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Wheelchairs Lead The Way In 15k

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2013 at 03:28 AM
TAMPA -

The fastest of the fast in Saturday's 15k were the elite athletes in the wheelchair division, several of whom smoked the course with sub-35 minute times in a chase for a prize purse going nine places deep in the open division and offering $1,500 for the first-place male and female.

The men's wheelchair winner was 24-year-old Joshua George of Virginia. Even though he was injured when he was young, he said he never slowed down and was captivated almost immediately by wheelchair racing.

"Wheelchair racing was one of the very first sports I got into when I was a kid," George said. "I stuck with it for the past 15-plus years, and since then I've been all over the world racing and I love it."

It was that type of determination that propelled George out of the tight pack in the final moments of Saturday's race and into first place at 31:57.

"It's always fun when you get to sprint into the finish line," George said. "You have people around you, your heart jumps in your throat, you get a little nervous rush - but it's fun."

Nothing could keep Diane Roy from defending her women's wheelchair title - including some foul weather.

Roy drove 27 hours from her home in Quebec to win the 2009 race with a time of 37:58.

"I like this kind of course. At home, it's windy and cold," Roy said. "It's a flat course, fast, with no hills here."

But it's not just the beautiful weather or environment that drew Roy from her home in the frozen north.

Saturday's race marked the first day of training for Roy, a session that will last more than six weeks and will transfer over to Orlando in preparation for marathons in London and Paris.

Although she was tired, Roy told herself "to keep pushing" and that type of motivation led to her second consecutive victory.

FULL-CROWD SCENE

After a walk-up crowd of 2,200 turned up Friday at the Tampa Convention Center, Gasparilla officials were forced to close registration for the 15k and 5k for the first time in the event's 31-year history.

It's not that Gasparilla officials believed the course had reached its capacity. They simply ran out of the race bibs and the disposable timing tags that runners tied to their shoes. They also ran out of race T-shirts and medals.

Runners were allowed to sign up and compete in both races with the understanding that they would not have an official time and that their shirt and medal would be mailed to them later.

Another record was set in the 5k, with the crowd exceeding 9,500. A field of 4,500 signed up for the 15k, bringing the total just 100 short of the combined record of 15,100 set in 1991. Race director Susan Harmeling said there is still room for the 5k to grow, but she's not certain how big it can get.

GONZALEZ TOPS LOCAL FIELD

Iraq war veteran Elias Gonzalez of Tampa, a two-time winner of the 15k race, was the first local male finisher in Saturday's event. He took third overall in 49 minutes, 12 seconds.

Gonzalez is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States in 1990. He attended the University of Tampa, where he twice earned All-America honors competing in cross country and track.

Gonzalez said he would like to run in the Boston Marathon after winning a similar race while serving in the military in Iraq.

"I won the 'Boston Marathon' that they had in Iraq," Gonzalez said. "It was the same name and the same distance, and I got a time of 2:34, so I think I can do pretty well."

MASTERS OF THEIR CRAFT

It's hard to believe, but Tampa's Dror Vaknin, the former University of Florida star who coaches local age-group runners and is an assistant at the University of Tampa, is 41 years old. It is not surprising, however, that he dominates the masters (over 40) division at area races.

Saturday was no different, as Vaknin earned top masters honors in the 15k at 51:20, an average of 5:30 per mile. The first female masters finisher in the 15k was Tampa's Lois Waite, 41. She has overcome some recent injuries and appears back in form with Saturday's performance, running 59:19 (6:21 per mile).

Taking second was 46-year-old Christy Phillips of St. Petersburg, who finished in 1:03:08.

The grand masters (over 50) winners were Michael Day, 50, from Howey-In-The-Hills. He finished in 54:42. Tampa runners Anthony Black (56:02) and Fred Dorsey (58:35) were second and third.

Dorsey also ran the 5k in 19:45 and will run the half marathon today. The trio of races is a combined event called the Bud Light Challenge. There are 250 runners entered, and another 52 will compete in the Michelob Ultra Challenge, which includes the 5k, 15k and marathon.

The women's grand masters 15k winner was St. Petersburg's Denise Skinner, 53, who covered the course in 1:04:59, just under 7-minute mile pace.

Bill Ward, Jeffrey Jones

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