Annie Hayes has returned to the things she’s always done, knowing that they’ll never be the same.
Hayes, a 44-year-old from Pittsfield, has been a regular on Berkshire County’s road racing circuit, an annual Josh Billings RunAground triathlon competitor and one of Berkshire Hills Country Club’s most regular golfers.
Her active lifestyle could have ended after a biking accident in Kirvin Park on Aug. 18 that left her paralyzed from the waist down. While preparing for the Josh Billings, Hayes’ bike tire got stuck in a gap on a temporary metal bridge, throwing her over the bridge and onto her back, leaving her with a severe spinal cord injury.
She competed in her first race since the injury yesterday during the 30th annual Women’s Day Race at Berkshire Community College. She was the first wheelchair competitor in the race’s long history, according to race director Kathy Korte.
“I’m just doing all the things that I’ve always done,” Hayes said. “With golfing and racing, I enjoy the competition and the camaraderie. I do all the things that I can do. I can’t do everything, but I do what I can.”
She’s returned to the golf course with the help of an $8,500 specialized cart, although her inability to use the lower portion of her body has — much to her dismay — robbed her of the distance on her drives.
Hayes hopes to appear at many of her favorite road races this summer and return to the Josh Billings this year, either as a paddler or a runner.
Yesterday, during her return to competition, she chose the five-mile race, rather than the easier two-mile version, for her re-debut.
“I left it up to her,” said Lore Kaplan, Hayes’ running mate yesterday. “We could have done two, but, oh no, not her.”
Hayes wouldn’t even hear of having Kaplan drive her to the race.
Kaplan, a friend of Hayes through running with her, saw that the weather looked clear and sent an e-mail inquiring if Hayes wanted to attend the Women’s Day Race. Hayes didn’t hesitate.
She’d already been through a 10-hour surgery at Berkshire Medical Center and five weeks of Rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Boston, a process that was supposed to last far longer.
Hayes, though, has always been fast.
“She doesn’t really understand why this is a big deal to people,” Kaplan said. “But she realizes that she can be an inspiration, that she can get people doing things that they might not ordinarily do. For her to be where she is so soon, it’s an amazing accomplishment.”
Hayes was asked if her return to race competition left her emotional.
Sure, she said.
It was exhilarating being outside on a bright morning. It was warming to bask in the greetings, well-wishes and congratulations from her former competitors and current friends.
“I’m not going to cry, if that’s what you’re waiting for,” Hayes said.
Hayes, who has made practice jaunts as long as nine miles along the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, hopes to eventually complete the Boilermaker Road Race in less than 2 hours, 15 minutes. The Boilermaker is a 9.3-mile event held in Utica, N.Y.
If Hayes finishes in that time frame, she’d win a new racing chair from the race’s sponsors worth about $3,000. It would allow her to go faster and further, the perfect combination for a competitive spirit.
There were differences from the old Hayes yesterday, of course. She was the next-to-last to finish in the five-mile race in 55 minutes, 25 seconds. She traveled about three-and-a-half miles yesterday, climbing to the peak of the hilly course once, rather than twice, and cutting out the portion of the race that took place on unpaved terrain.
Said Hayes: “It’s a start.”
By Chris Carlson, Berkshire Eagle Staff