Amputees running marathons isn’t something that you see on a regular basis, but there are lots of us who are more than capable of completing the 26.2 mile course. Personally, I never considered myself to be one of those people. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could finish the race, it’s just that I never had the desire to even enter one. In my mind I was a better marathon spectator than a participant. That is until my good friend John Stuart started the conversation. John, who is an avid marathoner with 39 races to his credit, invited me to run the 2016 Chicago Marathon along with his daughters and co workers as part of MDA Team Momentum. We would be raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I earnestly accepted his invite and immediately began researching what it takes to prepare for a marathon. Let me say that It’s a lot of work. Hard work! It’s a lot of work for an able bodied person and even 3 times as much for someone who has a leg amputation. But I was determined not to fail. Especially since we would be running for charity!
John works for a software engineering company called PTC and they do some pretty cool stuff. Based in Needham MA, PTC provides software that engineers use to create all types of products that we use in our everyday lives. John and his team of engineers got together and started brainstorming about how they could incorporate IOT technology to record my race data in real time out on the course. My prosthetic feet would be wired up to the Internet Of Things (IOT) and transmit real time performance data during the race which could be monitored by users by way of an app on their smart phones. Sensors placed on my Soleus prosthetic feet which were provided by College Park Industries, would collect data such as stress, shock, step count and gps location and relay that info to the internet. After much research and development, it was decided to scrap the stress & shock sensors until a later date, and just monitor my step count and gps location during the race.
Anyone thinking of running a marathon needs to properly prepare. My training started in January. Besides the obvious physical demands, the hardest part about my training was the weather. Training for a marathon in the northeast part of the United States during the Winter months is a joke! Most of my initial training was done indoors on a treadmill. Boring! I’m one of those people who needs a change in scenery as I run. Staring at the same old walls was a psychological challenge for me. But I discovered that the more I ran the stronger I got. My endurance slowly increased each time I got on the treadmill. So did my pain. Long distance running in prosthetic legs is like a chess game. Trying to come up with the right combination of prosthetic socks to create the most comfortable fit as you experience residual limb volume loss during the run is a challenge. Too many or too little socks can lead to pressure which leads to pain as well as skin breakdown. Skin breakdown can end your race. After about a month of running indoors, it was time to venture out onto the cold Philadelphia streets. After a month or so of periodic on road running and walking, I slightly injured my left knee. I jammed it while running downhill. This gave me a scare. My knees are sacred ground to me as they are essential to my mobility and all that I do. So, in the interest of self preservation, I made the decision that I would lightly jog, briskly walk the entire 26.2 mile Chicago course. Not what I wanted to do, but what I had to do.
Our day started at 6 am at MDA Team Momentum headquarters. About 250 team members all gathered for a light breakfast and some stretching. I got a chance to speak to the group just before we headed out and offer some words of inspiration. From there, we walked 2 miles to our start gate. The 2016 Chicago Marathon started at 7:30 am sharp. 45,000 runners were placed in designated corrals to keep the start orderly. John & I drew corral “C” within the first wave. Within 15 minutes, we had reached the start line and began our run. All I can say is that it was an amazing experience. Wave after wave after wave of runners of all different shapes, sizes and ethnicities. People from all over the world were there to support us as we ran through the various neighborhoods. Chicago definitely showed us love all along the route. I managed to finish the race in 9 hours. That included a few “leg maintenance” stops but none for rest. My left knee injury was ever present, but I pushed through the pain until the very end. Friends and family were waiting for us as we crossed the finish line and race officials adorned us with medals signifying our accomplishment. What an amazing experience. One that I will never forget. It was another opportunity for me to show the incredible resolve of the human spirit. Human beings are capable of some amazing things. When people look at me, they see me as an amputee. Now they can also see me as a marathoner! God bless.