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Just wheeling through

Goodrich man takes on 10-mile Crim Road Race Para Hand Crank Division

Benito Diaz takes on the Crim 10 mile road race in Flint on Aug. 27. Photo provided (click for larger version)
August 31, 2011 - As a free verse poet, Benito Diaz refers to the 10- mile Crim race he completed last Saturday as 'some form of insanity.'

This year my hands, wrists and shoulders hurt more than before, but I managed again, wrote Diaz, a Goodrich resident.

At 68-years-old—Diaz's Crim race takes on a rather unique challenge.

While more than 10,000 runners covered the course on foot—Diaz was one of 19 who completed the 10- mile race in the Para Hand Crank Division. Diaz, who has been in a wheelchair for more than 25 years, utilizes his upper body strength by using a hand and arm powered tricycle built with 27 gears for racing.

Diaz completed the race in 55:33.

Who knows, 69 (years-old) may be another good year for me, but whatever happens, my memories abound, wrote Diaz.

The completion of the 2011 Crim race, his fifth, included a crash with a fellow hand-cycler near mile three, a chain that came off while changing gears at mile six, and a wrong turn at the eight mile mark—simple challenges for Diaz in a life drenched with obstacles.

A Pontiac native, Diaz was living in Davisburg when he fell from a tree he was cutting in 1987.

"My new chainsaw was lodged in the branch I was cutting in a tree and I did not want to let the saw hit the ground," he said. "So I continued to cut the branch with a handsaw and when the branch fell, I went with it. I landed on my back. I could not feel anything from my chest down."

Diaz spent the next two-and-a-half months in St. Joseph Mercy Hospital with a spinal cord injury. Damaged in the fall was the T-12, or thoracic region of the spinal cord, which left Diaz in control of his hands and arms—but not his legs.

His wife Raquel worked at the hospital.

"She would work all day and then come stay with me until late at night," he said. "She was there for me."

Diaz went through months of extensive and painful physical rehabilitation.

"During my months of recovery I would tell people I'd be walking again some day," he said. They would tell me that's a great goal, but in the event you can't walk again you need to be adaptive. You do what you have to sometimes."

Prior to his accident, Diaz was an active runner and had been in good physical condition.

"Exercise was always a part of my life," he said. "I'd run. Then after my accident I needed something to keep my head on straight—to keep me out of the pits. Today there are people in wheelchairs, just like me, that become obese and out of shape—that can happen. It's easy to get that way. The mind and the body interact."

Today Diaz swims, hand cycles about 40 miles per week, and is a member of a local wheeling team. He is still an avid hunter. The Diaz family are long-time members of St. Mark Catholic Church in Atlas Township.

The wheelchair Diaz uses is one of the heaviest on the market.

"I could purchase a chair that was much lighter," he said. "But, there are times when I may not want to exercise—so if I push around a heaver chair then I get the benefits of more resistance."

Diaz said while much has improved for those with physical challenges over the last 20 years, a lot still depends on the individual.

"You have to want to do things for yourself," he said. "The more you do the more confident you become. I need to stay in shape for my family—that's important to me. The more I can do, that's less work for my wife and family. You just can't do everything yourself—there are times I need help."

Benito and Raquel recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. The couple has two daughters and six grandchildren.

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