Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Boston Marathon Story

The first time I ever got a paid writing gig was covering The 1994 Boston Marathon for the fledgling Adidas America corporate newspaper, L’adidas. Jay Edwards, who was corporate America’s equivalent of Ken Kesey, started the paper to cover the unique corporate culture that defined the early days of Adidas America in Portland, Oregon.

They covered athletes, business departments, corporate events and publicly mocked a deserving employee each issue. In the Feb ’94 issue L’adidas announced its’ first ever writing contest, a 100-word essay on why you want to write an article from the Boston Marathon. The prize, of course, was an all-expense paid trip to Boston to write said article.

I had been a big Bill Rogers fan as a teen and was familiar with some of the legend of the Boston Marathon and Heartbreak Hill. I submitted my entry which was a story of how my mother ran the Boston Marathon pregnant w/me and gave birth to me in the middle of Heartbreak Hill. She never got to finish that race, so I had to go and finish it for her!

A lot of this is his fault. I'm lucky to have had drinks a few times  with Bill Rodgers over the past few Portland Marathons. He is as crazy as this looks. (cheapseat.blogs.starnewsonline.com)


Edwards got a spit take from the entry and I ended up on a plane to Boston. Although my Boston Marathon article was nowhere near as memorable as my entry (some people at Adidas actually believed my story!), it was in fact my first paid writing gig. And I never really looked back. That’s all I wanted to do from then on.

Fast forward to 1998 and I found myself working full time for L’adidas as an actual corporate reporter – albeit still working for the Ken Kesey of corporate America. I was also in a wheelchair having taken a horrific spill on my bike. One day Stephen Hamilton, from the Soccer Unit, came down to our office and announced he’d just signed up for one of the spots on the Adidas corporate team for the Boston Marathon. Adidas has always been the equipment sponsor for the race and is given a few non-qualifier entries. (Qualifying for Boston is VERY difficult.)

Hamilton looked at me and said, “How ‘bout you, Tommy – you in?” I gave it very little thought and said, “Hell yes, I’m in – as long as I can get a racing chair.”

1999 L'adidas Boston Marathon Edition



Edwards over heard the conversation and said, “You just start training and I’ll find you a racing chair.”

And so during the cold damp winter months of 1997-8, I began rolling 5-6 mile lunches and 10-20 mile Saturday mornings. Come Patriots Day I was once again covering The Boston Marathon for L’adidas, this time kneeling in my brand-new Quickie race chair sponsored by Adidas Retail Outlets – which coincidentally was headed up by Jay Edwards. It also must be noted that ARO did not have a promotional budget as such, so you can guess where the money for the chair came from.

At the time, the Boston Marathon was the de-facto World Wheelchair Championships and I was severely out of my league. Not only had I not qualified, I’d never even done the distance before. And I’d only had three weeks to train in the new-fangled racing chair.

But out of the gate I went letting all the big-time wheelers blast ahead of me. After a nervous start, I found a comfortable pace and the wonders of Boston slowly unfolded before me. The craziness of Hopkington was replaced by a bit of rural New England then an actual crowd roar as I rolled into Natick. The timbre of the crowd shifted to soprano as I passed Wellesley and before I even felt tired I came upon the Newton Hills. These hills weren’t as nasty as the ones I’d trained on in Oregon, so when I came upon Heartbreak Hill, where my imaginary mother had given birth to me, I charged it w/all my might. From then on it was all a blur as every magical inch was accompanied by a consistent and deafening roar from the crowd, sometimes 3-4 deep.

Eventually I hopped on Beacon, passed Fenway, and smelled the homestretch. Before I knew it, I turned on to Boylston and saw the greatest stadium in the history of endurance sports – the arrival of the Boston Marathon. Five lanes wide ending in a giant blue sign with those golden letters 'FINISH' dominating the horizon. Spectators were 6-8 deep and the bleachers along the last few hundred meters were packed.  I was greeted with a massive roar which I hadn’t heard since my days as a show diver. I was the 50th and second last chair on the course and I thought to myself, “Man, these people just loves ‘em a crip race!” What I didn’t realize was that the eventual female winner, Fatuma Roba, was just a few paces behind me and the crowd was actually cheering her. But WTF – I had the best seat in the house!

Completing the Boston Marathon led to more significant competitions - like this drag race in the suburbs of Delhi in 2000


Had I arrived at this same point on Monday, this is where it all would have ended. A police man would have come up to me and told me to stop.  In 1998, I ended up finishing the race, getting a medal placed around my neck, then meeting up w/family and friends who showered me w/hugs, praise and beer. It was my statement to the world that I was back! My legs don’t work, but screw that! I just did the muther-fukking BOSTON MARATHON!

It changed me forever. It made me whole again.

And this is the feeling that some deranged freak robbed from thousands of people yesterday. Aside from the lives they ruined, they took away that sense of fulfillment that can only come from crossing the finish line of the muther-fukking BOSTON MARATHON. There is no level of disdain describable that is as low as I feel for the culprits of this cultural rape.

Marathoners being held up just short of the finish.(Boston Globe)


Whatever your sick cause is, you have destroyed it. My cause is hope. My cause is effort. My cause is victory. And even if you blew my ass to kingdom come you would never be able to destroy that.



8 comments:

  1. And Hope is what you bring, when you write about wheelchair adventures and other sports stories. Thanks for the insight.

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  2. Margo - I never knew you ran a marathon! :-) Ha!

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  3. Tom, This is an incredible account and brought shivers to my spine. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your inspiration.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Katie! Now let's find and quarter these arseholes.

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  4. What a great insight into this "cultural rape" as well as a good read. Keep up the good work!

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