World PH Day – a PHenomenal weekend of awareness, cycling, and the Pittsburgh marathon
World PH Day was on May 5, and just so happened to fall on a cherished weekend in our beloved city: the weekend of the Pittsburgh Marathon.
Awhile ago our friends at UPMC Sports Medicine invited us to join them, Team Freddie Fu, and UPMC Cycling Performance in marshaling the Pittsburgh marathon. To be truthful we were honored and very excited to be asked to participate in this great event, celebrating health, endurance and the showcasing the people and neighborhoods of our beautiful city.
For our team, marathon participation and our outreach effort began on Friday, May 3rd at the Convention Center Marathon Expo. Many thanks to UPMC Sports Medicine for inviting us to hang out at their table and meet runners that evening. While March was our first outreach event to the general public, this was our first outreach event to the endurance community, so we were pretty excited. The convention center was humming with people going in to get their bib numbers, T-shirts, and check out vendors and gear. In the busy buzz of the center, we handed out bracelets to children and PHA awareness cards to their parents, trying to explain a little bit about pulmonary hypertension, Team PHenomenal Hope, and ask them to learn more about us on Facebook, Twitter, the web. At public events it is not uncommon to hear comments like “I never heard of pulmonary hypertension.” And when we hear this, we know that what we’re doing is important. We continue to reach out, and hope that in so doing that maybe one or two or even more people know at least a little bit about this disease, that while there are medical treatments there still is no cure. We hope that raising awareness may someday bring support to find a cure.
Sunday brought an early start, each of up at 4AM or earlier. I left my house at 4:40AM to commute by bike downtown, enjoying the roads before cars were out and noticing I was out even before the birds started their morning chorus. The UPMC bicycle teams gathered near the starting line at 5:30AM. For many years, Eric Hodos and Fred Baldassare have organized the bike marshals – cyclists who ride on the course in front of different fields to help clear the streets and keep things running smoothly for the racers behind them. Due to expansion of the wheelchair division (including 2 racers in the half marathon this year), Fred, captain of Team Freddie Fu, asked us to join his team and help support the wheelchair racers in this race.
The sun began to rise, and we met up with our racers. These athletes included the fastest in the whole race (the winning time by a wheelchair or hand-cycle athlete would likely come in around 1 hour and 20 minutes – an average speed over 19 mph, and in some cases almost hitting 40mph on descents), and definitely included seriously strong athletes – everyone of them. We each introduced ourselves to an athlete to form our pair.
Because the wheelchairs and hand cycles are so low to the ground, and because our city is known for its hills, bike marshals are utilized to help make sure the athletes are seen, that fans are not crossing the street, and that the athletes know about road hazards like potholes or median berms over the crest of a hill or around a downhill corner.
To say the day was fun would be an understatement. To be honest, it was completely inspiring to each of us as we raced with (and at certain points sprinted to catch up to) our athletes. Riding with my partner, I gained a new appreciation for Oakland Hill – it is the steepest and a bit painfully long, giving people on foot a hard time. Now imagine climbing it with hand pedals, unable to shift your weight forward because you are on a recumbent cycle. That’s “powerful strong,” and it is bound to move you. That moment, and the times when RB was cat-and-mouse-ing it with other athletes, were extremely memorable. But the most incredible moment was when at 4 miles to go, he passes me on my right, and I realize that he’s got his 3rd wind, with this incredible sprint, so I push my pedals to get ahead of him and start waving him trying to do what I can to get him fast to the finish line.
Big endurance events like the marathon inspire us, and certainly inspire our team. People from elite athletes to first-time marathoners all set out to break some record, achieve a goal. Only one will take first place in each category, but everyone sets out to be a “Runner of Steel” as they call them in Pittsburgh – finishing in under x hours, better their time from the last marathon, or just finish. The city really turns out and people cheer as competitors pass by them (whether they know them or not) – and you hear cowbells, yelling and tons of clapping. Now imagine in the midst of all of this getting to follow an athlete along their entire journey, riding your bike, blowing a whistle, clapping, cheering till you are almost hoarse. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. It was truly a privilege.
Finally, a huge thanks for this very special opportunity to:
Bill Ankrom, David Tumbas and UPMC Sports Medicine
Fred Baldassare and Eric Hodos, who do an outstanding job organizing the wheelchair marshals and marathon cycling operations
Patrice Matomoros, Race Director, and the amazing Pittsburgh Marathon Staff
Additional thanks to:
Pulmonary Hypertension Association