Jordan Bird finished eighth last year in the men’s open wheelchair at the Lilac Bloomsday race. He figured if he was going to challenge for a championship, he needed to get serious. To that end, he needed to lose weight.
It took him about four months to drop 40 pounds. It paid off Sunday morning in the 34th edition of the 12-kilometer race.
Bird, 21, of Tucson, Ariz., toured the course in 26 minutes, 20 seconds to top runner-up Aaron Gordian of Phoenix (28:13) by nearly 2 minutes.
His time Sunday was nearly 5 minutes faster than a year ago (31:05).
It was Bird’s fourth win in as many races this year.
The victory, while seemingly easy considering the margin, was anything but in terms of reaching the starting line. The University of Arizona junior was training three weeks ago when he was hit by a car while training.
“I was fine but my chair took all the damage for me,” Bird said. “I had a backup chair and equipment that I put together for the race.”
Bird expected a tight race.
“I had no idea (the win) would be this substantial,” he said. “It means the world to me. I’ve been trying for so long.”
Bird said the key to victory was how he attacked the hills.
“That’s what really separated me,” he said. “Losing the weight makes it easier to go up the hills.”
•Amanda McGrory of Champaign, Ill., won for a fourth straight year, capturing the women’s open wheelchair title (35:15) by 31 seconds over Shirley Reilly of Tucson.
McGrory, who will graduate from Illinois in two weeks with a degree in psychology, was racing fresh off a third-place finish last weekend at the London Marathon. That may explain why her time Sunday was about 2 minutes slower than a year ago.
“I heard from a lot of people that their times were slow this year than years’ past,” said McGrory, who finished in 33:04 last year. “I couldn’t so much feel the wind, but I could see it in my mile splits. I felt like I was moving OK, but when I looked at my speed it wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be.”
Craig Blanchette didn’t take any corners on two wheels like the good ol’ days but it sure seemed like those days.
The eight-time wheelchair winner from Battle Ground, Wash., now 40, won the Masters Division.
“I kept it down, I hit the brakes a little bit on the downhill, the first one, not the second one,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
He finished in 33:49, well shy of his best of 26:46, which was a course record in 1994.
The masters started in a third group, which left him in a new position.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I don’t remember that many people being in front of me, but it was people from other divisions. Looking back, I wasn’t sure if it was people in my division, so that was different.”
• Another successful return in the wheelchair race was made by Spokane native Tyler Byers.
The Ferris grad and former University of Arizona competitor was sixth in 32:16, after missing his first Bloomsday last year.
“I miss the competition,” he said. “Last year I could only make it to four different races in Australia and I really missed it because I probably went to 15 races a year when I lived in the States.”
His time was more than 3 minutes behind his best from his collegiate days.
“I did all right,” he said. “I didn’t really know how I was going to do.”
Red, white and not blue
Women’s Elite champion Lineth Chepkurui wasn’t the only repeat winner. Dan Browne and Sally Meyerhoff repeated as the top American finishers, which earned them a bonus of $5,000.
“I’m not just satisfied being the top American, sometimes that’s not much to brag about,” said Meyerhoff, 26, who ran a half marathon in New York last weekend. “I want to make the Olympic marathon team in 2012, that’s my long-range plan for now.”
Her time of 41:53 was 3 seconds shy of a top 10 finish.
“I was happy with being top American again,” said Meyerhoff, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. “That was my first goal. Being 11th is pretty good.”
Brown, 33, finished 10th in 35:49.
“The Kenyans, they’re tough,” he said. “I think Bloomsday’s commitment to American runners is awesome. I did my best to get out there and mix it up with them.”
He hopes to do it again.
“It’s been really fun to come back for the second time,” he said. “It’s a really neat event for this town and I recognized how big it is, so it’s just an honor to be invited back.
“I’m originally from Portland, Ore., and heard a lot about it. It’s fun to finally get here and do it. I’d like to do it one more time next year and see if I can break into that top three.”