Breaking barriers isn’t always easy but Karen March makes it seem that way as she has continued to pave her way in wheelchair sports. A 1988 car accident set Karen on an athletic journey like no other when, 10 years later, she was introduced to wheelchair sports.
Over the years, she has become a highly accomplished Paralympian who blazed a trail of podium finishes all over the world in both the sports of Athletics and Paracycling.
At the Paralympic Games in Athens, Karen took part in Athletics competing in the 200m T52 event where she finished 8th and the 400m T52 event where she finished 10th. She had an 8th place finish in the 100m at the 2002 World Championships where she also finished 7th in the 400m. She then “retired” from Athletics, taking up cycling for recreation. That recreational path led her to compete at the highest international level in the sport.
In Paracycling, competitors in her class use their arms to power a recumbent three-wheeled racing bike. The hand-powered bicycle has a gear-shift system controlled by her breathing and a sophisticated braking system that allows her to slow down by back-pedalling. Her most recent competitive bike was developed by CanAssist, a University of Victoria organization that develops and delivers technologies, programs and services that improve the quality of life for those with disabilities. CanAssist’s engineering team modified the bike so Karen could compete on a level playing field.
With her level of disability, Karen would not have been able to compete at the World Cup without the modifications to her bike. She literally opened up an entire class to all quadriplegic racers with her success.
“Surrounding myself with ‘can do’ people who think outside the box has led me to many adventures,” says Karen.
In 2011, she won the overall World Cup title in Paracycling for class H1, giving her the distinction of earning the first-ever World Cup leader’s jersey after her dominant performance. In 2011, she also earned two gold medals at the UCI Paracycling World Cup in Spain by finishing first in her class in a 36km road race and a 13km time trial.
She was the 2012 recipient of the Athlete of the Year award at the 2012 Women in Sport Celebration in Victoria
Karen retired from competitive Paracycling in 2012 after choosing not to compete in the London Paralympics. She is a true believer in the promotion and support of women in sport and continues to give back to wheelchair sports
"What I now treasure after retirement are the friendships and contacts I have made over the years,” she adds. “They still feed me as I continue to support sport on many levels.”
SPONSORED BY PISE
Same girls...different track. It’s that simple really. And it’s that simplicity which kept Diane Cummins competing at the top of her game whether at the Olympic Games or at the Victoria International Track Classic.
A middle distance runner born in South Africa, Diane competed in running sports like track, cross country, netball and field hockey as a youngster. Her family moved to Canada in 1994 where, on 10 occasions, she won gold at the Canadian national track championships in the 800 metre.
Diane has run an outstanding 26 times under 2:00 minutes in the 800m. She won a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and bronze at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. She has maintained a world-class ranking almost four times longer than the average athlete.
Diane followed Charmaine Crooks as Canadian record holder and the second Canadian to break the two-minute barrier in the two lap 800m distance with her 1:58.39 in 2001.
“I think growing up into my adult years, I always aspired to be like Charmaine because she was the great Canadian 800m runner, and also Vicky Pounds, one of my best friends,” says
Diane. “I think everything I’ve done in sport has led to a relationship with someone and a connection. The goals have always been there for me to achieve, but more than anything I competed in the sport with a lot of love and a lot of friendships and that’s what counts.”
And it doesn’t stop there. Proving there is life after international competition, at the America’s Masters Games held in Vancouver in 2016, Cummins - who now lives in Missoula, Montana - helped her relay team win master’s gold and break the 4 x 800m world record for the 40-44 age category.
Over her 15+ year career, Diane has inspired hundreds, if not thousands of future middle distance runners. A true believer in clean sport and an outspoken advocate for equality and accountability, Diane is a genuine role model and mentor to the many middle distance runners who hope to follow in her footsteps.
Over a long career with many highlights, some accomplishments stand out more than others for Diane.
“Obviously the medals, for me, are a highlight. That’s something that proves you worked hard and achieved something, but my highlights through the sport have definitely been more emotional,” she continues. “I remember, in 2002, when I won the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, I had no idea where my dad or my family were sitting in the stands. I looked down for a second and looked back up and looked straight at him, one of 40,000 people, and he came down to the track and gave me a hug.
“The highlights for me have been really the connections I’ve made with people. Every single coach I’ve had, I appreciate. Sport has always been a way for me to connect with people.”
SPONSORED BY MANN, MOULSON & CO.