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Paul Dean

Marathoners That Boggle the Mind

February 28, 1987|Paul Dean

The complexion of Sunday's Los Angeles Marathon melds the sweaty severity of Pheidippides' first 40K to the sweet levity of the last Doo Dah Parade.

"We do have our collection of special runners," spokeswoman Jan Sheehan said. "New York has a man who runs in a Mets uniform while tossing a ball in the air . . . but they don't have a 'joggler.' Or le garcon plus rapide. "

Le garcon is rapid Roger Bourban, the French manager of Nicky Blair's bistro. Bourban has marathoned from London to New Zealand shuffling beneath a silver tray and a bottle of Champagne.

"Dom Perignon, of course," he said. Naturellement.

The jogging juggler is Albert Lucas of Las Vegas. He auditioned to make the cut because there was concern that a boggled joggle might trip trotters. "However, I use three vinyl Exerballs, which don't bounce," Lucas said. "They become pancakes when dropped."

There's Bill (Mr. Mom) Ezpeleta of Chatsworth, who will push a stroller and Emily, his 18-month-old daughter. There are no plans to stock aid stations with Similac.

William and LeRoy King will be running. William is an attorney. LeRoy is his dog with a dream to be the first pooch finishing a marathon under four hours. There are no plans to stock aid stations with Snausages.

There's a ventriloquist in the act. Ronn Lucas will have a dummy, Buffalo Billy, perched on his shoulder. The trick is to have Billy doing the puffing without Lucas moving his lips.

Sixteen men will hang on to each other and run as a human centipede.

Fifty handicapped entrants will push themselves in jouncing, knuckle-skinning, wheelie-popping, 16-pound wheelchairs and race as heroes.

These wheelchair athletes, twice as many this year as last, will include George Murray of Florida, wheelchair winner of the Boston Marathon. Last year's Los Angeles victor, Candace Cable-Brookes of San Luis Obispo, is back.

These people were born immobile, made amputees by war or paraplegics by illness . . . but save your sympathy.

They can't use it. Murray cracks four-minute miles in his chair. Jim Knaub of Long Beach finishes marathons faster than able-bodied runners. They are athletes first, sportsmen second, competitors third and handicapped nowhere.

Sunday, they start ahead of the runners because a racing chair pushed hard, downhill at 26 m.p.h., has been known to clobber spectators or cameramen.

"We're just as dedicated as the runners," bear-shouldered Jim Dax of Dallas said.

"There is strategy involved and tactics, like running strings with five chairs slipstreaming. We're serious racers with not a lot of room for messing around."

Dax, 40, certainly hasn't been mucking about.

He trains 12 miles a day. A map of Sunday's marathon, its gradients and flats, allowed him to simulate the L.A. course around Dallas.

"I've been working hard on the start, moving uphill for the first four or five miles," he said.

Wheelchair racing, Dax explained, is a bumper-car ride against Ben Hur. He has been run off courses and sent others lurching. If one man falls while slipstreaming, two or three chairs may tumble.

Dax has suffered all the wheelchair injuries--thumbs dragged into spokes, hand cramps, raw blisters, rotator cuff damage.

On the other hand, when Dax's races are done, he can get out of his chair and walk away. For despite a motorcycle accident that left one leg close to useless, Dax remains ambulatory. He just cannot run.

The ethics of being a walker in a wheelchair once bothered Dax. He discussed it with Randy Snow, a wheelchair Olympian. Snow pointed out that many wheelchair athletes are single amputees or polio victims who can walk but not run. Dax was endorsed.

"So I've raced with and know the major players and I'm accepted," he said. "Because when you're in a chair, it doesn't matter if you have legs or don't have legs, if they work or don't work.

"It's the chair. That's the equalizer."

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