“Wheelchair on Your Right!” – Pay Attention – Here’s Why

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Jillian finished the 2020 Walt Disney World Marathon in a time of 4:28:34 , competing in the women’s push rim division.

Her race was not without issue though. At approximately mile 18, Jillian crashed into the medical table. She recorded this on her GoPro.

I asked Jillian to explain exactly what happened.

I was on the right intentionally because it was a left hand turn. We turn like semi trucks, need to take the outside line. A runner cut in front if me and another was headed right into my turn line (you can’t see the second because he was beside me, behind the camera). It was also a downhill, and we don’t have brakes (just a small one on the front wheel, works for trimming speed a little but mostly it is for staying still at the start). You can actually see my front wheel lock up kinda, it is in shadow by the time it does.

A couple points that are worth emphasizing:

  • Wheelchairs don’t have brakes. The athletes cannot slam the breaks to quickly stop.
  • Wheelchairs cannot make sharp turns. They have to take the outside line.

What is The Solution?

When I first saw the video, I didn’t quite know what to think. The accident certainly wasn’t Jillian’s fault. There was nothing she could do. She either was going to run into other runners, or the table.

The problem, as Jillian sees it is twofold: Runners not being aware of their surroundings, and runners not knowing what to do.

Treat us like you would a semi truck

-Jillian Byrd

Don’t wear headphones. If you must wear headphones (if the race allows it), keep one earbud out.

If you passed a wheelchair on an uphill section, be aware that they will likely pass you going back down the hill.

Wheelchairs don’t have a breaking system, and they cannot make sharp turns. Generally, keep to the inside when a wheelchair is approaching. Give wheelchairs space. Be aware of your surroundings.

While most incidents can be avoided by paying attention and being courteous, races also can do a better job educating runners. Jillian yelling “Wheelchair on your right!” should have been enough to signal runners to move to the left. Educating runners on the limitations of a wheelchair’s steering and braking capabilities may lead some runners to pay closer attention and react appropriately when being passed.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Not sure how that could have been avoided. The placement of the water stop on the turn made it so runners were migrating towards it. And that turn was tight. Factor in the speed in which she was travelling and she would have had to cut the corner pretty sharply at her speed to make it. Thanks for bringing it to light though as I’ve never experienced anything like that in any races I’ve participated in.

  2. Let me be the jerk to say it, but I believe she absolutely shared some of the blame for that crash. Yes, runners need to pay attention and I often try to help alert others when I see a wheelchair (or bike, or anything for that matter), but they/we simply will not always hear someone shouting out while approaching from behind. And with that aid station where it was, runners certainly could be expected to be migrating toward the outside of the turn toward the tables. Just like uphill skiers need to be responsible when approaching skiers below/ahead of them, just a cyclists bear the duty of care when approaching other cyclists/runners from behind, she had a similar responsibility. This does not allow those ahead in any of those examples to act without care, but to say that she did not share blame here is, I believe, wrong.

  3. This comment might not be well received but I’ll make it anyway.

    Why is a wheelchair competitor anywhere in the mix with the runners? Most races I’ve been in have the chairs leaving slightly before the runners, and most of the chairs are fast enough they would never be in the mix with runners.

    A finisher with a 4:28 finish in the wheelchair division is just too slow. (Hells bells my marathon PR is a leisurely 4:20 on foot). Clearly it’s a danger to both chair blazers and runners. I imagine some elites have to contend with chair competitors but then again they are elites and know what they hell they are doing.

    Otherwise that water station was poorly placed. The more I hear about Disney the less interested I am in ever running there.

    • So you are saying that because she is not really fast she shouldn’t be allowed in the race? Disney’s course cutoff for the marathon is 7 hours. Requiring a different finish time for disabled than they do for everyone else is called discrimination and is illegal. Her finish time is faster than my time for road marathons but about 5 minutes (and this year that race was so hot that the course was shortened for the back of the pack), so should I not be allowed to run marathons either? That attitude is elitist and is against the spirit of letting anyone that wants to join our wonderful sport to do so.

      • There’s cut off times for the foot runners, why not cut off times for the rim chair or handcycle competitors?

        I looked at a few marathon start times right after my post. The first one I ever ran started the chair racers 30 minutes prior. Most of those chair racers fly. How any but the elites can catch them is beyond me. The people in the video she is among are definitely not elites.

        Some research: Average race time for marathon foot racers is around 4:30. I couldn’t (quickly) find an average for rimchair racers. I did find that Boston marathon rimchair racers finished in 1:18 – those are elites. Let’s double that time and say 2:36 which is around elite runner times. 4:28 is nearly 4 times the elite speed of the Boston winners. She should have been swept up by a pacer and asked to depart the course. Just because the course cutoff for runners is 7 hrs doesn’t mean the rimchair and handcycle racers has to be 7 hrs too.

        Bottom line: This video proves that chair and foot racers can’t safely co-exist – in most cases. You give me an alternative.

        • runDisney give the adaptive participants 2 minutes for a head start. Sometimes, it’s not even that long. rD really does need to adjust the start time for those who are rolling. When done correctly, I won’t see a runner until close to the finish line when I would stop for character photos. But I’ve been in rD races where there’s maybe a minute between wheels starting and first wave of Corral A starting and I’ve been overtaken within a couple of miles.

  4. “When I first saw the video, I didn’t quite know what to think. The accident certainly wasn’t Jillian’s fault. There was nothing she could do.”

    Have you lost your mind? It was ALL her fault. It was no ones fault but hers. Period.

    Let’s talk USATF rules with regards to the wheelchair athlete: “In every case, the runner has the right of way.” That’s the rule. No exceptions. Runners don’t have to move left, right or slow down.

    The rule for the wheelchairs are the same for runners, the one overtaking the other has a duty to do so safely. If you are a faster runner, you simply cant yall, “on your right,” then run over the person that doesn’t move. It’s the same for a wheelchair overtaking a wheelchair and a wheelchair overtaking a runner.

    Let’s talk common sense. She state(s over and over on a rundisneyrun Facebook page and and to you) that she cant turn fast and cannot stop quickly. Knowing that, why in the world is she going that fast on a crowded course downhill?

    She has the legal AND MORAL obligation to control her speed. Just because she yells, “on your right,” she does not have carte blanche to barrel through the course.

    She MUST control her speed in accordance to USATF rules, as well. As evidenced by the fact that she crashed into the aid station, she did not control her speed.

    Let her keep up her actions. When she injures someone, she’l lose that lawsuit.

  5. CCB, as a 25+ year race volunteer/producer/director, my opinion is that we need to be doing what we can to encourage both able-bodied and disabled participation in our races. Just like not all runners are going to be fast, not all wheelchair racers are going to be fast either. I’m old enough to remember when any runners who finished in over 4 hours weren’t welcome in a good number of marathons (including Boston). It is the duty of race directors and course designers to create a race course that is safe, and that accommodates all who take part if we’re going to have a sport that is open to all who wish to put in the training and take part.

    One thing I do take exception to is Jillian’s comments regarding her brakes, that “…we don’t have brakes (just a small one on the front wheel…)”. If the WDW marathon is a USATF sanctioned race, and I don’t know that it is, or that they follow USATF competition rules for that matter, then Rule 155.5 of Appendix 3 of the competition rules, which addresses Adaptations for Para-Athletes would be applicable. That rule states that “All wheelchairs must have a functional braking system.” That’s something that we cover with the wheelchair athletes at the races I’m involved with. It’s one thing to have an ineffective braking system on a racing wheelchair during a track race, but IMO it’s a much huger deal to have an ineffective braking system during a road race. This is due to all the potentially dangerous situations that can occur out on the roads – infinitely more than will ever be present in a track race. Despite the best plans of an RD, vehicles can pull out of unattended driveways, fellow competitors can make unexpected moves, puddles can form that change the best race paths, things can end up on the course where you don’t plan for them to be.

    There is a shared responsibility here. Road race directors have the responsibility to set up safe courses and safe race environments. Racers have the responsibility to have equipment that allows them to be safe when emergency situations arise.

      • “USATF certified” and “USATF sanctioned” are two entirely different things. “Certified” merely means that the organizer has followed the RRTC (Road Running Technical Council) protocols regarding course measurement and has filed their measurement paperwork and maps with the USATF, through their Regional Certifier.

        “Sanctioned” means that the race has filed paperwork with the USATF before race day on which the RD attests that they’ll filed a number of USATF rules and standards. No race HAS to go through sanctioning unless they desire some of the benefits that come with sanctioning. When you sanction, part of the application that you sign off on is that you agree to follow USATF rules. The company I work for produces 4 races each year, only 1 is sanctioned.

        The fact that a race is on a USATF certified course does not necessarily mean that the race is USATF sanctioned. It’s a confusing thing!!!

        • Sorry, not “filed number…”, “follow a number…”. Dang left hand was on the bad side of a skating crash yesterday.

          • The courses are CERTIFIED. You can find the certified course maps on the USATF website. I am well aware of the difference.

          • The courses are CERTIFIED. You can find the certified course maps on the USATF website. I am well aware of the difference. They are also SANCTIONED. You can BQ at the Disney marathon, which requires it to be sanctioned.

  6. Vaca,
    You state:
    Let’s talk USATF rules with regards to the wheelchair athlete: “In every case, the runner has the right of way.” That’s the rule. No exceptions. Runners don’t have to move left, right or slow down.

    Please reference where that rule can be found. Section VIII, Rule 240 in the 2020 USATF Rule Book is Road Race regulation for para athletes and it has no such regulation.

    Derek,
    Article IV, Rule 155.5 in the same book states that each push rim unit MUST have a functioning brake (race-runner device requires brake only if athlete is able to use it).

    • I couldn’t find Vaca’s quote anywhere in the USATF rules, but the BAA rules for Boston include similar verbiage in Article VI, 6.01 (k) and (l), and I suspect are the source of that quote.

      (k) SPEED
      All handcycle participants must control their speeds throughout the race …

      (l) RIGHT OF WAY
      When racing in the proximity of runners, handcycle participants must have sufficient control of
      their handcycles and yield the right-of-way to the runners. In every case, the ultimate right-ofway belongs to runners.

      Obviously Disney is not Boston… and I can’t find any such rules for Disney.

  7. This will also be an unpopular comment, I am sure, but based on the picture above, she stopped for at least one picture during the race (with Dopey in the Magic Kingdom). So, if she’s stopping along the course and not racing in the traditional sense, then she needs to be aware she’s going to get stuck in the crowds. There is a reason the chairs start first, to avoid situations like this, but she negates that by stopping for character photos. Runners need to be aware, but she also has to adapt to course conditions as well. I agree with her that (from the video) that she should have a bike escort, but she also needs to realize that if she is going to take her leisurely time, she needs to share the road.

  8. Well I think this gives us something to think about and learn from, but I think there’s a little more to this than runners blocking her. The one guy is stopping at the tent and thus is moving to the far right – isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? As to the other runners I’m going to say that yes, she was crowded a bit but blocked???? “On your right” means room to get by to most. She got by. I just think that due to where she was, with runners on her left, with no brakes, by the time this video is at about 8 to 10 seconds there’s no way she makes the turn. If she had a clear road and starts her turn at the 4 second mark, maybe she does, but there are runners in the way. She needed at least two more people to move >>all the way to the left<< and give her most of the road. I just don't think most of us would know that.

  9. Two comments: The main problem here was difference in velocities. She was travelling at something like three or four times the speed of the runners. This is fundamentally unsafe. When I change lane I do a quick check that I am not going to bump someone but I honestly do not consider that there could be someone forty feet behind me who could be impacted. The reason wheelchair racers start earlier is so there there is a good separation between the WC racers and the runners. There may be some very slow WC racers who do get caught by the runners but by this fact it indicates that their velocity is less then the runners and so there is relatively little risk. She seems to have stopped for photos and then rejoined the race thus placing her in the middle of runners who were significantly slower than her. She then tried to proceed at her race pace which was significantly faster than the surrounding runners. Race Directors should state something like if a WC racer finds themselves in the middle of the general running pack, whether due to photo stops, toilet breaks or mechanical issues, they should finish their race at general pace of the runners around them.

    Secondly, I too could find no reference in the USATF Rules about runners having the right of way over WC racers. Could someone please supply the relevant section of the rules.

  10. Plenty of blame to go around here. Though, I don’t find any for the guy on the right heading towards the aid station. It does seem, prior to the corner, there were runners not getting over enough to give her room. It does also seem with the speed she was going, that crash was going to happen even if there were no runners on the course. Perhaps she was unaware of the sharp turn coming. You can also argue that the aid station was not in a great place, though for just the runners it is almost ideal as it is easy to see coming up and those not stopping can easily keep to the left and the wide turn allows for those stopping to pull off to the aid station without congesting the course.

    That said, no matter what the rules may say, common sense is look out for the wheelchair participants, get way out of their way and cheer them on as they go by. I do think all of this does bring up that perhaps there should be a universal symbol everyone must use when going to the right of a course, to the left, or stopping to walk. I always lift my arm up and point to the direction I am going, and both arms when I am going to stop to walk, and I see other people have different signals they do. A universal required hand/arm gesture would help those in wheelchairs to predict the movement ahead of them.

  11. I keep trying to leave this comme t but it never works. Google “AWD rules LA Marathon.” It’s not the USATF but it’s pretty authoritative anyway.

    Among the rules it has include: wheelchair operators must be able to slow and stop themselves on the downhill portions of the course. It also says that runner always have right of way.

    Apologies, I’ve tried to post this about 6 times on my phone and laptop.

  12. I’m glad that it looks like no one was injured, although it was a close call. In addition to the problems with the turn and the position of the medical table, the route was far too narrow for the large number of participants visible in the video. By mile 18, participants have typically spread out over many miles of the course, so it should not have been that difficult to maneuver if the course had been wider or if there were fewer participants, whether on foot or in a wheelchair. When I ran with 50,000 others in the New York City Marathon a couple of years ago, there was enough room to maneuver at mile 18 (at a 4:45 pace, so comparable situation) because we had several lanes of the road. But that wouldn’t have been enough room if NYC had accepted all applicants. If the race is limited to a narrow route, then the number of participants must be limited as well.

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