Life in the Fast Lane: The Chris Stoddart Story is the interesting autobiographical account of Chris Stoddart, who was a Canadian wheelchair racer for about 20 years starting in the late 1960s. It was inspiring to read how Chris overcame the congenital condition Spina Bifida to become a world-class wheelchair athlete. This required a lot of hard work and skills development.
It was also fascinating to read how the technology of racing chairs evolved from that era to the present. They started with heavy cumbersome chairs like the ones I’ve ridden in when being discharged from the hospital, and ended with the current lightweight and high-tech ones.
The combination of better chair technology and enhanced training has led to phenomenal performance improvements. For example, in the earliest days when wheelchair racers participated in marathons, it was rare for the first wheelchair finisher to be faster than the first runner. Now the running world record for the marathon is still just over 2 hours, while the wheelchair record is 1 hour 17 minutes!
I also learned of the wheelchair slalom event in this book. Athletes have to negotiate various obstacles as fast as possible without incurring time penalties (for example, for brushing against a pylon). This makes you reconsider the idea of “disabled”. I think that is the most important effect of wheelchair sports and other paralympic sports: they offer inspiration for people to overcome limitations to the best of their ability. Not everyone can become an elite athlete, but we can all do the best we can.