Canadian 10K champion, Josh Cassidy, won the 44th Shepherd Center Wheelchair Division of the AJC Peachtree Road Race yesterday, 15 seconds ahead of second place Josh George of USA… but he almost didn’t make it to Atlanta for the race.
Earlier this week his 10 hour flight back from a Grand Prix event in Birmingham, UK, turned into a 34 hour journey with interruptions in Newark. After delays, cancellations, a night at the airport, and rerouting, Cassidy’s $6000 state of the art racing wheelchair was ‘lost’ in transit by United Airlines. Josh missed several training sessions this past week between travel delays and the missing equipment, a critical amount to maintain performance for competitions of this level – his usual regime is two training sessions a day, 6 days a week.
He managed to piece together and old racing chair to train eventually Tuesday night, but it didn’t feel quite right.
Cassidy compared it to “running in an old pair of shoes that don’t fit properly anymore.”
When there was no sign of his chair by Wednesday morning, Cassidy had to cancel his flight, and tell the organizers he wouldn’t be racing. Later Wednesday afternoon he finally tracked down his equipment at customs at Toronto Pearson Airport.
Josh decided he needed to still try and make it to Atlanta and “give it a crack”.
“I went in [to Toronto Pearson Airport], found the box containing my racing chair a demolished crumpled mess. Checked it out, looked like the chair was in one piece, packed it back up, went upstairs and booked a new flight, got into Atlanta around midnight, got my chair and rain gear ready, went to bed around 2 am, up 3 hours later, and was on the line for the 6:45am start.”
“I really didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I really hoped I would make top 5, with the field there. It has been tough in the usual post-olympic year financial slump.. really needed to try and win some prize money to continue funding training. I knew the scenario wasn’t optimal, but I had to block that out.”
“My coach [Amanda Fader] was laughing at me.. she knows I thrive off of these chaotic situations. I think she knew if anyone could win after a week like this, it was me. I think I just love accepting the challenge of doing the improbable when everything seems to be going against me.”
The race started at 6:45 a.m. at Lenox Square with the temperature at 70 degrees. In wet and rainy conditions, the 6.2-mile course was wheeled under yellow-flag conditions signifying ‘exercise caution’ because of the weather. With the rain, there is always issues with grip between the gloves and the wheels for wheelchair racers.
“As soon as it is raining, you can’t expect the same results. And you can expect a higher chance of crashes, especially on the downhills where we hit nearly 60km/h here.”
Cassidy has competed in the Peachtree Road Race several times, and won in 2010 in 18:53. “I know the course, but I had difficult competition in Joshua George, Krige Shabort, Aaron Gordian, Richard Coleman and Gyu Dae Kim who all seem to be in good shape. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but I knew that I would give it hell to the finish.”
Cassidy broke away on the long arduous climb at Cardiac Hill, around the halfway point of the race. “I wasn’t expecting to get away like I did, and I had to ignore the pain and the doubts and focus all my energy into every stroke, as I worked hard up those tough few kilometres in the rain.”
Cassidy’s finish time was 21:26, with Joshua George of the USA coming in second at 21: 41. Third place was taken by Krige Shabort, in 21:50 also USA.
“I am really happy and really proud of this one. I needed this. It was an excellent winter of training followed by some misfortunate happenings and unfortunate results this spring. After taking some needed time off in May, I am still working hard to get back to where I want to be. But this felt closer to being me again.”
Cassidy’s next big races are at the World Championships in Lyon, France starting July 20th.
Check out a video of his hard gruelling climb and ‘break’ here: http://www.11alive.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=2525742412001