Two wheelchair athletes who competed in the recent London Paralympics are over for the Cayman Intertrust Half Marathon this weekend.
Ryan Chalmers and Brian Siemann are regular visitors to these shores for the 13.1 mile race and as a way of highlighting wheelchair sports, Chalmers pushed his racing chair 55 miles across Grand Cayman on Saturday.
Push Across Cayman celebrated athletes with disabilities and raised funds for Stay-Focused, a non-profit organisation based in New York that enables teens and young adults with disabilities to experience scuba diving at whatever level they can achieve.
The Push Across Cayman event was actually an early tune up for Push Across America in 2013, which Chalmers will do across the United States in his wheelchair every day over nine weeks.
Push Across Cayman began at Camana Bay at 6am with a 5K walk/run for the general public. Then they cheered Chalmers on for his epic journey which finished around midday at Camana Bay. There were lots of activities throughout the day at Camana Bay for adults and children, many of whom got signed photos of Chalmers.
One of them was Spiderboy, aka little Max McGeough, aged four, who took time out of his crime fighting exploits to line up patiently for his turn to meet a fellow superhero.
Roger Muller is the founder and president of Stay-Focused. “Stay-Focused is still a scuba diving programme but is has more evolved into a leadership organisation for kids who have disabilities and we’ve been coming to Cayman for almost 10 years offering scuba diving programmes for kids with disabilities,” he said.
“We’ve now certified 66 and each participant gets two week-long trips to Cayman so it’s a wonderful programme to enhance the quality of life of the participants we serve.
“Push Across Cayman was an event to celebrate all persons with disabilities and it was also the unofficial start to the Push Across America campaign.
“So Ryan who pushed 55 miles across Cayman on Saturday will push the better part of 3,500 miles between 6 April and 15 June next year, going from Los Angeles to New York.
“It is his way to give back to an organisation that has changed his life. He wants to build awareness for all persons with disabilities and also wants to raise some funds that will be used to create an endowment for Stay-Focused.”
Stay-Focused created the wheelchair category at the Cayman Marathon in 2008. Chalmers did the half marathon the following year and in 2010 and the following year they both came back to do the half marathon on Sunday 2 December.
They are hopeful that by next year Chalmers and Siemann along with other wheelchair athletes will be able to do the full marathon.
Muller said: “We hope to be able to shut off the roads from 5-7am for the wheelchair athletes to do the full marathon. I know that Rhonda Kelly, the race director, is keen to do that and hopefully she will get that done, then our wheelchair racers will really feel like full participants in the Cayman Islands Marathon.”
Chalmers said: “The longest I’ve ever gone before was 34 miles so this was 21 miles further than before. It was good and with the support I had along the way it helped a lot. I had cyclists come along with me.”
Apart from the Cayman Marathon, he will be making a presentation at the Cayman International School on 7 December.
“Brian beat me last year in the Cayman half marathon so he has the bragging rights. But I might still be sleeping from this 55-mile ride I just did so I might miss it!
“Just kidding. It will be fun. We also do when we come here.”
Siemann, 23 too, said: “I’ve been heading here since 2006. I’m hoping that Ryan is still tired out from the 55-mile ride and it will give me the edge to beat him.
“I love it here. The weather is always fantastic. The environment too. Everyone is always so welcoming. It’s really a great place. I come down here and really feel like I’m home.”