Patrick Rummerfield is a quadriplegic who has completed a marathon in Antarctica and an Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, as well as dozens of other races over the last three decades.
It’s about time a finish line came to him.
It will on Sunday when Rummerfield laces up his shoes for the first Red Bull Wings for Life World Run, a spectacle made up of 34 races with moving finish lines that will be run simultaneously around the world.
The race, expected to draw approximately 45,000 participants worldwide, is organized to support Red Bull’s Wings for Life charity, which supports research to cure spinal cord injuries. Rummerfield is missing close to 85 percent of his spinal cord after a 1974 auto accident. He is able to walk without assistance, though he struggles with nerve and numbness issues, among others, from time to time.
“It took me 17 years to learn how to run and ride a bike without falling down and crashing. And a year later, I was standing on a beach in Hawaii getting ready to do the Ironman,” Rummerfield said.
That grueling race ends with a 26.2-mile marathon —after a 112-mile bike ride, which comes after 2.4-mile swim. On Sunday, Rummerfield is going to go, well, as far as he can before he gets caught by the finish.
The World Run is set up a bit differently than most charity runs, which have fixed distances. On Sunday, runners will all start together. After half an hour, a specially configured car will set out alongside the course. As it passes runners, they will finish until there is only one person still going. The last man and last woman running anywhere in the world will be world champs. Each individual race, as well as all 32 countries hosting, will have their own winners, too.
Red Bull bills it as “the first simultaneous world running race.” The races will start at noon in central Europe, meaning runners will set out anywhere from 10 p.m. local time in Auckland, New Zealand, to 3 a.m. local in California. The other two races in the United States will be in Denver (5 a.m. local) and south Florida (6 a.m.).
When a finish line moves, the water and snacks and aid stations runners are accustomed to finding after they complete a race will have to move with it.
Zoltan Polgar, who is in charge of the race in Sunrise, Florida, has plenty of experience putting on road runs. None like this, though.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Polgar said. “As race organizers, we worry about making sure there’s water, making sure we pick people up.”
He said he plans to have water, snacks and transportation ready for runners who have finished so they get back to the start area as soon as possible once they are passed by the catcher car. That way, they “have that feeling of finishing” instead of just being stuck by the side of the road.”
Finishers could get pretty spread out. According to a calculator on the World Run’s website, a runner going at an average pace of 9:40 per mile would be caught in 90 minutes, after 9.3 miles. The tank-top and short-shorts crew from your local road races who knock off seven-minute miles with seeming ease can expect to get rounded up after almost three hours and 24.2 miles.
That’s assuming they keep up the pace. It’s one thing to run toward a finish line. It’s another to run away from it.
The race has attracted some of the world’s best. Italian ultramarathoner Giorgio Calcaterra and American Karl Meltzer, winner of several 100-mile races, will run.
Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, U.S. Olympic sprinter/bobsledder Lolo Jones and Denver Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware also are planning to run.
Organizers say every $50 entry fee will go to the Red Bull Wings for Life spinal cord research foundation, a charity arm to go along with the Austrian energy-drink company’s sponsorship of extreme sports.
Rummerfield is one of more than 200 ambassadors for the race, not all of whom are able to run this year. Former Arizona State baseball player Cory Hahn, paralyzed from the chest down in 2011 while sliding into second base during a game, has family members running in Colorado and Southern California.
“Like many others, I’m looking to one day get out of my chair,” Hahn said. “It really hits home for me, because I personally go through the daily rigors of paralysis.”
Hahn was an infant when Rummerfield did his first Ironman, about 18 years after he was injured. On Sunday, Rummerfield will be in Florida, going as far as his legs will take him. He doesn’t expect to be the fastest. Not that it matters.
“Just because you are physically challenged … that doesn’t mean giving up,” Rummerfield said. “Physically challenged just means learning new ways until foundations like Wings for Life helps learn a cure for paralysis.
“We just have to keep our shoulder to the wheel and not give up.”