Column: Return to normalcy

By Josh George

It was bound to happen eventually. All good things come to an end. This too shall pass.

Going into the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon last weekend, I was the reigning champion. I had won the last two marathons in Chi-town. The organizers of the race recognized me and knew my name. Reporters wanted to ask me a question or two. It was fun while it lasted, but the racing gods found it fit to return things to the way they should be. My wins had come over depleted and relatively weak fields. This year the marathon successfully attracted its deepest field in over five years.

The weekend started out like every other marathon weekend. The wonderful people of the marathon organizing committee made it possible for the U of I racing team to stay at the host hotel, the Hilton Chicago. I quickly got into running mode after my first trip through the lobby.

“Hey you pushing the marathon?”

“Yeah. You running it?”

“Yeah. Good luck.”

“Same to you.”

It’s a very exciting conversation that only marathon runners get to have. Don’t we feel special? But of course.

At dinner Friday night, my first night in the city, I knew that it was time to compete. As a wheelchair athlete, I have quickly grown accustomed to the notion that it is not a wheelchair competition until somebody in the group gets approached by a well-meaning soul who happened to have once known somebody in a wheelchair. Someone who perhaps used a wheelchair for a day once, and feels utterly compelled to make their story known to a real life person in a wheelchair.

You’ll never guess who it was that approached myself and teammates at dinner. It was none other than Mega Body. Who is that, you may ask (I was indeed wondering the same thing)? Mega Body is none other than a big time male dancer who spends his time traveling the world dancing and promoting his new book. He also apparently spent two years in a wheelchair once after a car accident. Seeing a group of young people in wheelchairs cruising into the restaurant, he felt it was his duty to track us down and tell us that our stories were inspirational and that we, like him, should write books about our lives.

I was in the marathon spirit. A downtown hotel filled to the brim with a hodgepodge of masochistic runners, businessmen and a man promoting books called “G-String Dreams.”

And then it was actually time to race, the time for the racing gods to take action for a return to normalcy in the wheelchair-racing world.

I must say, I felt all right at the start of the race. A pack of six quickly developed in the front cruising at around 17 mph. I found a comfortable spot in the back and let my arms adjust to the pace and the frigid air.

It was at an ‘S’ curve around mile nine that things went sour for the defending champion. Coming out of the curve I had fallen off of the back of the pack. Struggling to catch up I couldn’t close the gap before rounding another corner into a wall. That would be my demise. After falling off the pack I spent the remainder of the race thinking that if I were faster the darn race wouldn’t take as long (yeah you’re a real genius when the muscles in your arms suck all the oxygen out of your brain to fuel their movement).

In the end I took fifth, beaten by my coach, his good friend, an ex-world record holder from Switzerland and a man exactly twice my age. To be fair, Krige Schabort, the man twice my age, not only smoked me, but also smoked everyone else in the race, too, before breaking the tape.

That’s how it goes sometimes. I was booted off my pedestal, as is the way in competitive sports. Fortunately for me, the American Dream has no greater playground than in the world of athletics. An even playing field and a fresh slate is all an athlete needs to change their fortunes. Adieu.

Josh George is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]