Wheelchairs and Handcycle Racing – 7 Excellent Races

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Hello Everyone.  My name is Kevin Mills and I am the Supreme Chancellor :-) at Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery and Wellness Centre. I thought it might be helpful to share with you 7 excellent races for those athletic individuals out there who are currently in wheelchairs. In February of 2009 I myself sustained a spinal cord injury when a wave drove me head-first into the sand while swimming in the ocean in Cuba.  I am a C 5/6 AIS A (quadriplegic).  I was a competitive middle distance runner in high school and I completed my first half marathon in October of 2008, a few months prior to my injury.

Before my injury I was training for my next half marathon and was hoping to beat my time.  I was also planning on attempting a full marathon.  After my injury, I worked incredibly hard just to be able to push myself in a manual chair. I decided I wanted to set the goal of completing a half marathon.  Over the next few years I completed 4 5Ks and 8 half marathons in my wheelchair with power assist e-Motion Power Assist wheels and a Freewheel wheelchair attachment.  In November of 2013 I purchased a handcycle from bike-on.com with Quad modifications.  Since then I have finished 1 10K, 3 half marathons, and 2 full marathons in my Quad Elite Handcycle.  Through this racing experience I have discovered which races allow wheelchair competitors and which events are better suited for handcycle and wheelchair participants.

The purpose of this blog is to highlight races relatively close to the Toronto area for wheelchair athletes who would like to start racing.  I have chosen to only look at races which I myself have competed in.  There are definitely more races out there which I have heard are great events.  My list is just a start.  Please keep in mind that I am looking at these races from the perspective of a quadriplegic athlete, so my criteria for what constitutes a good race may be different than a paraplegic racer.  A fast paraplegic in a handcyle or racing wheelchair will most likely stay well ahead of the running participants and will not have to worry about encountering a crowd.  For me, an earlier wheelchair start time than the runners is important as it allows me to stay ahead of the majority of the crowd.  I prefer a flatter course as I am way slower than a runner uphill but way faster downhill (reach speeds up to 55 Km/hr).  I prefer not to be in a large crowd of runners as it is difficult and annoying to steer around so many people.  I would also hate to accidentally crash into a runner.  For this blog a “wheelchair” is an everyday manual wheelchair with or without a Freewheel.  A “racing chair” is a longer three wheel chair with a single push rim that meets IPC (International Paralympic Committee) standards.  A “handcycle” has hand pedals with a chain and gears.

Here are my top picks for running races that include wheelchairs and/or handcycles:

1. Younge Street 10K  Toronto, Ontario. April 19th, 2015.

This race allows racing chairs and handcycles.  The race starts 5 minutes ahead of the runners.  It is a fast, net downhill course, which is a great way to start the season.  I was able to stay ahead of the majority of the runners.  You can participate in a wheelchair, but must start in the back corral.  Because of the downhill nature of the course you would be dodging a lot of slower runners.  Approximately 8000 participants.

2. Toronto Goodlife Fitness Half Marathon Toronto, Ontario. May 3rd, 2015.

This race allows wheelchairs in the half marathon only.  Handcycles and racing chairs are not allowed.  There is no wheelchair information or policies on the website.  I was allowed to compete by calling and asking the race director.  The entire course is hilly, with one really big hill.  I was able to place myself in any start corral but there was no lead-time.  I did not feel too crowded because of the wide streets.  Approximately 10,000 participants.

3. Walk It Off 5K Run-Walk-&-Roll  Newmarket, Ontario.  May 30th, 2015.

This is the premier event of the racing season! but I may be biased.  Wheelchairs are allowed with a 10 minute lead.  No handcycles or racing chairs do to congestion.  The race is held on a paved trail and is an out and back course.  We did not feel we could safely include handcycles but hope to involve them in the future.  It is a great race for wheelchairs as it is mostly flat with a few small grades.  The course follows the river the entire way and loops around a small reservoir at the turn around.  It is a smaller race, but has electronic chip timing, a finish/start line structure, posted results, and finisher medals.  Approximately 400 participants and a breakfast after!

4. Ottawa Army Half Marathon or 5K.  Ottawa, Ontario.  September 20th, 2015.

This race allows handcycles, racing chairs, and wheelchairs in both events.  There is a 15 minute lead time on the runners which allowed me to stay ahead of the crowd.  It is a beautiful course around the city with rolling hills, flat sections, and no big climbs.  Approximately 25,000 participants.

5. Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon  Toronto, Ontario. October 18th, 2015.

Wheelchairs and racing chairs are allowed, no handcycles.  There is an official wheelchair policy on their website.  Elite racing chair athletes start 2 minutes before the runners and compete in the full marathon.  I have not competed in a racing chair or on the full marathon course.  Wheelchairs must start in the back coral.  It is a very large race so it feels a little crowded despite the wide roads.  The half marathon course is mostly flat so once you are with runners going the same pace it is okay.  You can do the full marathon in a wheelchair as long as you can do it under the time limit (6 hours), which I can’t.  Approximately 30,000 participants.

6. Detroit Full Marathon Disability Division Detroit, Michigan.  October 18th, 2015.

Handcycles, racing chairs, and wheelchairs are allowed in the full marathon only.  This was my first full marathon, which I completed in my handcycle.  The disability division starts 2 minutes before the runners.  It is a hilly course with some really big climbs.  You go over the Ambassador bridge into Canada two miles into the race so all participants require passports.  With only 2 minutes lead time, this put me in a large crowd of runners.  The disability division is really well organized so I had two-three escort cyclists with me for the entire race.  They had whistles and were able to clear a path with minimal disruption.  This is a unique race as there are two international border crossings.  I choose this race over Toronto because they allow handcycles.  Approximately 40,000 participants.

7. Niagara Half Marathon Niagara Falls, Ontario.  October 25th, 2015.

Handcycles, racing chairs, and wheelchairs are allowed.  There is a 5 minute lead time on the runners.  This course is amazing as it is really flat for the entire race with a decline over the last kilometre.  It follows the Niagara river and ends at the horseshoe falls.  The road is wide so it never feels crowded and the lead time/flatness allow you to stay ahead of the runners.  Approximately 3,000 participants.

So here is my advice.  If you are a new racer using a wheelchair, the Walk It Off 5K is a great race.  All of the proceeds go towards purchasing equipment at Walk It Off, which is a not-for-profit spinal cord recovery centre.  It has chip timing with posted results and a really low entry fee.  If you are attempting a half marathon in any device, the Niagara Half Marathon or the Ottawa Army Half Marathon are the way to go.  They are both fantastic courses with good lead times.  If you want to do a full marathon in a handcycle Florida is the best option.  More on this in a future blog.

As always we welcome your feedback. You can connect with us by telephone or email, leave a comment right here on the site or stop by the centre.

Have a great racing season.


Preventing Illness in those with Spinal Cord Injuries

preventing illness in spinal cord injury patientsDiet and nutrition play a large role in our body’s everyday functions and overall well being. We have heard sayings such as “healthy body, healthy mind” or “you are what you eat”. As cliché as those sayings may be, there is no denying the truth behind them. As is true with everyone, proper nutrition plays a large part in reducing the occurrence of health concerns or preventing illness particularly for those living with spinal cord injuries (SCI) and more specifically, for those that are commonly related to the injury.

Diet and Prevention of UTI’s

One of the most common secondary health concerns regarding clients/patients with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are urinary tract infections (UTI’s). SCI clients/patients experience a heightened risk of developing UTI’s from the frequent need to perform intermittent catheterization to empty their bladders on a daily basis. The average incidence rate of UTI’s is 10.3 per 1000 catheterizations. Continue reading

The New Lift Walker for SCIs – Here at Walk it Off

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Here at the Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery and Wellness Centre, we are always looking for new and exciting ways to challenge our clients. We have recently taken the plunge and invested in a number of new assistive devices and exercise equipment to get those of you with SCIs moving. Most notably, the New Liftwalker  is a revolutionary piece of equipment designed to get people in wheelchairs up on their feet and walking. The most exciting feature of this device is its safe and convenient ability to lift individuals directly from their wheelchair – no transfers required.

Like us, Charlie Guitierrez, the designer of the New Liftwalker, believes that individuals in wheelchairs might be able to learn to stand, take steps, or perhaps walk again if they are provided with the appropriate tools to do so. This device will provide another alternative to our already available standing options, allowing clients to weight bear and retrain motor pathways with the hopes of one day being able to walk again. Continue reading

Celebrating 3 Years at Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery Wellness Centre!

27139389_sa copyOn Wednesday January 21, 2015, Walk It Off Spinal Cord Wellness Centre will be celebrating 3 years of operation, making a difference in the lives of people who have suffered a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). To showcase our achievements, we cordially invite you to attend our Open House on Wednesday, January 21st, 2015. Drop in from 12:00pm-5:00pm.

We would not be where we are today without the hard work and generosity of our many supporters. There are so many who have made Walk It Off what it is today; by volunteering their time, participating in our many fundraisers and many who have supported us with monetary donations. Our clients and their families make Walk It Off a unique environment. There is so much positivity and support which we see on a daily basis. We cannot forget the amazing group of SCI Recovery Trainers who have made the program such a success and made a difference in our clients’ recovery process. Continue reading

Olfactory Ensheathing Cells and Spinal Cord Recovery

Darek Fidyka
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In recent months, there has been a breakthrough in spinal cord injury recovery. Research has been looking into the possibility of injecting cells from other areas of the body into the site of injury to see if they can help repair and regenerate the injured cells of the Spinal Cord. Focus had been placed on stem cells for their ability to adapt and change into the cells of their surrounding environment. However, recently the focus has shifted to olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC). Continue reading

December Donations Discount Member Training/Therapy Fees at WIO

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The holiday season is one for caring, sharing, and being with loved ones. For those of you struggling to find the perfect gift this holiday season, consider giving back and donate to Walk It Off Spinal Cord Recovery and Wellness Centre. For the month of December, all donations received will go directly towards discounting members’ training and therapy fees. 

Throughout the rest of the year, we put all of the donations received right back into the facility to help purchase new equipment to assist in Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) recovery. This helps to subsidize the costs for individuals with spinal cord injuries who participate in SCI Recovery Training and Physiotherapy here. Continue reading

FUNDRAISERS, FUNDRAISERS, FUNDRAISERS!! – Benefiting Walk it Off this 2014

walk it off recovery fundraisingIt’s that time of year when we ask everyone to help us raise funds for our program here at Walk it Off Recovery. We are honoured to announce 3 fundraisers – all benefiting WIO this 2014 holiday season. Please mark your calendars for…

2014 Scarf Auction pic for fb1. 5th Annual Walk It Off Scarf Auction

As cooler weather approaches, so does the 5th Annual Walk It Off Scarf Auction Fundraiser – November 22-30, 2014! To ease into the season changes, think about adding a handmade goodie to your wardrobe to keep you or a loved one warm through the fall and winter. It’s also a great gift idea for the Holiday Season!

All of the proceeds from the auction go directly towards purchasing new equipment for Walk It Off. Continue reading

‘Total Gym’ Equipment for Spinal Cord Injury Clients at WIO

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The Total Gym (TG) is a piece of equipment recognized throughout the fitness community for bodyweight training, functional training, conditioning, and rehabilitation therapy. We are fortunate to have a TG at the Walk It Off facility that was generously donated by the DeHaas Family of Aurora. As you can see in the picture (left), we have one of our Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) clients, Kevin (C5/6 Complete), lying on an angled sled that can slide up and down on a guide rail as the client performs squats. The sled can also be locked in a stationary position. The Total Gym (TG) offers many benefits to a Spinal Cord Injury client because it is adjustable to suit the individual’s physical abilities, needs and exercise goals no matter the level of paralysis. Completing exercises on the TG allows the client to perform movements they would not usually be able to complete, in a safe and controlled manner with the assistance of the SCI Recovery Trainer here at Walk it Off when needed.

Please take a moment to watch this video of a client on the TG. Continue reading

New Beginnings Here at Walk it Off Spinal Cord Recovery Centre!

left to right: Matt, Alyssa, Rebecca (click to enlarge)

left to right: Matt, Alyssa, Rebecca (click to enlarge)

There are new beginnings happening here at Walk it Off Spinal Cord Recovery Centre! Three of our trainers are starting new chapters in their lives:

SCI Recovery Trainer/Physiotherapist, Shannon Davidson is hanging out a shingle as she starts her own physiotherapy practice based from her home in Bradford. SCI Recovery Trainer, Talal Chaudhry has been hand picked by Rugby Canada and given the opportunity to attend a Rugby referee development program in British Columbia. We all wish him luck as he gears towards refereeing at a national level. Lastly, SCI Recovery Trainer, Ashley Richardson will be completing a Masters degree in Kinesiology and Health Science at York University this coming year. We are not saying good-bye to Ashley. She will be reducing her hours here at Walk It Off as much of her time will be spent on her scholastics. Help us wish these tremendous individuals farewell and best of luck in their future endeavors. Continue reading

Spinal Cord Recovery Program – Whole Body Vibration Therapy

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As part of our spinal cord recovery program here at Walk It Off, we encourage our clients to get active and out of their chairs during their workout sessions. One of the components of a workout session is getting the clients standing with a trainer.  We are able to offer our clients the option to use vibrational therapy by way of the Vibe Plate during this standing session. Standing offers many health benefits to individuals with spinal cord injuries, some of which include increasing bone mass density, bowel and bladder function. The Vibe Plate uses Whole Body Vibration (WBV) technology, which offers additional health benefits to the individual standing on the equipment. It has been suggested that using the Vibe Plate for 10 minutes, three times a week will result in improved range of motion and flexibility, increased blood circulation and muscle strength, and increased bone density to help fight osteoporosis. Continue reading