UTICA, NY- Thousands of people will come out this Sunday to run the Boilermaker, but the wheelchair division has become a growing field too.
Hermin Garic is now one of the elite wheelchair racers in the Boilermaker, but he used to be able to run.
Garic, a wheelchair competitor, says “I was injured in 1994 out during the Bosnian War. I was struck by a grenade shrapnel. Then when I was being transported to the hospital, the ambulance crashed itself into a lake because of mortars and all these different explosions around it.”
Hermin may have lost the use of his legs, but not the drive to win. “I started off doing the wheelchair challenge, which in itself was an accomplishment as well, because doing the wheelchair challenge means pushing the Boilermaker in a standard wheelchair in under two hours and fifteen minutes to win a racing chair.”
That challenge came with a lot of hard work, but Herman isn't afraid of putting in the effort, and his motivation came at an early age. “It's been a long road as far as training goes and racing goes, I started off with the Go-the-Distance team with WKTV, and it was a very fun time in my life. I was very young. So the training was very new to me and racing was very new to me and it was exciting. Still to this day it is.”
And come race day the excitement helps push everybody along, but if people get in front of a wheelchair racer it can be distracting. ”It breaks your concentration. And you don't want anything to go wrong, but there's also individuals who have headsets on and you know it is difficult to stay focused once you have to tell someone else what to do and where to be. And it's not really a team sport and team effort once you get going in that race so it's definitely difficult.”
There are many challenges wheelchair racers face when going through the Boilermaker.
While thousands of people come out to run the boilermaker every year, imagine what it's like to push through it.
Garic starts his day a little tougher than the runners. He has to load up his wheelchair and deal with his regular chair, transfer to his racing wheelchair, strap himself in, and put on his gloves, and that's before the race even starts. Then there's the challenges of the race.
Garic says, “Some of the challenges you have to worry about are the runners at first. Because once we get going down those hills you got to scream chair on your left, chair on your right. You definitely end up with some blisters on your hand if they're not calloused enough. You end up with scars on your arms I should say.”
And roads play a critical part in wheelchair performance. “You know it slows you down, definitely the potholes do. You could get seriously injured if you end up tipping over in a certain situation that's not paved, but the roads play a major issue.
And something else you might not have thought about: wheels. “You know we don't have a NASCAR pit crew waiting for us somewhere or something like that, so basically you change the flat on your own whether you want to continue the race or not that is. If you do want to continue the race you change the flat and you're on your way.”
But even with all the challenges that face wheelchair racers, there's a motivator that keeps them going strong. “You know the crowds, they can see you're having a bit of a tough time, so they just kind of, with that extra energy motivate you by saying you know, keep on going, you're almost there, you're almost at the top. You know they're yelling, they're screaming you know you got it, don't stop now, so it's just that extra motivation that you kind of get from the crowds you know.”
So when you see Hermin Garic come through the Boilermaker this year, use your arms and give him some support.