What is the best advice an athlete ever gave you? “Push really hard and go super fast,” says 10-year-old wheelchair racer Maddie Wilson. That response set the tone for the 47th annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race.
The Falmouth Road Race occurred on August 18th, which was a steamy summer day in Falmouth, Massachusetts. An international field of 12,823 racers descended on the picturesque seaside Cape Cod course. For three days leading up to the race, organized events at the Falmouth Race Expo included: health and fitness booths, talks with past champions, and a panel discussion with wheelchair racers. Participants learned that the Falmouth Road Race was the first to have a competitive wheelchair division. The wheelchair participants start 10 minutes before the first group of runners to battle the seven mile long course.
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital sponsored the wheelchair division. Spaulding has multiple adaptive sports programs, including the McGraw Center in Brewster, Massachusetts, where athletes come to do what they love and get exercise. Mary Patstone is the founder of Spaulding’s Adaptive Sports program. Patstone says her inspiration for starting the program was her experience with her father. “He is an amputee and I became passionate about sports and adaptation and making sure everyone can get out there to play and have fun,” she says.
Adaptive activities include cycling, tennis, basketball, kayaking, paddleboarding and swimming. “I love to see that moment on a person’s face after injury when they go ‘oh wow, I am going to be able to do something again,” Patstone says.
At age 10, Wilson is the youngest wheelchair competitor in the field, but this is her fourth time racing in the event. Wilson has won 17 gold medals at the USA Adaptive Sports Junior Nationals. “I practice with my dad on the weekends at a high school track,” Wilson says. Her role model is Tatyana McFadden, who Wilson has trained with.
McFadden, who also competed, is a 17-time Paralympic medalist. She is the first person to win the grand slam of marathoning which includes the Boston, London, Chicago, and New York City races. Not only is she a racer but she is also an author of a children's book called “Ya, Sama” which is Russian for “I can do it!” Her inspirational message to anyone who has a disability is: “It’s definitely a journey and it is important to not give up in those hard times. You just have to keep trying if you love the sport.”
Jason Robinson is a high school student from Westmoreland, New York. Robinson is the first wheelchair racer ever in New York to compete at the state championships against able bodied runners. He has now paved the way for other wheelchair racers to compete in high school track. “I feel confident in my ability and I am really ready to race with other great racers and I am excited for what's to come,” he says.
Thousands of fans lined the streets cheering on the racers. Music blared and the ocean breezes pushed the racers past the American Flag waving high over the finish line. Daniel Romanchuk won the male wheelchair division in a course-record time of 21:58. “There was no sun or rain so it was a great day and there was a nice tailwind,” Romanchuk says. Romanchuk prepared for the race by training with his coach. He says his pre-race mentality is, “I never go into a race expecting to win or place, I like to keep my goals within reach.” This was Romanchuk’s second win at the Falmouth Road Race.
McFadden won the female division in another course record of 26:15. This was her fifth time winning the Falmouth Road Race. Looking back at the race McFadden says, “Anyone wants to go out there and do their best, which was my main focus. I was chasing the boys and trying to pass them.”
Dr. Cheri Blauwet, a seven-time Paralympic medalist, and a Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital physician, made her Falmouth debut. She was recently nominated as a finalist for the Paralympic Hall of Fame. She serves as an inspirational mentor for her patients and new racers. Dr. Blauwet is a two-time Boston and New York wheelchair marathon champion. Her message to other doctors is, “I think it’s really important that doctors show that they embrace a healthy lifestyle, stay fit and be a role model.”
At the end of this historic day, some athletes broke their own records, and many personal goals were reached. Candace Cable, a six-time Falmouth wheelchair winner, described the reason why racers continue to come to Cape Cod every August. “There is a sense of community and a sense of belonging,” she says. “Plus, we love the beaches!”