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The Tribune Chronicle
Saturday, July 15, 2000
Spinning his wheels:
Champion man rolls to victory in Veterans Wheelchair Games


By Dave Dorchock

Darrel McCauley has his own set of hot wheels and it has nothing to do with toys.

The 37 year-old Champion resident won four track gold medals in the 20th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in San Antonio last week. He captured the 100, 200, and 400 meter events as well as the 5K road race. In addition, he finished second in the shot put.

The field of more than 600 athletes from 40 states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain made this the largest annual wheelchair sporting event in the United States.

McCauley was injured in an elevator accident aboard an ammunitions ship in 1985. He suffered nerve and spinal damage. The ongoing problems forced him to become completely wheel-chair dependent on a wheelchair over a year ago.

"About four years ago, I had to quit working and after I went into the wheelchair, I didn't know what I would do with the rest of my life," said McCauley, who was married in March.

"I ran track and field at Champion (High School)," said McCauley. "It was an opportunity to start doing it again."

"Now I look forward to this (racing)."

The national event in San Antonio was held on a high school's all-weather track. The lane widths were the same as a regular track meet.

"The sprints are tougher because you have to stay in your lane," said McCauley. "It's hard to keep the chair set up to go straight."

And the curves for the 200 and 400 are just as tricky for the three-wheeler.

"There is a special compensator bar that you hit and you have to time it with your strokes," said McCauley of making the turns.

And when the turn is completed and if the chair isn't going completely straight, athletes use their body to raise their front wheel to get back on track.

McCauley won the 100 in 20.88 seconds. He covered the 200 in 43.20 seconds and the 400 in 1:36.00.

"It takes a lot to get your speed up," said McCauley.

Earlier this year in the state wheelchair games, McCauley won the 1500 and was second in the 100, 200, shot put and the slalom, which is an obstacle course. He was third in the javelin.

His time in the 1500 and distance in the shot put qualified him for the nationals, but he did not compete.

To strengthen his body, McCauley uses light weights and puts in plenty of time on the road.

"You don't want to get your arms too bulky. It interferes with pushing," he said.

McCauley puts in 10 miles a week along with doing sprints.

He works out locally and at the Cleveland Veterans Administration Hospital. In addition, the VA purchased the personally fitted three-wheel racing chair for McCauley.

"We have a coach up there that helps us," said McCauley. "There are three of us who race together. We meet twice a month."

Meanwhile, McCauley won the 5K road race in 21:21.

"I go to a lot of road races (locally) with my wife and sons," he said. "There are quite a few that have divisions for wheelchairs in Cleveland and Akron but not too many around here."

He recently finished the Cleveland CVS 10K in 43 minutes.

"We get anywhere from a minute to five minute head start," said McCauley of the road races.

He's currently around the seven-minute mile, far short of the four minutes professional racers need to cover the distance.

"My fastest was a 4 mile sprint on flat roads," said McCauley.

While runners don't have too many concerns while racing, McCauley is constantly checking the road surface as well as the contour of the course.

"You have to be careful of bumps or cracks in the road or the gravel that can spin you out," said McCauley.

And he has done that several times. He is strapped into his chair, so spotters on the side of the road or able-body runners help him up.

Manhole covers and the grooves in the road, especially on concrete where the slabs meet, can be real headaches.

"The tires are real thin and they can get stuck in the cracks in the road," he said. "That's just part of racing for me. I have to roll over everything. The able-bodies just step over them."

And going up hills can be a disaster. Not only is it all arms, there is a greater risk of tipping.

Still, McCauley enjoys it.

"I like the competition," he said. "It's a race against the clock, but I also like to see how many able-bodies I can beat."

In the shot and javelin, the competitors are strapped into special chairs that are anchored to the ground.

He finished second in the shot last week with a distance of 6.9 meters (22 feet, 7 inches).

He also won an exhibition race in handcycling in 15 minutes, 19.67 seconds.

"It's a three-wheel bike that I peddle with my hands. The peddles are by my chest."

And McCauley plans to keep up his racing.

"You don't go to win," he said of last week's National Veteran games. "You root for everybody. It proves to a lot of them that there are things to do with their lives. It's the sense of accomplishment.

"I never thought I'd push a 10K race. Once I found out I could do it, I kept on going."

He certainly has.