Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cooper River Bridge Run Mobility Impaired Division - Or Not?

Terry Hamlin, Bridge Run Hall of Famer
On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, I found out yet again the Cooper River Bridge Run (CRBR) had not followed through on their promise - publicized here in Mount Pleasant Magazine and here by runner/news reporter David Quick. - to create a Mobility Impaired Division in the race.

"For the first time in 2012, the Cooper River Bridge Run will feature a Terry Hamlin Mobility Impaired Division."

We had been working toward this for years as readers of this blog are painfully aware. For 2012 there was to have been a division (not a team!), which simply had not come about. There was no division; disabled people could form a "Team" which anyone could do, like "5 Dudes Named Bob" or whatever. But not a separate division like the wheelchair race.

(The CRBR eventually did post the names of the first place finishers in the 2012 race. I am confident knowing how the sign up process was handled as the Mobility Impaired Team, that there was not a conclusive way to know all of the MI participants. I do think they did the best they could and probably did identify the correct "winners" after initially posting incorrect results. This award recognizes only those MI athletes with artificial limbs and is not inclusive of all mobility impaired runners.)

When I contacted the CRBR on Facebook, we were told "There is already a team created entitled "Mobility Impaired". Please register under that team name."

I felt like it was the movie "Groundhog Day" all over again. Frustration and infuriation were mounting. Controlling my anger, I wrote this:

There seems to be such a wide gulf between the able-bodied and disabled at times.

Once you remember we are all human beings and should be treated as such it should be easy. Sure there are differences but that does not make one innately superior to the other. Far from it, you will see things from the other side that most are oblivious to, and by actually listening you may find riches far beyond any *money* can buy.

I say this because once again the Cooper River Bridge Run considered the mobility impaired community to be less than worthy of a division, despite publicity to the contrary. I do take this affront personally, as once able-bodied and now as an amputee. You would think after all the past mistakes of prejudice and discrimination someone would have the intelligence to know better.

Let's hope doing the right thing still means something.

- Richard Blalock
Mobility Impaired Runner, Mt. Pleasant, SC


I wrote many messages, with this one on the Cooper River Bridge Run Facebook page:

The team concept is not what was to be done, that was done in prior years and was a failure. No results were posted and few knew to even sign up for it. A Mobility Impaired Division would be similar to the Wheelchair Division. Check out the Boston Marathon for how they treat the Mobility Impaired Division. They do not give awards since mobility impairments vary (amputees, people with cerebral palsy, etc.) but they are recognized in the results in a separate division. Many progressive races do similar things.

(You can read can read about the BAA's (Boston Athletic Association) Mobility Impaired Division here.)

I also obtained specific contact information for the race organizers for someone at Achilles International, having had the great pleasure to speak to founder Dick Traum shortly after my amputation in 2009. Achilles would have the expertise and experience to help with the understanding and details of creating a Mobility Impaired Division.

Someone was driving me forward as I leaned into the wind. The Greatest:

PLEASE do this. We have many in the disabled community who will find a reason to show that, as my friend Jason Pisano proved every day of his life, that "Impossible is Nothing."

(Note: Jay would not be eligible for any MI award currently at the Cooper River Bridge Run. No one other than those with artificial limbs are included for for consideration. Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. This is terribly wrong.)


Much went on behind the scenes, some I was aware of but some, I suspect, that which I am not currently privy to. It was obvious that action was escalating; late in the afternoon I heard from Terry Hamlin:

MI Division is now set for 2013. Application will be fixed soon.

I went to the website and sure enough, there in bold print, was Mobility Impaired listed as a separate category. The downloadable paper entry was updated to include it a short time later. For some reason the wheelchair division does not appear on either but I was told it would be added soon. I have to say after the whole "Team" fiasco I would have preferred to see "Mobility Impaired Division" listed but I understand that is exactly what this is to be.

I then wrote this:

This would not have happened without the effort and support of many people. David Quick has allowed the local community to see what we can do, Thomas Terry Hamlin, race co-founder and now amputee runner who made our voices heard, Larry Wiley was instrumental in setting up early meetings, Emily Becker Nolan and paratriathlete/runner husband Jeff Nolan kept the issue alive and kicking, and thanks for the near eternal patience of Jen Starrett Blalock for having to listen to my frustration. Many other friends like Madeleine Hirsch, whose father has MS, and knows what many obstacles the disabled face. It is a small victory that will allow many to find they are, indeed, the magnificent. Thanks one and all who commented and for the Cooper River Bridge Run for finally making this happen. You are going to see many small miracles next year.


Yes, I was very happy this has finally come about. A bit sad it took such a mighty effort to get it done by many, but in the end, it is actions, not words, that matter.

The only element, and a huge one as far as I am concerned, has to do with MI awards; they will be ones for first place Male and Female: "Presented to first runner with artificial limbs." It is my strong opinion any awards would have to be equitable, and for this reason, it is nearly impossible to insure it since the physical challenges in this division are so far ranging. A 50 year old grandmasters runner with moderate to severe cerebral palsy will not be able to compete with a 20 year old former collegiate track champion with a prosthesis. Only very similar disabilities in the same age group would be fair, and our numbers are far too few to make this a realistic scenario.

The impairments and ages simply do not make for a level playing field. Therefore, like Boston, the names and times (and I would add ages) should be listed so those with similar disabilities can see how they did relative to their peers. But giving awards, without regard to disability, age, and gender is unfair in this division. This is not the Olympics where qualification is required to compete; but it is a world class event open to one and all. 

I will continue to make this point, but given the work that had to be done to get the division inaugurated, I hope it too will be modified as I have outlined. I believe the Boston model is best. The prizes being offered at the CRBR is meant to be a nice gesture and the old able-bodied me knows this; but given the inequities of the various disabilities, I believe it unfortunately is simply unfair to the athletes and cruel to those being excluded.


Let us compete as the great, would-have-been mobility impaired runner Glenn Cunningham wrote:

"People can't understand why a man runs. They don't see any sport in it, argue that it lacks the sight-thrill of body contact, the colour of rough conflict. Yet the conflict is there, more raw and challenging than any man versus man competition. In track it is man against himself, the cruelest of all opponents. The other runners are not the real enemies. His adversary lies deep within him, in his ability, with brain and heart, to control and master himself and his emotions."

This gimp at the 2011 Cooper River Bridge Run
I still find it hard to understand why this has to be so damn difficult. What was the purpose in it? Was anything learned?

I learned something. When you know something is right, fight for it to the end. Never quit. Never give in and never give up. Impossible is nothing.

And the thing that is right because...karma is patient.


Since the 2013 CRBR is a little over a week before the Boston Marathon - my goal race - I am not sure if I will run it. If I do participate I cannot race it, Boston is too important to me to be racing when I should be in full taper mode. We'll see how the training has been going and whether or not I have any issues that need rest at the point. I have signed up to show my support for all of the mobility impaired athletes, but I have a real problem with this award. It is just wrong to discriminate against my fellow MI brothers and sisters.

In this division that demeans us all, good intentions or not.

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