NYC Marathon Escort Recap

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Anonymous's picture

Today, many of us worked as volunteer escorts for the NYC Marathon elite wheelchair and handcycle athletes, organized through the NYCC and NYRR. We picked up the athletes in Brooklyn as they came off the Verrazano Bridge and up 4th Avenue.

After a few clusters of wheelchairs came flying off the bridge, my turn in the escort line was next. Another cyclist and I went with an athlete from Mexico who eventually caught on to a group of 3 in the Sunset Park region. At this point there were 4 or 5 cyclists escorting this group of 4 athletes, so I went ahead 1-2 blocks to be sure the roadway was clear. It was smooth moving into downtown Brooklyn and Ft Greene, but chaos in Williamsburg – there was still traffic on and crossing the streets! Plus, a school bus was parked diagonally across the road and loading passengers! In haste, a few of us stopped the vehicles and managed one clear lane for the athletes to go through.

After this close call, I stayed a bit farther ahead of our group of 3-4 athletes to watch for any other unusual circumstances… and there were. Old ladies crossing the street! A double-parked delivery truck! We earned our keep escorting these athletes through Williamsburg.

In Long Island City, the road was more clear and open and I noticed that the pace seemed to be getting a little faster. Looking back, I saw that a single handcycle had joined and then passed the group of wheelchairs. Trying still to stay ahead, the pace was growing tougher than expected. After few miles of several switchbacks through the industrial streets, we were going up the 59th Street Bridge at an astounding rate. Onto First Avenue and this handcyclist seemed to turn on the gas. Somewhere before Harlem, the leading wheelchair athletes and motorcycle escort were in sight, maybe 6 blocks ahead.

At this point, I knew he would catch them so I slowed up to let him fly by. There he was – muscle packed into an incredible torso and huge set of arms. He was pounding away at his machine with unending rhythm and power. Wearing a white jersey with green and yellow stripes, it was an exact replica of the national champion’s jersey that Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady have recently worn in international cycling. Watching him work, I had a sense this handcyclist did not just buy his “Australia” jersey from the local shop; he was the real deal. A later Google verified it – he is the Australian handcycle champion.

Those lead wheelchair athletes ahead going into Harlem? He caught up and went right by them, taking the lead police and motorcycles along with him. I stayed with this lead wheelchair group of three athletes as they crossed into the Bronx and back down Fifth Avenue.

The final outcome?

Todd Philpott, 1st Place handcycle, 1h17m.
Saul Mendoza, Krige Schabort, Kelly Smith, 1st, 2nd, 3rd Place Wheelchair, 1h33m.
2nd Place Handcycle, Theo Geeve 1h34m. (scroll down for Philpott’s bio)

A worthwhile morning – can we do it next year?


Anonymous's picture
Keith (not verified)
Great experience!

I was riding with and just behind the lead group of the elite wheelchair particpants, when one of then had a blowout a mile or so before the 59th Street Bridge. Man, these guys were flying. Luckily I had 16g co2 cartridges with me, because a standard road pump, Zefal or otherwise, never would have fit into the disc wheels he was using. These guys were using tubulars as well. It was the fastest flat change I ever did, but he lost too much time to catch up. I never did get his name, but I believe he finished fourth or fifth.

Anonymous's picture
Keith (not verified)
Fifth Place

5th Place - Aaron Gordian Minz (35) MEX 1:41:25

Anonymous's picture
Tim Casey (not verified)
continued from the Bronx to finish


Thanks for the re-cap. I was with the leading 3 wheelchairs all the way and up through Manhattan's 1st ave. The bridge into the Bronx got a little scary as it narrowed down to 1 lane, lead vehicles slowed down a bit, orange carpet on the grating (thanks to ING) felt like pedalling through mud. Suddenly I was surprised to hear an Aussie cursing me to get out of the way. Todd Philpott took over from there. Michael Steiner was able to stay with him. I tried to hang on with him as well. The pace vehicle with the time clock on the roof pulled over to let him pass and they remained in front with the wheelchairs. Todd yelled to me, ""Hold my water bottle. My holder is f**ked."" So I took it, thinking I'd ride with him and when he needed it, he'd ask politely for a drink. Instead, he must have felt liberated of the 7 oz. that I was now carrying, and he dropped me like yesterday's news. I struggled to catch him again but he maintained 22mph+ going up 5th ave. Michael Steiner was with him until the Engineer's Gate. I watched him enter the park from a distance of 4 blocks.

Anonymous's picture
Paul Spraos (not verified)
A great day

My guy was mid-pack in the wheelchair division. He finished half-an-hour behind the leaders.

I agree with Scott that Williamsburg was by far the hairiest part, but we made it through without incident.

On the climb up the 59th Street bridge, his front wheel kept lifting off the ground. The bridge was virtually deserted, so if he'd tipped over without an escort he could have had a long wait for help.

For much of the race, I was actually escorting two athletes. My guy and another racer (plus his cyclist) were going at the same pace for many miles.

At one point, we were passed by three hand cyclists who were accompanied by a single bicyclist. I'm not sure, but I think the other cyclist went off to help with the hand cyclists.

That left me to cover two guys, which was fine until my guy started to pull ahead. I had to make a choice and I went with him rather than wait.

This leads me to a suggestion for next year--since we have more cylists than racers (45 to 36, I think), some of the cyclists should wait down the course rather than all starting at mile two.

That way, there would be a reserve of cyclists available to join the guy I had to leave behind and help with the three hand cyclists-to-one bicycle situation.

Personally, I found it highly gratifying to be able to help. Before the event, I was not sure that I'd be able to add much value. After the fact, I have no doubt.

Anonymous's picture
Judith Tripp (not verified)
Wow! Sounds like you guys did a tremendous job . . .

People do underestimate the speed of the handcyclists and wheelchair racers, and they just seem to get ever faster! It sounds as though you kept them out of a lot of very real trouble and did a really great job; it can't be easy and plus they're so busy working hard they're probably more likely to yell at you than offer thanks! Good job.

Anonymous's picture
Heidi Sadowsky (not verified)
NY Times Coverage
Anonymous's picture
Richard Rosenthal (not verified)
Rosenthal weighs in--p.o.ed to hear the Williamsburg story

"This evening I am writing to thank each of you who volunteered. That note will contain thoughts and suggestions some of you have made. A good one made here—as embarrassing as that is—is to position some of us down the course with fresh legs. The embarrassment is that we can't hold these athletes from the get-go.

Not the least remarkable thing of the day is that, unlike previous years, everyone who voluteered showed up! That, alone, speaks mighty well of the NYCC (and the two, maybe three non-club members who were part of our group).

I was especially pleased to learn Keith was so able to repair a flat, and do it so quickly and so well, and that he had the foresight to have a CO2 cartridge. As it was a tubular, surely the athlete had a spare...or is there some tubular design I'm not aware of that seals itself?

In Brooklyn one of the athletes took a wrong turn--well, the problem was: he didn't turn; he plunged straight ahead on a slight downhill. And why not? The cops who were attending that corner were chatting up one another instead of minding the course. Credit to the athlete for being able to stop and turn around his machine so quickly.

In 1993, I think it was, I was enraged as I lead a wheelchair marathoner through Williamsburg when a religious school bus driver (""religious"" is an adjective, here for ""school,"" not the man, although his appearance would suggest he was that, too), seeing us coming, and, to a certainty, hearing me yell at him, then seeing me interpose my bike between him and the competitor, nevertheless continued backing up into the path of the oncoming marathoner. Clearly, he saw getting his religious school children (see above adjectival talk) to their school those few seconds sooner as paramount to our safety. I'm sure it is only in my in my head that I feel disdain and utter non-caring by those in that community for those from outside that community...if you get what I mean.

This year it was only in Williamsburg that I recall cross streets where there were no police saw horses (barriers) or no police at the cross streets. Is that so as not to affect some religious sensibility? I remonstrated the police a few blocks away to protect those unprotected cross streets. Do you think they did?

Here is my even greater grievence against the non-policing of the roadway. A Budget truck driver was having a fine time riding down the closed-off streets, making great time. I yelled at the police to wave him off the course. They didn't. Now a mile or two later the handcycles are bombing down the down slope of the Pulaski Bridge at great speed. There is a very sharp, acute angle turn at the foot of it--more than 90º. I repeat: they were at speed. What I mean is: they were going friggin' fast. So, of course, you want to open the angle and set up for it by swinging wide in preparation for the turn. ...Which brought the athletes right on line to plow into the back of this truck that was on the road, in the turn, at the bottom of the down slope.

I railed at the police to get the truck off the road! So they opened up a barrier for him. Did they give him ticket for being on the closed road? No, he went on his way. It was pure happenstance no athlete plowed into him.

Well, of course, I'm just venting my bile here. Look, you guys did great! We were complimented on our work by Bob Laufer who was the director for the New York Road Runneres of the elite wheelchair and handcycle event(s). At least as of this writing, we are invited to do next year what we did this year.

I think, no, I know we can do even better. I'll be interested in learning if some our volunteers didn't have the capability to keep up with any of the (slower) athletes for whom we were ""responsible."" ...Not that any of them struck me as being slow; remember, these were just the elites we were sheparding. If so, I hope to be able to exclude volunteers whose good will and wish to be part of this leads"

Anonymous's picture
mike (not verified)
same last year for WC and hand cycle athletes

i was watching last year at 125 street and witnessed the same police apathy and disregard for the elite WC and hand cyclist coming through. i informed the captain on site, he discounted the situation, refused to have his men stop the traffic and pedestrians from crossing at 125 street as the athletes came zipping through. . it seems the police do not give the WC and hand cycles elites any service, the police were there in full force on 125 street, and were to busy chatting up each other, drinking coffee to perform the function they were assigned to. even after i saw a near miss with a elite wheelchair and a pedestrian crossing and reported it to the captain in charge ,he still refused to do traffic control. they should be doing what they are dispatched and assigned to do.
i called the 311 to register a complaint and followed up with a letter to the mayor last year

Anonymous's picture
Keith (not verified)

I have to admit, I saw the same thing once we crossed into Manhattan - the surprisingly complete disregard of the police officers and the residents of the area for the wheelchair participants coming down Fifth Avenue. I couldn't believe that people were crossing the street so casually and turning their heads away as they were coming by. I guess the marathon was an inconvenience to their morning routine. The athlete I was escorting came within just a couple of feet of some people in the crosswalk who completely ignored our whistle blasts. The officers who were standing there did nothing. There were a couple of more close calls before we crossed 110th Street.

Anonymous's picture
Basil (not verified)
Marathon simulation

"If you haven't seen this and enjoyed the marathon, you can plug in your favorite racers (choose up to 4 by name or number) and watch them ""race"":
Go to Marathon simulation.
Tip: If you enter several racers who stayed together throughout, you will not be able to see them separate so, for best effect, include some who were not always together on the course.

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