a racing wheelchair. However, even the most basic racing wheelchair costs about $2,500 causing a financial barrier to some that made participating just a dream. Our primary motive was to help break down that financial barrier by creating the ‘Challenge’. We would award a custom built racing chair to an athlete that had the drive, desire and passion to complete the 15k Boilermaker in an everyday wheelchair. Many times winning the chair is more than just a prize, it can represent a positive life changing experience. It can help people adjust to whatever life throws at them. It represents the power of the human spirit. And to that end, the program has been a great success. To date, we have awarded 28 custom built racing wheelchairs to Challengers.
Once again in 2017, we will have an athlete pursing the Challenge. His bio below clearly shows he has the passion and desire to be successful. So if you see Jacob on the course on Boilermaker Sunday, cheer him on. To Jacob, the challenge represents a whole lot more than just winning a chair.
As a kid growing up with Spina Bifida I never looked at something and told myself that I could not do it as well or better than others. Often times I was right and also often I was shown I could be just as wrong. Thing is though I never let someone tell me I could or couldn’t do something, and I always challenged myself and pushed as far as I could. Spina Bifida as a child and for most of my adult life was never really seen as a set back to me. I played baseball as a pitcher and 3rd baseman. I played water polo every summer as a kid all the way through high school and also I swam varsity in high school. After high school I started biking. I very much valued the times where I could just get on my bike and go. Pop on some music ride down the canal. It was peaceful, relaxing and I still to this day value the times I was out on my bike and witnessed things I normally would not have. The sunsets, the wildlife and even some of the people I met while riding who all had stories too. I miss it all
About 4 years ago in November I noticed that I was kicking my left heel into the ground. I was trying to “wake it up”. It felt like it had gone to sleep, my foot was going numb. I noticed this routinely would happen. Slowly this started moving up my leg. Christmas came around and I told my family of my concerns about this. The numbness was spreading. I Could no longer walk up or down the stairs. We had to move our room downstairs. It was also around this time where if I wanted to walk just about anywhere I would have to use my girlfriend for support. For example holding onto her shoulders so I could walk somewhere. About a week into January 2014 I sat in a wheelchair and to this day it is the only way I can get around. Later in the year of 2014 I was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis of the spine. The doctor who diagnosed me said it is only the 2nd time he has ever heard of it attacking the spine. Of course it was the first time he had diagnosed it.
My interest in racing and also doing the Boilermaker Wheelchair Challenge are similar. I am 40 years old. I am overweight and as far as activity goes I only recently started to try and get active again. I want to challenge myself again. I want to say to myself I can do that. Then I want to go out and do what I said I can do. In the end I want to do this for myself. I want to be able to say to myself and to my family that I challenged myself and that I did not back down and I saw it through to the end.
In the end maybe I am being greedy but I feel like competing in The Boilermaker and finishing it represents me grabbing back some of my independence that I may have lost the last few years. In completing this and in preparing for this I also believe it will help me in the long run for adjusting to life in a wheelchair. Yes, I have been in a wheelchair for a while, but you don’t just get used to it. It changes you, and in the end maybe this challenge is part of the change.