Archive for October, 2008
We all know that Roger Bannister first broke the four-minute, but most of us don’t know the others who tried. Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee like Bannister searched for the “perfect race” when training, weather, track surface, and competition combined for “the perfect mile.” Each, by virtue of training and talent stood on the cusp, but who would be first? Bannister possessed a crushing final kick, Landy’s fitness reigned superior, and Santee a combination of both. The three revolutionized training methods. Bannister fit purposeful training sessions into his days as resident in neurology. He also studied the body as it approached and bypassed exhaustion. Landy ran under the veil of darkness—torturing himself with long, fast intervals in a nearby park while his family slept. Santee competed for the University of Kansas, turning in World Class times in events ranging from the 800 through the 10,000
As I read Neal Bascomb’s The Perfect Mile, I couldn’t help but project myself in the role of protagonist—couldn’t help but imagine my quest for Kili somehow approaching the four-minute mile. I started to add intervals to my training in the hopes of adding speed. In the past when I’d thought of Kilimanjaro, I’d considered it a long grind, but speed would help me get to the desired locations more quickly and before darkness fell. With speed would come power to surmount obstacles. And there was a race. Darol Kubacz and Jimmy Goddard both planned to be the first paraplegics to summit unassisted. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to be first—to in some small way approach a feat like Bannister’s—to be first. At the time the four-minute mile had seemed as elusive as reaching the highest point on Earth. Bannister’s father had said as much to him—the four-minute mile and the peak of Everest are all that remain. Bannister and Hillary knocked those off in the span of a year. Like the four-minute mile, Kilimanjaro in a handcycle has proven elusive. There have been at least five attempts, with none really coming close.
Darol took his second run at the mountain in August. Reading the blog on his website: www.uhuruascent.com, I marveled at his pace and long days. In five days, three climbing and two off days, he made it to Kibo hut at about 15,500 feet. He logged two eleven hour days and one fifteen hour day. During my June trip, I never climbed longer than eight hours, and even those were miserable thanks to temperatures that plummeted with the setting sun, about six pm. Darol climbed for another seven hours after sunset, and he climbed through miserable rain and mud conditions. As a feat of strength and will, his climb escaped comparison, but the mountain caught up. Pulmonary edema forced Darol to descend without a shot at the summit. Like those in the race for the perfect mile, I need to learn from Darol’s attempt. He obviously has tremendous fitness, but altitude thwarted his attempt. My fitness is coming. I’ve had numerous good four and five hour climbs—one day climbing over 2,100 feet in 5 hours. I also lowered my Nowhere Elks climb record by four minutes, finishing in 34:25. The Nowhere Elks day Dave Penney asked me, “Is this your regular pace?” I said, “No. I’m flying.” Flying or not, we’ll aim for shorter days than Darol—about 1500 feet vertical a day. Our pace will mean more time on the mountain, but hopefully a better shot at the elusive top. Summit day or the descent would be the only days that we might push to darkness, and only then if we can get up and return low relatively quickly.
The four-minute mile captivated the world. Bannister’s name and achievement lit marquees throughout the world. For me, the summit is the top of the mountain and it isn’t. I achieved many proverbial summits in my life: gold medals, World Championships, but none achieved what I consider the ultimate summit: “To get noticed.” I spent last month in Beijing for the Paralympic Summer Games, the second largest event in the world this year with approximately 4,000 athletes, yet there was minimal to no television coverage in the US; www.paralympicsport.tv and Universal covered the Games on the web, yet it’s a shame that American viewers couldn’t stumble over the Paralympics while clicking their remote. It’s too bad that only existing fans watched the Games, and it’s too bad that many missed some of the greatest sporting achievements of the year.
For me, the climb is about reaching the top, but it’s about so much more. It’s about the genesis of ability—that spark that starts a journey from something inconceivable to something realized. At times, my spark has been completely internal. After my accident I knew that I had “to do it myself.” No one else could recapture my life. I needed to know that it was all me, but as I moved to disabled sports I learned so much from the people around me. I learned from Jim Martinson, twenty plus years my senior, about the youthful joy of hard work and physical exhaustion. I watched Sarah Will, all 80-90 pounds of her, strive to be the fastest monoskier in the world. At one point she beat almost all the men in the world. I watched those with doubts—the ones just starting out—and I watched the light bulb go on. I learned from the training of wheelchair racers like Scot Hollonbeck, Saul Mendoza, and Heinz Frei—and marveled at athletes like Jeff Adams ability to fight out of seemingly impossible situations on the track to reach the finish line first. Those around me pushed me—helped to create that spark—that genesis of ability.
Is it a race? Yes. It’s a race to get noticed–to get the Paralympics on TV–to tell the story.4 comments