This has been quite and undertaking, trust me. There is so much consideration that has gone into this list and the accolades that follow these athletes are too many to mention in one post. This my friends is a slippery slope indeed. Where could this begin and end. When you think about the broad based history of the sport there are so many to give attribution to, so many who have created change, so many who have accomplished great feats and yet there is only so much room for those who stood out above the rest. If you need a refresher as to some of the criteria I laid out in Part one, do so now. And with that, I am going to jump right in with the best of the rest in no particular order.
The Best of the Rest
I’d love nothing more than to put every racer on this list and the ensuing list of my top 10 at the top of the hill in Hopkinton, in a specially made carbon chair, have them all be at the top of their game and say GO! That woulds certainly purify this list and make this task much easier. That is just not possible. What is also not possible is to take all subjectivity out of this equation, after all I am not a robot. But I can make this promise, I will do my absolute best to keep this as objective as I can.
Krige Schabort, Craig Blanchette, Jim Knaub, Paul Wiggins, Doug Kennedy, Rick Hansen, Scot Hollonbeck, Bob Hall, George Murray, Paul Van Winkle, Philippe Couprie.
Seriously, this list could go on and on. While some are here because they were just flat out great athletes there are others here for what they brought to the table as trendsetters and pioneers who bravely forged a very tough path. For every bathroom door I had to squeeze into, and for every airport I struggled with in the mid 80’s, could you even imagine what it was like in the late 60’s and 70’s for guys like Murray. Not only this, but no matter how tough public perception is on our community even now, consider how much rougher is must have been then. It would be possible to say something about nearly everyone on this list, however that is just not reality. But I will highlight several for consideration.
Bob Hall was idolized in Boston. I often heard him called “Boston Bobby” for what he did in that archaic folding Everest and Jennings chair with just a few alterations. Bob went on to be the principal chair organizer for Boston and as well one of the major manufacturers of racing chairs and skis at Halls Wheels. Bob did a lot to put us on the map in a very prominent environment and did so with honor. He should be forever recognized for his historic contributions.
Every time Mike Tyson fought in the 80’s someone bought the pay per view. We would gather with our beers, not so much to see who was going to win, as much as just how quickly Tyson would lay his opponent out on the canvas. We had to start the party early to get through just a few beers. That was what it was like to race Jim Knaub on the road from 1990-1993. We toed the line, the gun went off and before you knew it you woke up on the canvas with smelling salts under your nose! Seriously, Knaub knew one way. He took the race to you and never let others dictate, especially when it came to the distance races. He won Boston 2x in the 80’s and 3x consecutively in 91,92 and 93. In 1993 he laid out a course record performance of 1:22:17. Beyond that Jim had a lot to do with the advancement of the race chair. With Fortress, he kicked out the length of the chairs, brought extruded aluminum tubing into the design for rigidity and used the first Zipp Carbon fiber solid disc wheels in the Boston Marathon. If only he had raced in the Paralympics and captured a few gold medals he would clearly have made the top 10.
Flamboyant, fast, hill climber and so much more. One of the toughest guys to leave off the top 10 list. Blanchette dominated any shorter distance race on the road where there was a hill of consequence. He won the Bloomsday 12k many years in a row and did the same at the prestigious Peachtree 10k in Atlanta. What Craig did for the chairs in the world of racing was easily paralleled by what he brought to the table with his personality. Showing up to races with a new hair color, professionally made Nike skin suits, the latest Oakley glasses and just a spirit that captured the spotlight. Blanchette made his focus the 1500 meter Exhibition event at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 where he was pretty soundly beat by Mustapha Badid. He had put so much emphasis on that race that he passed over the Paralympic Games that followed a week later. Had Craig squared off against Badid the Games in 88 and beat him, he would instantly be kicked up into the Top 10. He though had a stellar career and continues to represent us in fitness to this day.
How much pressure did this man feel as he entered the LA Coliseum for the first 1500 meter exhibition event in 1984? For that matter all the racers who made that cut, both men and women. Hipping their chairs around the corner, inches from one another in a stadium packed with something like 50,000 people screaming. It must have been insane. Just knowing that a crash would probably end the prospect of ever doing that again. I tuned in that day to see these races and it was epic! Van Winkle broke away and beat the field by a large margin which alone was impressive. Having come into the sport only very recently, I knew nothing about these people, however it left an impression that stands to this day. How much weight can you put on this 1500 meter gold medal? A lot in my opinion. Though I have been told of how truly incredible this mans career was, and furthermore how important he was to our history, he still sits just to the outside of the the best of the best. Nonetheless, what he did should be cherished and remembered as a special moment in our history.
This is a tough one. If anyone sat on the cusp of greatness it was Schabort. In 2002 he won the NYC Marathon beating both Van Dyk and Mendoza. Its so hard to put a guy on the outside when he has won the Peachtree 10k 2x, the Riverside Rumble 10k Championship, oh and has a silver medal in the marathon from the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. That speaks to just how hard it is to crack into the top 10. Still active these days promoting the sport and having success in hand cycling we should remember Schabort as one of the best.
As just a kid starting out I got a call one day from Women’s racing legend Candace Cable. She told me about this Canadian guy who was wheeling his chair around the world and that he was passing through Southern California. We (Candace, Peter Brooks and Rafael Ibarra) met him on a chilly morning in Newport Beach to do one leg of the days journey. You can only imagine how starstruck I was on that day! Rick had already made a mark in racing but had dedicated himself to the the Man In Motion Tour. Incidentally, the St Elmo’s fire song is about Rick, if anyone didn’t know that as of yet. The trip took him through 34 countries and he has utilized his voice through his foundation to “change perceptions and breakdown barriers.” (this pic is Rick on the Great Wall of China.) I once heard a high level racer at the time tell me that if there was one guy he both respected and feared, it was Hansen. Though there was obviously a chance that Rick could have been one of the best of the best, he instead embarked on a journey that was maybe bigger than just winning races.
Perhaps my idol as I came into the sport was George Murray. George had this quality that made him both popular and marketable. Well spoken, dedicated to his sport and all around a humble champion. Murray won the Boston Marathon as a fairly high level para which gave many with upper level injuries hope that they too could succeed against the best. In 1985 he won Boston for the 2nd time in a time of 1:45:34, a course record. George brought a great many attributes to the table including partnering up with Chris Peterson to form Top End. George and fellow Paralympian, Phil Carpenter completed a trip cross country that culminated with the book, Continental Quest.
You want to know exactly how tough this list gets to narrow as I drop down into the top 10? When it was all said and done I had to move the legendary racer Mustapha Badid to the Honorable Mention page. His body of work though highly distinguished was just over two years of dominance. Moose had many significant wins including the 1500 Exhibition event in Seoul 88. Not only that, but he was the face of that Paralympic Games. With no steering allowed, Moose made his chair just dance through the turns, and for anybody who was part of the “hipping era” of track, that was no easy task. He collected gold in the 200, 1500, 5000 and the marathon. On the road he was no slouch either winning the Boston Marathon in 88 and 90. In the 1990 edition he became the first man to eclipse 1:30, going a stunning 1:29:53! Though it was a short career at the top nobody will ever forget the impact he left on the sport.
In the very initial paragraph I mentioned some very talented racers who rode the cusp. Scot Hollonbeck and Doug Kennedy were two of the most determined men in American racing history. Frenchman Phillip Couprie was second too many times in Boston to count and even managed to grab a win there. Australian Paul Wiggins gave Blanchette a real run for his money on the seriously hilly courses. This list could have been longer, perhaps much longer. There were so many who made a difference both athletically, socially and historically. Drawing the line in the sand has been hard, harder than you could ever imagine. The respect I have for those who came before me, those I raced head to head with and those I had the good fortune to witness race is just immeasurable.