Wheelchair user to compete in Eppie's Great Race Saturday

07/20/2012 12:00 AM

07/22/2012 2:23 PM

Patrick Scott is no stranger to Eppie's Great Race. He helped organize the first race in 1974 and has participated in nearly 30 races since, having completed about 15 of them in the Ironman division – kayaking, bicycling and running.

But this Saturday, this Great Race veteran will experience a first as he participates in the race as a limited quadriplegic.

Scott, 65, lost the use of his legs and fingers last August in a bike accident on a street in Orangevale.

On Saturday, he will complete the running portion of the race as a member of an adaptive team that includes his son and daughter.

Scott will be using a special wheelchair that has been equipped with levers to "run" the 5.82 miles that are required of him before his daughter, Sarah Crook, 37, bikes 12.5 miles through River Bend Park.

Crook will then hand off the team wristband to her brother, David Scott, 35, who will paddle his way down 6.35 miles of the American River to finish the race for Team Crazy Spokes, as they call themselves.

"I was told after my accident that I had no triceps and I refused to believe that," said Scott. "My muscles had atrophied so much that you couldn't notice them, but Eppie's has been my motivation to get them back."

Scott's children and sister, Sue Scott Williams, will walk alongside him during his portion of the race to ensure that his wheelchair doesn't veer off course.

"Everyone's coming out to support me, and to keep me from rolling into the dirt," Scott said.

Scott was out for a casual bike ride with friends Aug. 21 when his front tire suddenly stopped, causing him to flip over his handlebars and land on a speed bump. The accident left Scott with a smashed right shoulder blade, four muscle tears in his right shoulder, six broken ribs and a broken neck.

"It was supposed to be an easy ride," said Scott. "I still don't really know what happened."

Scott was originally taken to a local hospital but was soon transferred via helicopter to Craig Hospital in Denver.

The Colorado hospital specializes in the rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, and while they tend to accept younger patients with a greater rate of recovery, Scott's history of athleticism persuaded the hospital staff to offer him a bed.

"Over in Denver, that's where they really saved my life," Scott recalled.

The accident cost him the use of his legs and fingers, but Scott retained the use of his arms.

His medical condition is referred to as limited quadriplegia because of the limited use of his fingers, explained Scott's wife, Carol.

Despite his injuries, however, Scott was determined to maintain his athleticism.

"Before the accident he was riding (his bike) 100 miles a week, going to the gym two or three times a week, golfing three times a week and hitting balls at the driving range two or three times a week," explained Williams. "And after the accident, well mentally, he was still an athlete."

Scott knew he wanted to keep Eppie Johnson's annual race as a part of his schedule.

"I told the paramedics, 'I'm going to do Eppie's,' " said Scott. "That's one of the few things I remember from that day."

At Craig Hospital, Scott worked toward this goal by undergoing six hours of physical therapy a day over the course of three months. When he finally returned home to Mather, he started working out on his own by lifting weights and taking his manual wheelchair out into the street.

As he began to get his strength back, Scott realized he would need something better than a typical wheelchair to make it through the entire 5.82 miles that Eppie's demanded of him.

"He doesn't have a normal grip," said his wife, "and it was really hard for him to throw (the wheels of) a manual wheelchair."

In February, Scott met with Brian M. Watwood, founder of the Wijit Lever and Braking System, who introduced him to a wheelchair that appeared much better equipped for him and his physical goals.

Watwood, who became a limited quadriplegic when he was hit by a car, designed the Wijit system to prevent upper extremity injuries in wheelchair users. According to Watwood, the system reduces the effort it takes to self-propel a chair by 50 percent and cuts the number of daily pushes in half.

"Because (the Wijit) was designed and conceptualized by me, and I'm a disabled person, it's intuitive for another disabled person, like the Patrick Scotts of the world, to use," said Watwood.

The Wijit system provided Scott with the mobility he needed while also allowing him to work on strengthening his arms and core.

Since February, Scott has ventured out into the street several times a week to prepare for Saturday's race, and has even gone over to the race course to accommodate himself to the terrain.

"I don't know what there is about Eppie's Great Race that motivates people to work this hard," said founder Eppie Johnson. "It's great. It makes people want to do their best."

But this Saturday isn't the end of the road for Scott.

After Eppie's, Scott plans on joining his neurosurgeon in an attempt to put together a team to run from San Francisco to Calistoga in September, a total distance of about 75 miles.

"I'd have to do 18 miles for that," said Scott with a smile. "I'm not stopping with Eppie's."

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