February 15, 2004
Buddy Hayes knows how to be positive no matter what.
When it became clear last year that Hayes, 45, would need to use a wheelchair because she has multiple sclerosis, she made the best of it. She didn’t want the mammoth-sized rides she described as the “big grandma wheelchairs with the thick arms and high backs” – the ones that squeak down hallways in slow motion.
She chose a more streamlined version in razzle dazzle raspberry.
“If I’m going to be in it I might as well look sporty,” Hayes said. “I wanted an el primo one.”
Hayes scooted super fast in her new rig. She darted around corners and zipped down hallways. Her mother, Thelma, called her “Hot Wheels.”
In no time, Hot Wheels Hayes was signing up for races and raising money to fight cancer – something her father, James, was battling when she crossed the finish line at the Rock 'N’ Roll 1/2 Marathon last year. Hayes whipped through all 13 miles – one for every year her father had won his fight with cancer.
By then, Hayes had joined a nonprofit group called Team In Training. The national organization helps train thousands of racers to run marathons and raise money to fight cancer. The Rock 'N’ Roll 1/2 Marathon was only a warm-up for Hayes, who made plans to do the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in Orlando, Fla. “Promise me you’ll race no matter what,” Hayes’s father told her.
The no-matter-what came Jan. 6, just five days before the race, when James died. He was 78.
Hayes attended the funeral on a Friday morning and flew to Florida that afternoon with a friend and a new racing chair that was donated to her.
Awaiting the starting gun in the chilly, early-morning darkness, Hayes said she thought of how this was all part of God’s plan for her, because she was a teacher of special needs children before her diagnosis. “It was almost like he was preparing me for this,” she said.
Then she thought of her father. The last time they were at Disney World together was in 1975, just before she graduated from high school.
Everything became a blur as she wheeled past Epcot Center, into the Magic Kingdom, through Cinderella’s Castle and down Main Street. The cold air gave her a cramp in her right thigh.
But she kept going. On the back of her chair was a laminated sheet of paper with a picture of her father and the words “This one’s for you, Dad.”
Then there it was. The finish line.
With one last thrust, Hayes pushed herself across the line in tears – making good on the promise she made to her dad and also taking first place in the women’s wheelchair division.
“I didn’t set out to take first place. I set out with a personal goal,” Hayes said. She’s going to keep on rolling. “Oh no. No, I’m not done. That chair will get a lot of use.”
No matter what.
Copyright © 2004, The Virginian-Pilot