No one ever touched Dutch Conner’s wheelchair, but thousands of people helped push him up Doomsday Hill.
As he inched his way backward up the killer incline with short, quick jerks of his gloved hands, a slight smile hinted he was listening.
“Keep going.” “Atta boy. Hang in there.” “Good job, Dutch.” “You can do it.”
Runners wrapped in sweat and barely able to talk found strength to rally for Conner. Groups of Bloomies clapped and chanted his name, dashing by to pat him on the back.
“Dutch, man, you’re going to be all right.”
“It’s a great big help,” said Conner, a quadriplegic who stopped only once - at the hill’s crest to tighten his gloves and turn his wheelchair around.
Encouragement was key on the hill that slows runners to a jog, joggers to a walk, walkers to a crawl.
On the way up, they all enjoyed the sounds of Sonny James playing his tambourine, Scott Ryman and friends playing their African Jembe drums, The Loose Change Band playing rock ‘n’ roll hits.
Nearly half way, they danced with the redheaded buzzard, alias Spokane businessman Bill Robinson, who dresses each year as the villainous bird to inspire dragging Bloomies.
At the top, runners were rewarded with cups of water they used to drench themselves both inside and out.
Best of all, they got a flat stretch of ground where the soft crunch of tennis shoes turned to a clip-clop as runners’ feet trampled thousands of discarded paper cups.
Some runners got a little help on the way.
Heather Lang kept pushing her mom’s wheelchair, but things were slowing to a creep. “I wasn’t talking,” she said. “But I was barely breathing.”
Joe Ross, 18, saved the day, stepping in to make sure both Lang and her mother, Kathie McIntosh, made it to the top.
“This is great, ‘cause this way I know I can finish the rest of the way,” Lang said.
At the top, Ross turned the wheelchair back over to Lang.
He and several of his classmates at Upper Columbia Academy volunteered to be “pushers” on Doomsday. “This is my third time up the hill,” said Ross, as he began his race back to the bottom.