Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Record-breaking elite wheelchair racer shares his story ahead of the Bridge Run
Editor’s Note: Roper St. Francis Healthcare is a proud sponsor of the Cooper River Bridge Run and the Cooper River Bridge Run Wheelchair Race. We encourage our teammates and the community to engage in activities that promote a healthy lifestyle.
After placing second in the 2018 and 2019 Cooper River Bridge Run wheelchair races, Hermin Garic had a chip on his shoulder that only winning could resolve.
Garic went on to win the men’s wheelchair races back-to-back in 2021 and 2022, breaking the course record both times.
“I never dreamed of breaking a record,” Garic said. “But I saw the conditions for the race and thought ‘that’s doable.’ The race took on a new meaning for me after that.”
Racing the bridge
Garic has been traveling to Charleston from Unica, N.Y., for the Bridge Run since 2016. Eleven wheelchair athletes will compete this year.
For Garic, the race kicks off his season, serving as a baseline to test how well his off-season training has been going. Bridge Run morning has special air to it, he said.
“There’s kind of an eerie feeling in the dark morning air,” Garic said. “Then the sun rises, and you know the race is ready to go. By the time you cross the finish line, the sun is out, you hear the cheers and rays of sunshine are beaming down on you.”
Surviving civil unrest
Garic grew up in Bosnia in the 1990s during the Bosnian War, a civil war that lasted three years and killed around 100,000 people. The tragic onset of violence took a devastating turn for four-year-old Garic and his family when his village was invaded.
Amid fleeing the violence with his family, Hermin was struck in the back by grenade shrapnel, which rendered him unconscious. His family carried him to an ambulance and made their way to the nearest hospital. They took to dangerous unpaved back roads to avoid wartime checkpoints.
In its hurry to keep Garic safe, the ambulance hit a bump on the narrow road, flipped over and crashed. Garic survived the accident, but it severed his spinal cord, leaving him without the use of his legs.
He and his family spent a few more years in Bosnia, where he went through rehabilitation for his injury. In 2000, his family decided to move to the United States to pursue better rehabilitation resources and educational opportunities for Garic.
They moved from a small country of less than 4 million people to the state of New York, which has a population of almost 20 million. It was a huge culture shock for him, Garic said.
Off to the races
In his teen years, Garic began dabbling in adaptive sports such as wheelchair basketball but found his passion in racing. He won his first official racing chair in 2005 after competing in the Sitrin Boilermaker Wheelchair Challenge where he finished the Utica Boilermaker 15K in under two hours and 15 minutes using a standard wheelchair.
He was awarded a racing chair valued at $3,000 and has been training and racing ever since.
Now, Garic is a professional athlete with almost 20 years of racing experience. He has raced in four of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors, including the Boston Marathon, TCS London Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.
He placed in the top 10 in the Boston Marathon the last two years and credits breaking the Bridge Run course record as an eye-opening moment for him.
“My racing endurance, conditioning and fitness shot up after that,” Garic said.
He recalled the 2022 race as he entered the final stretch with one of the volunteers who follow alongside racers on their bikes, tracking their progress and communicating with them.
“The first year that I broke the record, (the volunteer) told me that I left him breathless when I outraced him going for the finish line,” Garic said. “Last year, I turned to him on the course and said, ‘Are we going to go for another record?’ He told me, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I just started pushing hard.” He noted his appreciation for Kim Aquino, the wheelchair division’s coordinator, and Roper St. Francis Healthcare teammates who volunteer with the race.
“The Roper St. Francis volunteers are out there, getting us to the starting line and assisting with stretches and massages,” Garic said. “I always welcome the massage after the race because you gotta loosen up those muscles and get that blood flowing.”
A realistic approach
Garic’s motivational philosophy is a practical one. He calls himself a realist.
“I don’t set expectations that I can’t achieve,” Garic said. “And I don’t think in terms of good days or bad days. I just think, ‘You’re gonna have a day.’”
He hopes that his story can help inspire others in similar situations to stay motivated and try new things, even if they feel embarrassed or are afraid of failing, he said.
“It’s a shock to your system when you first end up in a wheelchair,” Garic said. “I always take the time to share my story with anyone who might benefit from hearing it.”
Unfortunately, Garic won’t be at the Cooper River Bridge Run this year. He suffered an injury late last season, tennis elbow, which has set him back. He, of course, is itching to get back out there. It eats him alive that he can’t compete, he said.
He will be easing back into racing by competing in a few local races this spring and summer.
“I’m hoping to come back better and stronger,” Garic said. “I plan to be at the Cooper River Bridge Run starting line next year.”
Garic (center left) in the 2021 winners circle
Garic (left) with CRBR race director Irv Batten and previous course record holder Krige Schabort
Garic (far left) with CRBR wheelchair race competitors and RSFH volunteers in 2021