Wednesday, January 26, 2022 Jan 26, 2022
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Q&A With Justin Meaders

The wheelchair race director of the White Rock Marathon has some advice for you: stay out of his way.
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Justin Meaders. photography by Nick Prendergast

Q: I heard your first foray into wheelchair marathons didn’t end well. 

A: It didn’t. In 2004, the half marathon and the full marathon courses came back together. I was the first wheelchair racer coming. A half-marathoner guy was running. I guess his family was across the road, and he was going to run across. I had just crested a hill. And when you’re pushing really hard in a racing chair, it’s hard to look very far down the road because you’re pushing down. When I looked up, my front wheel was passing his leg. I hit him actually with my back wheel into his leg, and it flipped me. It broke my wheel, and it even broke my helmet. That was at, like, mile 22, so I only had four miles to go. There was no going anymore. So that marathon was finished.

Q: How difficult is it to maneuver a wheelchair through a marathon course?

A: It is a lot of work. It’s kind of a self-inflicted, beat-you-up thing. When I finish races, sometimes the insides of my arms will be bleeding.

Q: Ouch. But even so, you’re still able to get a pretty good time.

A: A 1:45 is my fastest marathon. [He has won three times.] I’m hoping to have a pretty good time this year at White Rock.

Q: What’s the BostonMarathon qualifier?

A: Two hours.

Q: Do you want to go to Boston?

A: I guess. It’s more a lot of hype than anything. There are some good racers there. It’s weird, too, because actually the amount of wheelchair racers at Boston is going down.

Q: How many wheelchair racers generally do White Rock?

A: Three or four. This year, we’re hoping for close to 10. That’s what I’m trying to do as the wheelchair race director is get more racers to come. It just seems like it gets harder and harder every year to get people to come. A lot of racers are fair-weather racers.

Q: In a wheelchair, bad weather would be difficult.

A: In the rain, it’s bad, bad, bad. It’s kind of dangerous. The only brake is on the front wheel, and the front wheel is a lot smaller, and there’s not much weight on it. And then even when pushing, the rubber on the gloves and the rubber on the push rims, they don’t have good contact and they slip.

Q: Do you ever coast?

A: Oh, yeah, yeah. Every wheelchair racer’s favorite thing is downhill.

Q: What about the opposite of that?

A: The thing I tell people is that a racing chair goes downhill like a brick, but it goes uphill like a brick, too. Uphill, that’s where you’re doing all your work. Every muscle that you have that will work, you’re using it to its fullest potential going uphill. But then you get the downhill. If I have to push very long uphill, I better get a downhill.

Q: How’s the White Rock Marathon course?

A: I like the course. It’s the only race I do where I can jump in the middle of these trolley tracks and just push down the middle of the tracks. That’s exactly what I do, too, when we’re coming down McKinney where the tracks are. The road is kind of rough otherwise. I just hop the tracks and get in the middle where it’s concrete, and then push all the way down McKinney on the tracks until we turn.

Q: How do you use water stations if your arms are busy?

A: I don’t. I have a small CamelBak. I have tried to take water from water stops before, and if you get water on the gloves, or Gatorade or whatever, it’s bad.

Q: Tell me about the accident that put you in the chair.

A: I was 22 and racing motorcycles in College Station. That was a crazy day, actually. I started way in the back of the pack. I had to work my way through the pack, so I was making some fairly crazy passes. I did one pass that was really crazy on the outside of everyone else. You go into this turn at 180 probably. I made it work. But when I tried the exact same thing again, it didn’t work. I probably hit the ground at 150. It actually tore my rib from my spine. I was waiting on paramedics to get there, and I remember thinking, “I hope I’m not lying in a bed of ants.”