Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Friend Earl Barnes

This post is a tribute to my friend Earl Barnes. Earl and I started talking to each other via a post on Scott Rigsby's Facebook page; Scott certainly understands and perpetuates the idea of "paying it forward." I want Earl's words to speak for themselves, unedited, the excitement and joy of his first triathlon as an amputee transcends any poetry.

I made it! After all the nervousness and panicking about the run, I made it through with flying colors! The triathlon was a blast, and I had such a good time. It was tough right off the bat, which I hadn't planned on. The water was bone chillingly cold. Even with my wetsuit I was freezing, and i felt like I was just flailing my arms until about 100yds from the finish. So that was pretty bad and quite depressing when That was the only part I was looking forward to!

My wife met me at waters edge, and, silly me, I thought I would just hop up the beach a little ways to her. I couldn't even balance on one foot for a couple of seconds much less try and hop up out of the water through sand and people pushing me!

So, my highly developed crawling technique took over and I was covered in sand by the time I made it to her. Luckily she could see that I was completely wasted and came down to me. One volunteer told her to leave, so she just held up my leg and the lady gave a very meek "oh, ok then".

I rinsed off my stump, which i pulled my wetsuit down to cover, then I just put my liner over the top of it. So I was able to walk around with my wetsuit on and the prosthesis on top. It was a pretty good system and allowed me to run up to to the transition area. From there, I just peeled the suit of and got everything really dry and I was off.

The bike was easy, I tried to coast and recover the whole way which worked pretty well. I just told myself over and over again "its ok that they're passing you, its ok that they're passing you..." And believe me, thats tough!

So then we get to the run. I pull on both of my top socks and grab my shamwow and start. I knew right away that i had the right thicknesses on so I just took off! Its an amazing feeling to run through the gauntlet of spectators that are cheering just a little bit differently for you than the people around. Know what I mean? Its like they cheer a bit louder when i run by and say different phrases than the usual 'good job' type things. I don't know, I could just hear what they were yelling for the groups ahead of me and then when I passed it was just different.

Oh well, anyway, long story even longer. I took a potty break at the two mile mark and walked through that water stop. That little break alone made a world of difference. I picked up my pace and was good until just before the three mile mark, then i got really tired. All of a sudden.

But as I rounded a bend that took us to the finish line, I could hear my wife's cowbell. And I knew that she could spot me from quite a ways off so I picked up the pace so she would think I was tanking. The funny thing is though, I was so focused on taking small strides that when I sped up, it wasn't that bad! As I got closer I could hear a whole group shouting "Go Earl Go!", so that made me go even faster (although I really wanted to climb under a rock). As I passed I saw she had recruited about 50 people to cheer. Very embarassing, but nice!

And then I made the turn down the finish line and I was the only one going through, so the announcer had plenty of time to find my name and call it out. What a feeling! So I pretended I was winning Kona and held up my arms as I crossed. Hopefully the photographers got a good shot so I can send it to Hanger and start begging for money-I mean-sponsorship!


I was moved by Ear's account because we are brothers without limbs or limits. The fact we are different yet not different and that our friends - and strangers - recognize this dichotomy. We lost our limbs through very different circumstances but the result was the same:

I am a 37 year old firefighter/paramedic living in Lawrence, KS with my wife and three year old daughter. I'm an avid swimmer and cyclist, and am just starting to run again after a motorcycle accident in 1997 in which my right foot was amputated at the ankle. In October 2009 another surgery was needed so I had an Ertl procedure done in Oklahoma City, making me a true below the knee amputee. 

Earl sets no limits on his future. His wife is an accomplished marathoner and no doubt Earl will be one too, perhaps an Ironman, one day soon. His daughter will have a father who, over time, she come to know as something a little more than mortal, yet still her father and very much alive.

Heroes are all around us, yet we are blind to most. 

Earl, my eyes are wide open.

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