"I worried to death waiting for her to cross that line," Bill Greene said of Charla Ramsey's first marathon. "Charla's first year it took her five hours in 50-degree weather, in the rain."
Which is an admirable time for a 16-year-old whose previous track exploits strictly had been sprints.
But Ramsey did not cover the 26-mile 385-yard D.C. Marathon on foot; she did it with her arms and a specially designed wheelchair.
Ramsey is a member of the New Life Capital Wheelchair Club. Under the coaching of Greene, she finished last year's Marine Corps Marathon almost 90 minutes faster than her first marathon attempt.
New Life's athletes, who train at Gallaudet College, recently returned from the 29th National Wheelchair Games in Edinboro, Pa., and the Fifth National Amputee Championships in Hempstead, N.Y. Ramsey, a Southeast Washington resident who was born with spina bifida, was back to sprinting in those events. She won bronze medals in the open 100- and 200-meter events in Edinboro with times of 20.5 and 42.34 seconds, respectively.
Ramsey is one of several New Life club members who have achieved national status in wheelchair athletics under Greene's tutelage.
Sacajuwea Hunter, 15, also from Southeast, took the silver medal in the open 1,500 and placed third in the open 800 in Edinboro. Her time of 4 minutes 41 seconds ranks her second fastest female wheelchair racer in the country for the 1,500.
"Saca did that 1,500 in the rain," Greene said. "She followed the pack, which meant water from the other chairs flew back in her face. But she's that kind of competitor -- she's tough."
Hunter lost both her legs before she was 2. "Having no legs is actually an advantage. She's light," Greene explained. "Her big body frame makes her a natural for distances, and she's always flexible. She never complains. She always does the best she can -- quietly so."
"The hard work, oh boy, the hard work," Hunter laughed. "It's terrible, but I like it, that's all. I have to like it to do all that work (Greene) puts me through even though that's torture he puts me through. But you might as well not race if you don't really want it and work for it because you won't get it."
Anthony (Blazin' Slim) Harris, 31, of Alexandria, proved he wanted it by winning five gold medals at Hempstead. He was timed in 17.3 for the 100, 38.3 for the 200, 2:41 for the 800 and 5:14 for the 1,500. He broke a national record with his time of 1:19 in the 400.
"Slim has been in and out of track for the last 11 years and put it together this year. He really earned it," Greene said.
Harris and Hunter will travel in February to the World Amputee Games in Sidney, Australia.
Daisy Boyd set a new national record of 31.49 for quadriplegics in the 100 in Edinboro.
"Daisy was the bronze medalist in everything for the last five years, so it was great that this year she got first place in the 100," Greene said.
Boyd, a senior at Woodson High School and a Temple Hills resident, said track gave her the initiative to get out and be active. She is working this summer at the International Sculpture Center in Georgetown and is thinking about applying to colleges.
Which is exactly what Greene, who was left a paraplegic by a shooting accident when he was a teen-ager, hopes to achieve.
"We're teaching skills to get around the city," he said. "That's what we're after. It's not just play.
Rochelle Harrod, 7, of Northwest Washington, has been running track (as the athletes call their wheelchair skills) only a matter of weeks and is already showing promise.
"Rochelle complained the whole 10 days we practiced in the heat," Greene said. "Then she took off like a shot the day of the race (the second annual National Junior Wheelchair Competition in Fishersville, Va.). Her mom says she's better; the school says she's zipping up and down the halls. She's developing little muscles." Rochelle's mother, Denise Harrod, said, "There's been a big change in Rochelle. She wants to do everything for herself. I think it's good for the parents to see that the kids don't have to sit home and mope. They can do anything they want to do, no matter how they came into the world."
Greene started New Life, which has about 60 members, in 1971 with his wife and codirector, Brenda Greene. There were no children's programs at the time, and he saw a need.
New Life track competitors start practicing for the season in February. "You've got to be tough to come out in the evenings when that wind is blowing," Greene said. "They learn that life has a lot to offer. There may be some uncomfortable things, but they can make it no matter what. That's a skill."
Six days a week, the athletes push around the track, in the February chill and in the July heat. Training for events such as the marathon can mean up to 18 miles of pushing a day. They also lift weights and swim.
"I've always got four or five parents mad at me," Greene said. "But that's okay. There's always a little kid out on the track crying. And I'm real good at saying, 'You can cry, but you've still got to do it.' "