The Boston Globe has run columns criticizing the Boston Athletic Association of discrimination against handcycle athletes during the Boston Marathon, causing Tom Grilk, the chief executive officer of the BAA, to issue a public apology to Achilles International, the governing body of the Boston Marathon handcyclists. It is an apology many athletes with disabilities feel is unwarranted.
The issue here is not about wounded veterans, victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, or unequal treatment of individuals with disabilities. The winner of the handcycle division has never received a victory ceremony for finishing a major marathon because the division exists as an exhibition and has never belonged in the marathon event. Push rim racing — the accepted equivalent to running — and handcycling are two distinct sports with major differences: Handcycles are bikes with gears, whereas a push rim chair has none. The BAA and World Marathon Majors have been more than accommodating in their willingness to allow handcycles to participate in this running event.
Columns like those published recently by the Globe (“Patriots should ride on Patriots Day,” Opinion, “From BAA to worse,” Metro, April 7) reaffirm the idea that people with disabilities are “special” and deserve rewards for anything they do. It is an outdated attitude, built on pity, that is being bolstered by these handcycle athletes. Organizations such as Achilles International should focus on creating handcycling events rather than forcing their way into established running events with false claims of discrimination. This would be a different argument if handcycle athletes were fighting for inclusion in a cycling event.
Disability or not, one cannot claim discrimination any time they are told no. Push rim athletics and handcycling are separate sports with different rules and equipment. To ask either governing body to accommodate the other is unfair to the athletes who have worked to be measured the same as their able-bodied peers in their respective sports.
The writers are members of the University of Illinois Track and Field Team and of Team USA for the Paralympics. McGrory won the women’s push rim division at the Tokyo Marathon in February, and Siemann is competing in his eighth Boston Marathon Monday as a push rim athlete.