2013-08-09 / People

Neighbors

Cape woman doesn’t let disability get her down
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Christina Kouros, a recent graduate of Cape Elizabeth High School, was the first and only finisher in the women’s wheelchair division of last weekend’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K. Kouros will be heading to the University of New Hampshire in the fall to study business. (Jack Flagler photo) Christina Kouros, a recent graduate of Cape Elizabeth High School, was the first and only finisher in the women’s wheelchair division of last weekend’s TD Beach to Beacon 10K. Kouros will be heading to the University of New Hampshire in the fall to study business. (Jack Flagler photo) Two days after the 16th TD Beach to Beacon 10k Road Race, wheelchair racer Christina Kouros is calm and humble.

“I always set little goals for myself. I never really put a lot of pressure on. I’ll try to beat my old time, but if I don’t, I won’t be really disappointed, I’ll just try again,” Kouros, 18, said.

She achieved that goal Saturday morning, Aug. 3, breaking the tape at the finish line in Fort Williams Park after 41 minutes and 17 seconds, besting her 2012 time of 42:27. But when Kouros is pressed on her reaction after the race to beating her previous time, her competitive edge, anything but calm, comes out strongly.

“Right after I crossed the finish I didn’t know my time, so I was kind of freaking out a little bit,” Kouros said. “I felt like I did, because I would check times (along the course) and try to figure it out, but I still didn’t really know.”

Kouros, who graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in June, was the only finisher in the women’s push-rim wheelchair division.

The men’s side featured three finishers, led by Krige Schabort of Cedartown, Ga., who finished the race in 21:53, about six minutes before the first runner completed the 10k course.

Wheelchair racers generally move slightly faster than runners because they have certain advantages through the course to save energy. For example, a runner doesn’t have the option of coasting down a hill. However, Kouros said there are challenges associated with wheelchair racing that runners do not face.

A passing rain shower rolled through Cape Elizabeth around 9 a.m. Saturday morning, just as the top Maine finishers approached the finish line. For the runners, the rain provided a cooling relief at the end of a grueling 6.2- mile course. For Kouros, the shower was an inconvenience. Kouros wears gloves and balls her hand into a fist to push the wheels along – if she grabs them like a conventional wheelchair, it will slow her down. When rain comes and the wheels get wet, it affects her grip and therefore her ability to move quickly.

About a week after completing what she called her “home course” at the Beach to Beacon, Kouros will travel to Falmouth, Mass. to take part in the Falmouth Road Race. It will be the fourth time Kouros has participated in the seven-mile race on Cape Cod. She has also taken part in a half marathon in Boston, and hopes to work her way up to 26.2 miles.

“It would be nice to get up to marathon distance. I think it would be fun to travel around the country and do some marathons,” Kouros said.

Kouros was born without the right side of her pelvis or right leg. When she and her sister, Ana, progressed from middle school into high school, Ana started getting involved in sports like volleyball and lacrosse.

“I would watch my sister go out and play with school teams, and I kind of wanted to be a part of it,” Christina Kouros said.

Kouros started out as a manager, but she did not feel she was a part of the group. Then, in her freshman year of high school, she started participating in races with the high school track team. Before her sophomore year, Maine changed a state law to allow wheelchair athletes to gather points for their respective teams and participate in state meets like any other athlete. Kouros was no longer an exception, she was a full-fledged member of the team.

That same year, Kouros decided she would like to extend her athletic season to the winter. She approached Cape Elizabeth’s Nordic ski coach, Deven Morrill, and asked if she could join the team. Without hesitation, Morrill agreed.

Kouros said the last three years as an all-season athlete has been a positive experience not only for her, but for the rest of the high school athletes as well.

“It’s good for the community. You’re not moving yourself away from the other kids, you can be with them. ” Kouros said.

Although she picked the sport up later, Kouros is now arguably a more accomplished nordic skier than she is a track athlete. Kouros won the women’s 5k sit-ski race in 2012 at the U.S. national cross country ski championships in Rumford. In January, she plans to compete in the national tournament again, this time in Utah. Eventually, she hopes to qualify for the winter Paralympic games.

Next year, Kouros will attend the University of New Hampshire, where she will study business and hopes to pick up another new sport. Unsurprisingly, the hockey-crazed college offers a version of the game for individuals with disabilities called “sled hockey” that is as competitive as the version of the game played standing up.

Sled hockey players sit on an adaptive device that slides along the ice, propelling themselves with two small hockey sticks with metal picks on the end – used both to control the puck and move through the playing surface.

“My good friend has been doing it for eight years. I tried once to go out with him on the ice, he threw a puck over my head and I screamed. I’m not very good with pucks or balls but I’ll try,” Kouros said.

Based on her past experience, Kouros won’t take long at all to pick it up.

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