I was initially introduced to JUSTIN MEADERS through mutual friends, Lucy Silvas and Christine Williamson. It was at the 2008 DRC Half Marathon. I was injured and volunteering. “Neat guy,” I thought. But I meet a lot of good people at workouts and races. So I went on with my assigned job.
It was later that I realized what a champion this guy is. Let’s face it: Justin wins a lot! He’s not just the fastest in Dallas, or in north Texas, but one of the fastest, if not the fastest, in Texas, too. (He placed first at the 2008 Dallas White Rock Marathon in 2:05:57 despite speed eating high winds, and finished the 2008 Dallas Turkey Trot first in 38:06:59. Those times are not a misprint.)
During the interview for this story he said he wanted to do the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. OK, that’s all well and good. In this field and doing what I do, I meet a lot who make that statement. I was gracious, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. Then he said, “and win.” Whoa! OK, now he had me. That’s a big proclamation, something you don’t hear many athletes even whisper, let alone say for an interview.
And yet I bet you don’t know him or have ever met him. You obviously weren’t paying attention to the racers that start a minute or two before the gun for the rest of the racers.
You know who I’m talking about, the physically challenged athletes who get to start before the rush and crush of runners who would certainly take Justin out of the race with a crash and an injury. He would be lucky if he made it back into his racing chair if he wasn’t seriously hurt.
But traveling at 30+ MPH (occasionally hitting 45 on the downhill sections) on something resembling flimsy antennae piping, doesn’t provide a lot of cushion in the event of a crash. In fact, the contraption offers none. The tires resemble thin high performance bike tires pumped up to about 120 lbs. of air pressure, while the athlete’s body is suspended in a canvas sling. “Oh, but there is a hand brake,” you say. Yes, there is that. But it’s about as good as a piece of 2 x 4 on a Go-Kart rubbing against the pavement going downhill. A bump, a flat tire, a touch of the wheels with another competitor, and the occupant becomes a human projectile. (Reference the 1986 Boston Marathon crash of several race chairs on slick roads.) Hope you don’t have to use the brake. But, if you do, say a prayer and yell loudly.
“The racing chair is about $3,500. Add [ing] in the cost of racing wheels makes it in the $6,000 range.” That’s an expensive pair of racing flats, Justin!
But Justin’s out there, challenging himself, death, and anybody else willing to go wheel-to-wheel with him. He’s not sure of his national ranking, but has won the Texas State Time Trial Championships three times. His highest mileage in the racing chair (“Adaptive equal to running,” he says.) was a 42 mile training day. You have to admire that.
But why do it? “Because I love it! Training and racing means a lot to me. I am driven by the constant need to be better, stronger and faster. It really doesn’t take much to inspire me to get out and train. I really enjoy it and it is just a part of who I am. I am one of those people who gets upset when I can’t train or race. I am one grumpy dude when I can’t train and race!” He finishes his sentence with a laugh.
Three years ago, he told the Collegian Newspaper, “There is something really great about conditioning your body for a physical battle and then accomplishing what you trained for. I like the challenge of competing,” he said. “I really think that racing is in my blood, and it always will be.”
While training or racing with pals DUSAN HRASKO, JASON MORGAN (injured while serving in the military) or CHARLIE FUGATE (an able bodied road cyclist), he’susually thinking, “Holy cow! This is hard work!” Again he laughs. “I actually spend a lot of time thinking and sometimes designing things in my head. I have come up with all kinds of new inventions and gadgets while training.” In his spare time, Justin designs and builds adaptive sports equipment. “I really enjoy building cool stuff for kids.” His job title is designer/builder/fabricator. “I have been doing this kind of work for about three years.” He is designing his own hand cycling bike.
Just before doing this story, we had problems setting up a time to take pictures back in June. “I broke my bike today and am in a mad scramble to try and figure out how to get another one before my next race.” That’s right, he does triathlons, too! “I am still fairly new to the triathlon world so I don’t even know if I am ranked at all yet. But, I plan to take care of that soon.” He smiles a wide broad grin.
The bike he’s referring to is what is known as a hand cycle, different from the race chair for running races. He’s done over 60 MPH in his hand cycle, “during an insane descent.”
And these machines cost a pretty penny. “My hand cycle that I am currently racing goes for about $6,250. Then you add in the racing wheels, you’re somewhere in the neighborhood of about $9,000-$9,500.” He has finished third at the National Time Trial Championships and has a Gold and Bronze medal at the National Road Race Championships. He once rode for 118 miles non-stop, “with one mountain pass thrown in at the bicycle tour of Colorado.”
The chair was finally purchased with help from his race sponsor, BRIAN LONCAR. He was so appreciative, Justin asked if we would “leave the web address in the article? I would like to show my support to those that I mentioned in here.”
Who is Justin Meaders?
He was born in Mineral Wells, September 9, 1976 as part of a family of six. He has an older brother and sister, and a younger sister. Dad was a police officer and mom a secretary. His hero was his grandfather. “He was an amazing man!”
Growing up in the Mineral Wells, Weatherford, and Keller areas, he was an active kid, outgoing, “always having a good time.” He went back and forth between Mineral Wells and Keller schools depending on if he was living with his mom or his dad. He started at Mineral Wells High School but transferred to Keller when his family moved. Besides playing football in school, he and his friends would ride their bikes “all day and go pretty much all over town getting into who knows what,” he says. He got his first motorcycle at the age of five. “Was pretty much on it every day from then on.” He liked it so much, he was in constant fear of the motorcycle being taken away if he got in trouble, or rather, got caught getting into trouble.
Justin is the wheelchair race director for the Dallas White Rock Marathon, and helps with The Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot and the DRC Half Marathon, as well as a few other races.
Though area support of wheel chair athletes is OK, he points out, “There have been some road blocks to overcome. I find it is more about getting people educated about wheelchair sports. People need to know that we aren’t fragile and that we don’t really need much to be able to race. The support for wheelchair athletes in this area is so much better than only a few years ago and it is improving all the time. “
He thinks the competition is good for the area, “…when people show up.” Otherwise, “it could be better. When I started, I used to be the only wheelchair racer that showed up to races in the DFW area. Now we are starting to get more and more. I train with a few guys who will be some tough competition in the very near future. And that is exactly how I want it.”
Justin crashed while motorcycle racing, April, 24, 1999 (age 22) in College Station, at Texas World Speedway. He calls it a “high speed exit.” He had been racing for about three years. “I hit the ground at about 150 MPH. I broke a bone or two,” he laughs, “and ended up in a chair.” He was paralyzed, and spent the next two months in a hospital. At first, he was in ICU for two weeks, then two weeks in a regular room. Then he was transferred to a rehab hospital. “He didn’t give up on himself or life when he was handed a dirty deal,” Triesha Light, associate professor of psychology and one of Meaders’ teachers, said.
He began racing the hand cycles three years later, “then got into wheelchair racing a year or so later. I did my first marathon six months after I started using a racing wheelchair.” He says he began racing because he “needed a way to be competitive again and to get and stay in shape.”
Previously, he never saw a hand cycle or racing wheel chair until the one that he ordered arrived for him. As a result, he had no influences to propel him forward, or preconceived standards to hold him back.
His first race was a hand cycle time trial race in Austin. “I had only been training a few months, but decided to go anyway. I went with the goal of not finishing last.” He didn’t know everyone entered was an experienced champion. “Everyone that showed up was either a past, current or future national, or world champion.” He finished, beating two people.”
He’s had injuries to both shoulders, wrists, elbows, and fingers, as well. A separated shoulder injury, however, wasn’t from hand cycling or wheelchair racing. It was from another sport he plays. Sled Hockey, which is adaptive ice hockey with full contact. The guy’s a beast! He likes pain!
His nutritional plan seems to come straight from the American Dietetic Association’s philosophy. “My nutritional plan isn’t really a plan. It is more like eating good healthy food and staying away from the heavy fatty foods. I don’t rule any kinds of food out though. As long as you use moderation.”
Again, showing his confidence and sense of humor, he boasts about the fashion statement of the Loncar Team black and yellow uniforms. Watching one pass on the bike, you think of Bumble Bees. “Well our team uniforms are pretty cool looking so in that regard I would have to say that I am [fashion conscious].” But, he continues, in typical guy fashion. “I am not really a shopper. I like to know what I need before I go, and get in and out of the store, as quickly as possible. Maybe they should turn that into a sport!”
Justin enjoys his music but is at a loss to pick a favorite band. “It seems to change weekly. I mostly listen to rock.” His reading is mostly true stories he says. “I have read all of Lance Armstrong’s books except the one that just came out. I am not much of a fiction reader. When asked to finish this sentence, “What you don’t know about me is __,” he answered, “I am a daredevil. Actually, …I think a lot of people know that.”
His passion for wheel chair racing can be seen in other stories on line such as www.riseadventures.org/tag/justin-meaders/, where he urges other wheel chair athletes to come out to race The Rock this year, and http://collegian.tccd.edu/archive/articles112906/injurychanges.html where he discusses his rise from the ashes of his wreck. He’s also on RaceNation and Facebook, where he’s a big fan.
Justin works out in the pool four to five times per week, but has to use his arms and hands for hand cycle and race chair workouts, as well, which he does four to five times per week.
While he was in school, he was training six to seven days per week on both his hand cycle and his racing bike. Sometimes, twice a day, according to Robert Cook of The Collegian in 2006. He does no gym work. “The nature of wheelchair racing is a lot of resistance training by itself.”
Concerning personal records, Justin is confident when he says, “My PR’s are all yet to come.” He continues. “I have set some fast times in the past and won some good races, but I promise the best has not happened yet. With the help of my awesome sponsor, Brian Loncar, and my coach, SCOTT EDER, I will hopefully be knocking down some records in the very near future.”
Scott comes highly qualified and experienced. He was the coach of a little known high school freshman triathlete, who went on to bigger and greater things. The kids name was LANCE ARMSTRONG.
“I taught him [Justin] to swim about two months ago,” Scott says. “His swimming has really gotten good, very quickly. Once we got the specs for the allowable flotation to keep his legs neutral, he really caught on quickly.”
“He keeps me in line,” Justin said.
Scott continued. “I predict he will qualify next year, 2010, for The World Championships in 70.3 [Half Ironman Triathlon], and the following year, 2011, for Kona in the Paratriathlon division. We have a loose schedule for training. He really does too much training and kind of random training, mostly long moderate distance in the wheelchair and on the hand cycle.”
Justin has very big aspirations for The Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. It’s a mean 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile solo and windy bike ride, and then a full 26.2 mile marathon. To win, one has to do that all before dinner. And Justin’s hungry. “The big goal as of right now is to qualify for, and then win, the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon.” But, he intends to back it up as he continues to race and win against all-comers. For the immediate future, he’s doing as many single and multi-sport events as he can. A list of races he and his team will be attending can be seen at www.brianloncarracingteam.com.
His favorite race? “The same race I did my first wheelchair marathon: The Dallas White Rock Marathon. I will continue racing this event as long as I can. I love this race for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is because the race benefits the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. Another is because of the people involved in the race. Such great people and great times.”
He says his favorite race moment is when he’s up against someone that he knows, in his mind and body, he is stronger than on that day. And he will not be denied. The man can throw down! Hope you’re not on his list of competitors to beat that day. He loves training, “When you feel as though you could keep on going forever.”
Outside of racing, he jokes he would like to be a multi-millionaire. “If anyone has any ideas, just let me know.” Despite the many interruptions, he is slowly finishing his engineering degree.
“I raced one of my designed bikes for about a year and a half .” He is continuing to develop his own bike. “My goal is to make the bike lighter, more aero, and stiffer than is currently available. I have even been toying with the idea of building one in the near future out of carbon fiber.”
And Justin obviously enjoys people. His latest hero is a seven year old little boy named Cody McCasland. “He is a double amputee and a super athlete. You can check him out at www.teamcody.com.” He also enjoys his extended family. “I am an uncle to six of the greatest nieces and nephews a guy could ask for. I am really blessed to have such a great family!”
Yep, that’s Justin Meaders. It’s how he rolls.