Blistered chin, narrow bridges can’t stop Tania

GLADSTONE, Ore. — After traveling 275 miles on highways, byways and bike trails, Tania Finlayson wasn’t about to let something like a blistered chin stop her from completing her “Oregon Dash for Puppy Cash.”

TaniaOregon1Finlayson — confined to a wheelchair her entire life with cerebral palsy — uses her chin to control her electric-motor wheelchair, and when the pain from her rubbed-raw chin got too bad, she drove the last 25 miles with her cheek.

“I’m impressed, but not the least surprised,” said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751. “Tania’s determination has been the most-important factor throughout all of this effort.”

Finlayson arrived in Gladstone shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, after completing a 300-mile journey that started Saturday morning at District 751’s annual Flight for Sight fun run in Everett, Wash.

She was greeted at the Machinists Union District Lodge W-24 Union Hall by Wroblewski, officers and staff from IAM Districts 751 and W-24 and by a handful of guide dog puppies in training and their handlers from Guide Dogs of America. Finlayson’s marathon ride was a fundraiser for the California-based charity, which provides guide dogs and training in how to work with them free of charge to people who are blind or have impaired vision from across North America.

It was a grueling journey for Tania, said her husband, Ken, who accompanied her on the trip on his bicycle.

“She was really in a lot of pain there toward the end,” he said. “Her chin, her lips, her neck. But she didn’t let it slow her down at all.”

The Finlaysons originally had planned to travel from Seattle to Spokane, but decided to make Oregon their destination after the Washington Department of Transportation said it wouldn’t not allow Tania to travel along Interstate 90 in her wheelchair. Rather than give up, Tania re-routed, and went south instead of east.

“My Dad said, if you cannot change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails,” she explained, speaking through a computer that she controls by typing Morse code with her head.

TaniaDash1Her journey started with the 10K run at the Flight for Sight in Everett. After that, she and Ken traveled on bicycle trails from Everett to Redmond on Saturday, then retraced their route on Sunday to come back through Bothell into north Seattle on the Burke-Gilman Trail. After making their way through Seattle traffic on Sunday, they ended Day Two in Auburn.

After that, they followed the route of the annual Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic through Southwest Washington. They ended Day Three in Centralia, then pushed on the next day to St. Helens, Ore., after crossing the Lewis and Clark Bridge over the Columbia River.

Day Five’s journey was all in Oregon.

The river crossing — on a narrow bridge with heavy truck traffic — was one of the worst parts of the trip, said Ken Finlayson, who works as an information technology staffer for District 751.

“The bridge was an experience that I don’t think anyone who was involved in that will ever forget,” he said. “I’ve never been so stressed out in my life.”

In contrast, one of the best parts was the reaction from people they met along the way, many of whom had heard about Tania’s trek from media reports and came out to cheer her on as she and her support team rolled through their towns.

“We even had people reach into their pockets and pull out $20 bills for Tania,” said Ed Lutgen, a District 751 staff officer who was part of “Team Tania,” the support group that followed her on the ride. “That kind of support made us all feel good.”

Finlayson’s goal was to raise $42,000, which is what it costs Guide Dogs of America to breed, raise, train and pair one service dog with one blind person. It appears she has fallen short of that goal.  As of Tuesday, she had raised more than $26,000, which would make her “Oregon Dash” one of District 751’s biggest-ever fundraisers for Guide Dogs of America.

“I’m OK with it,” Ken Finlayson said. “But Tania says she’s not going to stop fundraising til she gets the whole $42,000.”

To support Tania and the Oregon Dash, go online at or

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 33,000 working men and women at 49 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. District 751 is the top fundraiser in North America for Guide Dogs of America, having collected more than $1 million over the past four years, including a record $299,000 in 2012.

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