WHEELCHAIR RACE ADDED AS PERMANENT FIXTURE AT ASB AUCKLAND MARATHON
It was a day to celebrate for all wheelchair athletes today, with confirmation that the ASB Auckland Marathon will include a wheelchair race permanently on the race schedule, after the success of last year’s pilot event.
In making the announcement on the edge of the waterfront course in Auckland today, Race Director Adam McDonald said the decision comes off the back of that hugely successful pilot event, and the contributions of a number of agencies and stakeholders.
“We simply would not be at this point without the work of Achilles New Zealand and the Halberg Disability Foundation. Both were instrumental in getting the pilot off the ground and have since provided great support and considerable expertise to enable us to announce today’s exciting news.
“We went through a thorough debrief of last year’s event and with the support of ATEED, NZTA, Auckland Transport and ASB, we are confident we have the infrastructure and knowledge in place to commit to the wheelchair category at the ASB Auckland Marathon.”
Today’s announcement featured the presentation of a custom built race chair by ASB to budding para-athlete Laura Stuart, with ASB head of community and sponsorship Mark Graham thrilled at news of the wheelchair category and even more delighted to present the chair to Laura.
“The ASB Auckland marathon is all about progress - seeing people set their personal goals and then work hard to achieve them. The inclusion of a wheelchair category last year really opened up the event to allow more people to ‘run it their way’, and we’re excited this is going to be a permanent addition.
“Laura really highlights the dedication and perseverance it takes to complete an event like the ASB Auckland Marathon. She hasn’t let anything stand in her way, and we’re looking forward to seeing her at the start line this year.”
A Wellington-based Lawyer, Stuart was involved in a mountain biking accident two and a half years ago that left her paralysed from the chest down.
The sporty 31-year-old hasn’t let this stop her however, borrowing a racing wheelchair from a friend and competing in the New York marathon just a year and a half after the accident. The new purpose-built race chair will make the world of difference to her future aspirations.
“Borrowing a race wheelchair to do the New York Marathon was a bit like borrowing the wrong sized running shoes. Having a chair built to fit hopefully will be like getting the right size shoes. I imagine it will give me the freedom to get out and go for a roll without noticing the chair,” said Stuart, who flew up for the announcement.
Stuart is already imagining what it will be like with her new set of wheels.
“Firstly, I'd like to feel like I can roll out the door and pick up some speed. Then I'd like to be able to roll as fast as I previously could run - and be able to complete marathons faster than my one and only running marathon.”
Aside from her own delight in receiving the gift from ASB, Laura knows that the permanent addition of a wheelchair race at the ASB Auckland Marathon will reach far and wide, and impact many lives.
“It's fantastic and sets a great precedent. I hope that more events realise that it's actually not hard to be inclusive and follow suit. It will hopefully increase the exposure of wheelchair racing and encourage more people with disabilities to get out and be active.”
Achilles New Zealand are great champions of athletes with a disability, and were delighted at today’s announcement.
“Achilles New Zealand, after such a successful pilot programme last year, is excited to be working with IRONMAN and ASB to further develop the ‘Wheelies’ category for the 2019 ASB Auckland Marathon.
“This now opens a new opportunity not only for our New Zealand athletes but also International athletes who have already expressed interest to participate after hearing how successful 2018 was. We really appreciate the supporting organisations that have made this happen.”
McDonald echoed those sentiments, suggesting the sky is the limit for the ASB Marathon Wheelchair category.
“This is a hugely exciting day for us and for our event. We are delighted that the punt taken with the pilot event and the many hours of work from a number of different stakeholders has paid off. We can now set about planning a stunning event on October 20 this year, one that will have a world class wheelchair race as one of the day’s many highlights, as participants take it to the streets of Auckland to truly ‘run it your way’.”
Entries for the wheelchair category (and all other race options) are open now on the event website www.aucklandmarathon.co.nz and are made by applications that will then be vetted by an expert panel including representatives of Achilles New Zealand, the Halberg Disability Trust and ASB Auckland Marathon organisers.