The inaugural wheelchair race at the ASB Auckland Marathon includes a who’s who of the country’s leading male and female wheelchair athletes, with multiple Paralympic and World Championship medals in amongst a stellar group set to make history as they race from Devonport, over the Harbour Bridge to the finish line at Victoria Park on October 28.
The October 28 event is the largest in the country, with over 15,000 competitors expected to line up in a variety of events, with the wheelchair category added for the first time in the events history over the current course featuring the Bridge crossing.
The race is a pilot event this year, with all competitors invited to take part by the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation and Achilles New Zealand.
Dave MacCalman is pleased at the introduction of the event for all sorts of reasons. One of New Zealand’s most decorated Paralympians, MacCalman is competing in the event, but has also worked closely with organisers in his role as Senior Advisor to the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with the response from the top New Zealand wheelchair marathon athletes to support the ASB Auckland Marathon pilot group. We also welcome the two Australian athletes. I know the athletes will display their immense talents and racing knowledge during the event. This event will be a milestone for wheelchair marathons in New Zealand.”
Amongst those to line up on the 28th is 2003 New Zealand Football Referee of the Year Ian Walker (Christchurch). Since suffering a serious spinal injury as a result of a crash while out cycling, the Cantabrian is these days a passionate hand cyclist, having competed twice at the New York marathon, he says the inclusion of a wheelchair category at the ASB Auckland Marathon can inspire many.
“There aren’t many marathons in New Zealand that cater for wheelchair athletes, especially handcycles. So, for us ‘wheelies’ to compete in such an iconic event as the ASB Auckland Marathon is brilliant news, as it showcases inclusivity, that we are no different than other athletes. It also reinforces the idea that wheelchair users can and should be involved in mainstream events within the community.
“For me, to be given another opportunity to compete in New Zealand is absolutely huge. As someone with a beat up and broken 56-year-old body I know I’m unlikely to win many events, but what I can guarantee is that I’ll train hard and give the event my best bloody shot!”
Tiffiney Perry (Hamilton) is one of the leading contenders in the women’s race, having already shown her class in winning the hand cycle women’s race at the New York marathon.
With a distinguished career behind her in various sports at Paralympic level, she too can’t wait for the chance to race in Auckland and is undaunted by the prospect of going up and over the Harbour Bridge.
“I look forward to the Auckland Marathon as it will replace the New York Marathon for me this year. I can’t wait to cycle over the Harbour Bridge and compete in an event in my own country. Bridges shouldn’t be too much of a problem if New York is anything to remember. I think it will be gradual enough for me!”
Gavin Foulsham (Havelock North) is another with star billing ready to race in Auckland, the multiple Paralympic star is these days chasing a spot in the rowing team at the 2019
“The highlight of my career was the Sydney Marathon and Anzac Bridge, so I am really looking forward to crossing the Harbour Bridge. Climbing will just be about finding a rhythm and getting on with it, but the descent, that will be something else. The fastest I have been is 83kph at the Whangarei Marathon, but I think 60 to 70kph will be possible here. Safety first of course, but I am never keen to touch brakes in a race!”
Former New Zealand equestrian star Catriona Williams is also lining up, as much for the challenge as to promote one of the event’s official charities, one that she helped found, the CatWalk Trust.
“One of my all-time highlights was racing in New York in 2010, it was just the best thing I have ever done in my life! I went with 25 able-bodied friends and raised over $250,000 for CatWalk and SCI research and everyone completed – including an injured Mark Todd.
“The more inclusive any event is the better, for some it’s about competition but for me it’s about participation and having a physical goal. We have to work really hard at keeping our bodies healthy for day to day living and it’s always great to have an added reason to amp it up a bit.
“Plus, I can’t wait to cheer our inspirational CatWalk Trust Board Member, Professor Louise Nicholson over the line, she is an absolute inspiration to us all and a hero to me personally.”
The wheelchair athletes will make for a spectacular sight as they go up and over the Harbour Bridge towards the finish line. They are the first to start on the morning of the 28th, with the gun going at 5:58 am at King Edward Parade, with the first finishers expected across the line at Victoria Park not long after 7:30 am.
They will be part of a record-breaking 15,000 plus participants across the five race distances.