The search for shade nearly overshadowed the search for a win this week as Rome played host to some of the best wheelchair athletes in the world.
Dubbed the Meet in the Heat, the weather cooperated with the wheelchair track meet at Barron Stadium in as much as it allowed the event to earn its name with temperatures in the mid-90s at that start and the heat index hovering around 100 degrees.
Monday’s event, the first one held in conjunction with the Cedartown Wheelchair Athlete Training Camp and 5K Road Race, made up the opening leg of The America Series and featured world champion wheelchair racers Daniel Romanchuk and Tatyana McFadden displaying their talents.
Romanchuk, 20, has become the talk of the wheelchair racing world after winning the wheelchair division of both the Boston and New York marathons in the last year. He has also set the wheelchair 5,000-meters world record and won the Peachtree Road Race men’s wheelchair division last year.
The Maryland native nearly swept the men’s events at Monday’s meet, winning the 100, 400, 800, 1,500 and 5,000 for his classification and ahead of the rest of the field each time. Rome’s Krige Schabort, a world champion and Paralympian himself, competed in the 5,000 meters, coming up just short of Romanchuk.
McFadden is a 17-time Paralympic medalist and battled Susannah Scaroni — last year’s Peachtree women’s wheelchair division winner — to win the women’s 800, 1,500 and 5,000 races.
McFadden also took first in the women’s 400 meters, beating out Australian Paralympian Eliza Ault-Connell.
The Rev. Dave Grove, Cedartown 5K Committee chair, said he has looked forward to hosting athletes and bringing a bit of the world to Northwest Georgia for nearly 20 years and sees the Rome track meet as a new and exciting addition.
“This all started when a group of wheelchair athletes come down to Atlanta from New York to race in the Peachtree Road Race and just stayed in their hotel for a week,” Grove said. “We thought, ‘Gee, what can we do?’”
The Cedartown 5K, which had it’s 18th running on Tuesday evening, has now become a stop known worldwide for para-athletes looking to get acclimated to the Georgia summer heat and humidity before the annual Fourth of July tradition.
Grove admitted that Monday’s track meet left organizers with a bit of a logistical headache as it was the first time, but athletes and spectators were pleased with the final product.
“It was fun to get all of the athletes out here and give them another opportunity to compete while they train for the Peachtree,” Grove said. “I love Rome, and the community here is great. We want to do it again next year.”
The weather wasn’t particularly a nuisance for Orlando, Florida’s Ashley Beauregard, who drove up Monday with her father to participate in the track meet and the Cedartown 5K.
“It’s all right,” Beauregard said when asked about the heat. “In Florida it’s how we do it.”
Monday was the first time the rising senior had competed at this level, having spent three years participating in high school track. She entered the women’s 100 and 200, but said she wasn’t too concerned about her performance.
“I think I did OK, but it’s just nice to do it for fun and the experience of being here and seeing what the others do in their events,” Beauregard said.
The Peachtree Road Race wheelchair division race follows the same 10-kilometer course as the main race and begins at 6:25 a.m. Thursday. Grove is set to provide stats and color commentary as the race is broadcast on WXIA-TV.