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Opinion – Marathons need be more inclusive

The New York Marathon has come under fire for excluding a runner with a stoma. But across the board, are major running events doing enough to make people feel included?

Like many large-scale running events, the New York Marathon is a chance to celebrate hard work, dedication, charity and community. Runners from all over the world, from a variety of backgrounds, come together in a show of solidarity and support.

It’s hard not to become emotional watching clips from the finish line, or hearing stories from those competing.

But this weekend, the New York marathon came under fire after Gayle Redman, a runner from Wales, was forced to withdraw over a backpack which carried supplies for her stoma.

Redman, who is 47 and has competed in numerous marathons including London, needs hydration, nutrition and medical supplies while running following endometriosis injuries.

New York Road Runners (NYRR) which organises the race, had said Redman’s bag didn’t adhere to the race guidelines, which include strict security measures.

Since news of Redman’s exclusion was made public, social media users have criticised event organisers for what some deem archaic and unnecessary protocols.

‘Security risks? Couldn’t they have just examined the vest and its contents? […] I get why NYC is intense with security measures, but still’ said one Instagram user.

Redman shared that the New York marathon had been ‘on the bucket list for quite some time’, and she was overjoyed to be registered as a disabled competitor six months ago.

Having to withdraw at the last minute meant that Redman lost $500 in registration fees, as well as the money she’d spent on accommodations and travel.

Event organisers were sent a photo of Gayle’s vest pack prior to the event, which holds extra liquids and food to keep her hydrated on long runs. But she was told only waist belts were allowed, a type of aid that would affect her stoma.

At this point Redman began making alternative preparations, and contacted the CEO of the New York Marathon as well as the inclusion team.

Despite her best efforts, Redman was told she could only run with a clear backpack that would hold water but no medical supplies.

‘I can’t run without my medical supplies. I can’t run without appropriate hydration. I can’t decide between the two which one I’m going to sacrifice,’ she said.

As a result, Gayle’s husband, who suffers from a neurological condition, also had to withdraw from the marathon.

‘I’m his support runner to make sure he doesn’t have a seizure and if he does that the seizure is managed and I can look after him’ Gayle said.

Redman’s mistreatment comes after events like the New York marathon are doing more to include runners of varying abilities and backgrounds.

Last week it was announced that new mothers would be supported during the course with lactation tents. These gave women a safe and private space to pump in order to ease the transition back to running postpartum.

And last month, at the Toronto marathon, three disabled runners took part in the first wheelchair race. They were trialling whether the current route is safe enough for a larger wheelchair marathon in the future, given tramlines dotting the course.

Despite these key moments of change, Gayle Redman’s experience proves major running events still have some way to go in ensuring everyone feels included.

Gayle’s husband posted on Sunday: ‘Today marks what would have been our New York City Marathon race day, and while we aren’t there hitting those iconic streets, I couldn’t be prouder of Gayle. Her courage to share her story has shone a light on the often overlooked issue of hidden disability discrimination.’

‘We may not be crossing the NYC finish line, but we’re running towards a future where inclusivity isn’t just a word, but the standard’.