We’re wheely up for it

Two wheelchair athletes will be competing in the Cayman Islands Marathon a first for the annual event but hopefully not the last time as the organisers consider allowing physically challenged individuals to participate in future races.

Ryan Chalmers and Brian Siemann, both student athletes on track scholarships at the University of Illinois, will each do approximately 6.5 miles in the four-person relay in their racing chairs.

They will be a part of Teams Stay Focused I and Stay Focused II.

Stay-Focused (Cayman) is a charity organisation that enables teens and young adults with disabilities to become certified scuba divers.

The programme is designed to build confidence and teach valuable lessons about overcoming challenges.

Stay Focused founder and president Roger Muller learned about the Cayman Islands Marathon on Sunday 7 December last year and decided to participate in the 2008 event as part of a four-person relay team.

‘When I realized no wheelchair athletes had yet participated in the marathon, I thought it would be great to involve a couple of our divers,’ Muller said.

‘Many of our divers already compete in track at the highest level. In fact, two Stay-Focused divers are presently competing in the Paralympics in Beijing.

‘Stay-Focused has certified 35 teens and young adults in diving over the past four years, all in Grand Cayman, and we work with Caymanian youth, offering Discover Scuba experiences to teens and young adults at whatever level they can achieve.

‘I think we have been very successful in building awareness in Cayman about the potential of persons with disabilities.

‘By having Ryan and Brian compete in the Cayman Marathon, we hope to build on this achievement.’

‘When Roger approached us about having wheelchair athletes participate in the Cayman Islands Marathon, we thought it was a fantastic idea,’ said Rhonda Kelly, Cayman Marathon race director.

‘Not only will it enhance our event and offer another option to potential participants if it goes well, but more importantly it will showcase the amazing talents, discipline and strength of these athletes who have overcome great physical challenges and gone on to lead successful, active lives.

‘We are so excited about having Brian and Ryan join us.’

Siemann said: ‘I want to participate in the Cayman marathon because I feel that it is going to be an unforgettable experience.

‘Being one of the first two wheelchair athletes to ever compete in the marathon will give me the chance to race a country where I never thought I would race, and it will also allow Ryan and myself to show the people of Cayman that we are versatile athletes.

‘We can scuba dive as well as do other sports such as track. My own personal goal is to set a new personal record for my normal 6.5 mile race.’

Kelly says that after the race, she and the rest of the organising team will gather feedback from other runners, volunteers and the Royal Cayman Islands Police to assess the feasibility of opening up the race to wheelchair athletes in the future.

Online registration for the Cayman Islands Marathon, half-marathon and four-person relay is available at CaymanIslandsMarathon.com.

Participants can also do walk-in registration at the Kelly Holding office. For more information log on to CaymanIslandsMarathon.com, email [email protected] or call Sue Greene on 946.8822.

The Cayman Islands Marathon is sponsored by Digicel, Department of Tourism, Ministry of Education, Gatorade, Flowers Bottled Water, Corona Light, Cayman National, Atlantic Star Limited, Sagicor, Breezes By the Bay Restaurant, Cayman Free Press, Kirk Freeport, 106.1 KISS FM, Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort, Island Companies, ESSO, BioFreeze/RVC Rehab Services, Quaker, Red Sail Sports, CUC, Royal Bank of Canada, Audi, Tropicana, RE/MAX Cayman Islands, Million Dollar Run, Inc. and The Final Touch.