Wheelchair athletes compete for the first time in Blue Nose 5K race
Haligonians soak in the beautiful weather as they wait for the youngsters cross the finish line during the Doctors Nova Scotia Blue Nose Youth Run. (Photo: George Reeves)
HALIFAX -- A wheelchair athlete came in first in a race in downtown Halifax, leaving runners and walkers in his dust.
Crowds cheered and fog horns blared as Josh Cassidy crossed the finish line, breaking records for the five-kilometre event with a time of 11 minutes and 24 seconds.
On Saturday, six athletes participated in the inaugural wheelchair race in 13 years of Blue Nose competitions. The group left the gate five minutes before runners set off on the same course.
Some wheelchair athletes beat the vast majority of approximately 2,500 competitors, with the fastest runner lagging around five minutes behind Cassidy.
The paralympian holds the world record for the fastest marathon in a wheelchair. In a speech before the event, Cassidy said the inclusion of wheelchair racers sets a powerful example for potential athletes of all abilities.
"It's so important for us to acknowledge the heroes in our communities," he said. "That allows all of the local kids with disabilities to see ... the possibilities that are out there."
Blue Nose chairman Rod McCulloch said the wheelchair "showcase" was added to this year's event because there isn't a lot of opportunity for these athletes to show off their talents.
"The idea is to have that opportunity to see them in action because they don't normally get that kind of an audience," said McCulloch.
McCulloch said the wheelchair division is an experiment. He said organizers plan to have a post-mortem with participants to determine if the division should be included in future Blue Nose Marathons.
Ryan Shay, a 22-year-old student originally from Yarmouth, placed fourth in the division. Exhausted after long, winding course through Halifax's hills, Shay said the throngs of spectators kept him energized as he crossed the finish line.
"It really shows that people are ready to back us," he said. "Back 20 years ago, I think people would shy away ... but now everyone's getting a little more comfortable."
Shay was injured in a car accident three years ago that left him with no sensation below his chest. He said racing against world-class athletes like Cassidy reminds him that a disability can be a blessing in disguise.
"(Before) I was a very competitive athlete, but I was never going to make it to the NHL," he said. "Now that I've done this, it's opened new doors and new opportunities ... The paralympics are in sight."