Photo courtesy of Marc DePerno
- The s Wheelchair Challenge offers participants a chance to win a racing chair if they complete the course in a standard, daily-use wheelchair and finish in less than two hours and 15 minutes.
- This challenge debuted in 1998 when organizers wanted increase participation in the wheelchair division.
- Emily Searle and Stephanie Woodward completed the challenge this year and each took home $3,500, three-wheel racing chairs.
Two athletes went home with more than just medals after Saturday’s Utica Boilermaker 15K, where they competed in standard–not racing—wheelchairs.
Emily Searle and Stephanie Woodward were the two winners of this year’s , an initiative that awards participants who complete the race in daily-use wheelchairs with a time of two hours and 15 minutes or less their own $3,500, three-wheel racing chair to keep.
“We’ve had many folks interested in getting involved in racing who are living with a disability, whether that’s a spinal cord injury or a congenital birth defect,” Marc DePerno, a member of Boilermaker’s wheelchair division since 2002, told Runner’s World. “This program allows them to push alongside great athletes, and, with a new chair, can take them around the country or the world to compete in other distances and races.”
The Wheelchair Challenge debuted in 1998 in an effort to increase participation in the wheelchair division, which at the time, was in single digits. One problem organizers discovered was accessibility to proper equipment.
Racing wheelchairs are expensive, often going for a few thousand dollars a piece. To offer incentives and to get more people involved in the division, the organizers turned to sponsors and individuals to donate racing chairs that could be awarded to challenge participants who meet the time goals.
“The cost is prohibitive for the average person to get a chair, so we try to remove the barrier of financial restriction,” DePerno said. “The difference between a standard wheelchair and a performance chair is like a pair of new basketball sneakers that are three sizes too big compared to pair of custom-built shoes that are correct size.”
The incentive appears to work, as more participants sign up annually for both the challenge and the division. A total of 35 racers competed in the wheelchair division this year—and all finished.
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Searle and Woodward were two of the finishers, pushing through the 15K course to finish with times of 1:21:34 and 1:32:27, respectively.
DePerno said because of the training they put in for the race, they finished well before the Challenge’s time requirement. Most years, participants are closer to the 2-hour mark.
“What we hear from pass participants is it has changed their lives substantially,” DePerno said. “From self-esteem, strength and conditioning, new friendships, the Boilermaker becomes bigger than themselves. It opens up the possibility to a new lifestyle.”
Gear & News Editor Drew covers a variety of subjects for Runner’s World and Bicycling, and he specializes in writing and editing human interest pieces while also covering health, wellness, gear, and fitness for the brand.