The second annual Capital Wheelchair Races held yesterday at Gallaudet College in Washington featured more than their share of fast times, close competition and exciting stretch duels.
Overshadowing the event itself was the spirit of the participants. If size of heart were the sole criteria, all of the approximately 60 competitors, ranging in age from 8 to full-grown adults, would receive gold medals.
Shouts of encouragement resounded throughout the afternoon as the athletes urged each other on, knowing that the person they just cheered could be their competitor in the following race.
Winning is as important to these athletes as it is in any other sport, but, according to Charla Ramsey, 14, "going and competing is the real fun."
That is the real essence of wheelchair track and field, and the classifications are geared accordingly. The athletes are grouped according to their disabilities, and it makes for competitive racing at all levels.
Ramsey, the current world record holder at 1,500 meters in her class is the youngest ever to win a gold medal in international wheelchair track and field. She won four events yesterday, the 5,000 meters (her first time competing at that distance), 1,500 meters, 800 meters and 200 meters.
In each event her times were fast enough to qualify for the National Wheelchair Games to be held in Hawaii this June.
Ramsey's Capital Wheelchair Athletic Club teammate, Sacajuwea Hunter, ranked in the top three nationally at three different distances in her class, won two races (the 800 meters and 200 meters) and was second in the 5,000 and 1,500.
The girls are good friends as well as teammates and, Ramsey says, "It helps me a lot 'cause I know Saca's a fast runner, so she makes me go faster."