Dean Ward sat and Tammy Landeen reclined under a large palm tree in Battery Park Sunday afternoon and talked about handcycling.
Alongside them were their spouses, and behind them, all standing, were their eldest daughters, both Panther cross country runners at Milton High School.
Katalyn Landeen, a junior, had run a personal best in the 5K, 26:47, while the freshman, Ward’s daughter Becky, had crossed the finish line 30 seconds earlier to finish as the top female overall.
The two young ladies each appeared pleased with their times, as did Tammy Landeen, who had ridden her handcycle 10 times farther and not quite twice as fast, in the UltraMarathon 50K.
In 2:41:45, Tammy finished an hour and 15 minutes ahead of the top runner, a 5:13 minute mile compared to his 7:38, and the two girls’ roughly 8:30 miles.
“It was great. The headwind was rough on that second bridge,” said Tammy.
It was her first marathon, her third race, a few weeks after she became part of the Paralyzed Veterans of America team, emblazoned across the red, white and blue jersey she wore Sunday.
Tammy’s paralysis of the past eight years isn’t combat-related, but it is service-connected. Her husband, Staff Sgt. Shawn Landeen, is stationed at Fort Stewart, freshly home from Afghanistan, and she too is an Army veteran, familiar with the camaraderie, the understanding, that comes with “hanging out” with veterans coping with spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or amputations sustained in war.
These days, Tammy swims, rides horses and scuba dives, but it wasn’t always so smooth.
“To me, it’s about being able to do something again,” she said. “You get a feeling of loss when someone loses the ability to do something.”
When Tammy first lost the use of her legs, 8-year-old Katalyn “took it hard,” fearful her mother might never leave the hospital.
“There was so much stuff I thought we couldn’t do and life wasn’t going to be fun anymore,” said Katalyn.
For Dean, 41, who fell out of a tree stand while hunting in Jan. 2009, it’s been a matter of returning to an exercise regimen and so he rides three or four days a week, not to become competitive, but to remain active.
“The biggest thing is to stay fit while you’re in a wheelchair,” he said. “And to do something other than sitting around all day. With my type of injury, it’s important for me. I’m always hopeful that they’ll be some medical breakthrough. I want to stay physically fit for that reason.”
Dean’s wife Brandy, together with their sixth grade daughter Emily, said the family has adapted to Dean’s challenges.
“It’s been a big adjustment,” she said. “It’s all about attitude and choices and getting connected in the community. At first it was scary. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
A sales rep for Kraft Foods for 18 years, Dean hasn’t returned to work, but does a lot of volunteering. He’s back hunting and fishing, even swimming, waterskiing and riding a jet ski. And he enjoys gardening again, handling raised beds a foot high off the ground.
“There again, it’s just an adaptation.” he said. “There’s a whole world of things you can still do. Just being in the water is very freeing.”
With hand cycles, which are entirely powered by the hands and cost several thousand dollars each, Tammy borrowed from a friend the Invacare Top End Force R model she raced in. Dean’s been riding his a little longer, since Oct. 2010, and his was the first one Tammy ever got to ride, after they met in a spinal cord group a few years ago.
“I had no idea this kind of thing was possible, I really didn’t think the average person could ride a hand cycle. I didn’t think it was going to be possible,” she said, underscoring her competitive spirit by noting that she now is ranked third in the country.