Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

Life does not owe you anything.

Life has given you everything.

It is not about you. It is all about you.

Look, listen, and chose wisely.

It is the gift.

Life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Two Hundred Twenty Six

There have been many goals I have achieved - and a few not yet realized - on this path from what I was to what I am. Some, like running my first race and later my marathon, were large goals reached, while others, like being able to walk a quarter mile without crutches, were important first steps that had to be met before others were taken.

I try to be cognizant of all my goals, small and large, because each builds on the other. Last week while updating my run log, I realized I had reached a huge milestone that took me by surprise. In my able-bodied days I always considered a 200 mile month to be the mileage needed to run with some success, more or less depending on what I was training for. So when I reached this amputee goal, I was very proud of what I had done:

I had run 226 miles over a 4 week period.

This is about the distance from the Isle of Palms to Greenville, SC

This took a while to sink in...I had run 60, 45, 65, and 56 miles and shockingly, not missed a single day due to injury. Before going to Procare, I rarely went 2 weeks without some injury causing me significant downtime, from a swelling fibula head to the opening of my incision line.

This is not to say I will always be injury free as an amputee. Just as a person with all limbs intact, things happen. Achilles tendons get sore, hamstrings become unhappy, and shins decide to slow you down. As an amputee runner, the issue is generally compromised skin, leg skin (or some scar tissue) that was not intended to be used for bearing weight like a foot.

This means fit has to be as anatomically perfect as possible, which currently is nearly impossible since the limb is always changing shape. Here is where my prosthetist's experience is solid gold, in using elevated vacuum to help mitigate these changes along with a prosthesis that does not adhere to yesterday's thinking.

My marathon schedule, though aggressive, was designed to be long enough at 22 weeks to accommodate some downtime for the unforeseen injuries or life events. As it stands, I am ecstatic that am I training without my prosthesis limiting me in any significant way...only my age can do that now, and we duke it out every day.

As I write this I am working toward a 67 mile week capped by a 20 mile long run. Then it's some recovery time over the Christmas holidays, where the carbo-loading effort will be easily met. Shortly afterward in January, I hope to give a good half marathon effort at the Charleston Marathon where I should be able to better gauge what I can do at Boston.

Boston seems as if it is around the corner instead of nearly 4 months away. That is a good thing to me, there is no chance any thought will cross my mind that I can take a breather except for those I've planned. My schedule is proving to be tough but doable, and as long as I stay in one piece - which is only slightly ironic - I should arrive on that Boston starting line as fit as I have been in many years.

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

Not going to happen, brother. It may be slow, but it will be my all.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hey 19

Sunday was my longest run of the year since the Charleston Marathon way back in January. I have been training hard, knowing at some point the long runs would get easier as my fitness improved. Indeed this did happen but in an interesting fashion.

After running nine miles on our soon-to-be-replaced treadmill, I gathered my outside running gear to prepare for the next 10 on the road. At the last minute I decided to take my small bottle of mineral oil, thinking if I need to make any adjustments far from home I might need it. Usually I don't but today would be different.

I was running comfortably though not quite as easily I use to on my long runs as an able-bodied runner. Out of our subdivision and over to Park West, down streets and onto a sidewalk and finally to an asphalt trail that is easier on the legs and safer than sharing the roads with vehicles.

At about mile 12 I felt some slight burning behind my knee that usually indicates the liner is pinching my skin. Sometimes this just goes away but occasionally it can take enough skin off in a narrow strip that will bleed and be very...annoying. When I hit mile 13 I decided I better take a look and see what was going on since the burning seemed to be getting worse.

I should mention, as a runner, we are use to pushing through discomfort. We can feel blisters forming and sometimes simply have to run through the pain. With a prosthesis this sort of bullheadedness may cause an injury that can cause down times from days to a week or more, as I've previously blogged about.

Off with the prosthesis and pulling down my liner, I see an angry spot about half an inch long with a layer of skin peeled away. Oh great. Time to make a decision.

I think about calling Jennifer to come get me, so I can immediately address the abrasion and set it to healing. However, it is not that big nor bleeding...but I know sometimes these things are worse than they first appear. Then I think...I really need this long run today, I have a marathon pace (MP) run next weekend and my plan builds workouts for other workouts. I couldn't squeeze in a long run later and be able to run the MP next weekend.

Since I don't think I am bleeding and the skin issue is relatively small, I squirt and rub in a liberal amount of mineral oil on the affected area, pull my prosthesis on, and set off.

I don't feel anymore burning but I do feel something else. Something I have not felt in a long, long time. Years in fact. I am running strong, faster with the less effort, and I feel damn good. I slow a little knowing I still have 6 miles to go and realize this may simply be a short lived post-rest boost...but the runner within is smiling.

Hitting my turnaround at 5 miles to go, I find myself in that runner's rhythm that makes us feel a little less mortal. Each footstep seems to be perfectly placed, the effort is there but embraced as easy as breathing; the runner within wants to go faster, further, and never ever stop. And for those who say you never see someone running and smiling, today was your lucky day.

At mile 17 I pull over to oil the machine, then I'm off again. Despite feeling some fatigue now, my pace is quickening, I am running strong and remembering so many other runs in my past. I am totally in the zone and one happy man.

I take one short break at mile 18, inhale a gel, and see a half moon low in the blue afternoon sky. The old man is watching. Watch this.

This horse is heading to the barn, picking up the pace, wondering if maybe, just maybe he should do one more mile. Given how well the run has gone and a skin issue that certainly needs attention, sanity prevails that today's work has been enough.

19 miles comes just before our house. I feel better than I did in the middle of my run, probably a natural high that has built on itself.

It is 65 miles for the week.

Holy sweet mother, I am going to be running the Boston Marathon next April. And I will be prepared this time to give my reconfigured best effort.

I. Am. An. Animal.

Flying.

Monday, November 21, 2011

58 Does 60

This will be short, but I have hit a goal that has been a long time coming: yesterday I ran 18 miles, but more importantly my week's mileage hit a new amp milestone at 60. Not bad for a 58 year old one footed runner.

I had thought I had run some 60 mile weeks back in 2006, maybe even early 2007, but as I reviewed my run logs it turned out to be 2004. My old ankle was becoming increasingly painful and my mileage was dropping through those years.

I need to be able to do this kind of mileage and more if I am to have any chance of having a good day at Boston. Later on Sunday I completed my training plan for the marathon, and I will likely top out around 70 mi/wk for some training sessions. My speed is still around 1 min/mi slower (at best) than my old biped self, so I need endurance to run this throttled body at a good pace for 26.2.

Thanks to my team at ProCare for giving me a state-of-the-art prosthesis that does not artificially limit my efforts. I will need to run consistent weeks of training to prepare for this marathon of a lifetime, and I intend to give it my best.

Jato At Ease

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Guiding Lights

(Note: I quickly mentioned my guides in my last post, but felt I needed to give this subject a little more depth, as without my guides I would be lost and wandering about the greater Boston area for years to come.)

*******

Boston allows and encourages the use of guides for the MI (mobility impaired) runners and not just for those who have a sight impairment. Because we start before anyone else in the field - which is like, dude, totally awesome - at some point those swifter runners will catch us.

As Kelly Luckett explained to me, the guides are there to protect both the runner and equally if not more importantly the elites and then main field from collisions. Running at this level takes a huge focus, and if an elite running 4:40 miles comes up on yours truly poking along at 9 min/mi there may be an unwelcome greeting:

"Hello Mr. Macadam, hate to meet you!"

*******

The One and Only
The choices for my guides are two extraordinary people in my life. I present my #1 best friend and wife, Jennifer Starrett Blalock, a.k.a. "Sweetness and Light,"  who will guide me from the motel to the starting line, attempting to keep me from losing my marbles, prosthetic supplies, clothing items, and all things running I will need for the race.

Jennifer has supported me on every step of this journey, even writing some articles that appeared in the print version of the Running Journal. Her best advice ever to me was to "keep your eye on the prize." The journey has been made brighter by her ability to keep my feet, uh, foot in the ground through humor and understanding.

She has been my rock and supporter. I'd conservatively estimate well over half of my fundraising for the IFOPA came from her quiet efforts. So yes, I love her and happy she lets me hang around.


*******

Be Like Mike
Mike Lenhart is the founder and president of The Getting2Tri Foundation. I have written quite a few posts about the amazing work Mike has done to help and support disabled people find hope - and often a part of themselves they did not know existed - through sport. Through Mike I have come to know many people that have enriched my own life beyond measure.

Mike has run marathons as a guide with Scott Rigsby, Jason Gunter, and Richard Whitehead. I am in the best of hands with his experience; not only that, Mike is simply a great guy and cares deeply for his athletes. They are never obligated to be a means of funding for the organization simply because they disabled. This is the very reason I intend to fund raise for G2T in the future.

*******

I know much of my race day anxiousness will be alleviated by having Jennifer and Mike at my side. Both know me and my love for running, and beyond that, I am so grateful and blessed that I can share this most special day with them. 

Here is a video of the start of the MI division by one of the athletes, Stephen Gaudet. Stephen has greatly diminished lung capacity due to severe asthma that causes permanent decline. Having had childhood asthma that nearly killed me, I have heroic respect for this man who has done the Boston Marathon. My disability is quite visual; his is not. Stephen shows great courage, courage that few possess. His is true inspiration.



You will also see our friends Brian and Kelly Luckett in this video. I hope this gives you a sense of what we will feel on April 16, 2012, as we stand in the starting line of the Boston Marathon and leading the race if only for a short time with our MI brothers and sisters. Indeed, it will be a day like no other.

I am training to fly.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

WAAAAAHOOOO!!! IT'S OFFICIAL!!!

The Dream Comes True
Somewhere between Columbia and Greenville on our way to ProCare Prosthetics in Buford, GA, I received the email I had been looking forward to ever since registering for the Boston Marathon back in September. Even though my friend Kelly Luckett had been able to confirm we were registered, part of me wanted this official word to make it real, to prove I wasn't living in some dream or coma.

I was on my laptop doing a little work when I got the message, and in a rather exuberant moment tried to put the screen in front of Jennifer, who happened to be driving around 70 m.p.h. at the time.

MI = Mobility Impaired
Mobility Impaired runners start first at Boston, before the wheelchair athletes and before the elites. This will be like a recurring running dream I have, where I am leading a race without effort. Then I am lost, running off course, sometimes through a building with no idea where the next turn is on the course. Part of this will be a déjà vu at Boston.

Boston allows each MI athlete to have two guides. In the case of the visually impaired, it is understandable that a guide is required for negotiating roadway hazards. However, as I learned from Kelly, since we MIs start first, we will be shortly overtaken by the elites and then the main field, most all who will be running far faster than us. Part of the guide's duties are to let the oncoming runners know that a MI athlete is ahead. Those faster runners will be focusing on their race and may not see the slower moving objects until too late.

From left: Ashley Kurpiel, Mike Lenhart, and Robin Hiers at G2T Camp 2011
 My guides will be my wife Jennifer and my friend Mike Lenhart. Jennifer will assist getting me to the starting line and help me find my mind when I lose it on raceday morning. As it turns out, Mike's sister is running Boston as an able-bodied athlete, and he had previously expressed a hope to go see her run. Now he has an obligation to be there, and will get to see his sister as she breezes past us later in the race. Maybe. :)

Jennifer and me at the 2011 G2T Camp
I will be running this race once again raising money for The International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association (IFOPA) and honoring our friend Ashley Kurpiel. We have come a long, long way in the past year with the exciting news that a drug will be in trials soon that WILL STOP this disease in its tracks. This is a finish line we can cross with your help here.

When I did fund raising at the Charleston Marathon I had no idea we were moving so quickly to end the destruction of this disease. The end is near for FOP, and we want to send it off faster with a good riddance kick in the butt as soon as possible. So please help get us over this hurdle and make a huge difference in so many people's lives?

Ashley has told me she, her family, and some other FOPers will be at Boston. I cannot imagine what that day will be like without waves of emotion overtaking me. To think of all we have been through and done together started with a few kind words from Ashley to me. Never underestimate the effect of human thought, kindness, and the spirit within.

We will get there from here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Savannah on Six Feet

From left, Me, Jennifer, Kelly, and Brian

We had a nice three hour drive to Charleston's sister city last weekend to run the Savannah Rock'nRoll half marathon. We stayed with our friends Kelly and Brian Luckett who would both be running the full 26.2. Savannah is one of America's jewels and I was happy we got to spend some time there, seeing it from the unique runner's perspective.

My summer had been tuned to shorter speed work, and having to cut back on intensity and days with my recent skin infection, I knew a PR was unlikely. In reviewing my running log from the previous year, I was certain my endurance was not where it was at that time. Still, I felt I should be able to run under 2 hours, although I knew if I had a bad day 2:10 should be the upper limit.

We hit the expo just before what appeared to be the peak, and then headed to the Luckett's temporary accommodations on Skidaway Island. Kelly and Brian very much want to move into the city, and in the meantime have this rental to tide them over. Kelly is a Syme's amputee, and therefor has a long residual limb, so long that she has to use a Cheetah running blade, the same one that Oscar Pistorius employs.

*******

Kelly and Brian had arranged to get us a close parking spot for the morning of the race. It was quite chilly, but I knew I would warm up quickly and decided to forgo gloves and ear protection. I did put warmer clothes in my gear check bag, only wish I had had the good sense to put those gloves in the bag for after the race.

We all walked to the starting area and split up to go to our corral areas. Jennifer took my gear check bag since her corral was nearby, and I went off shivering to stand in line where all runners go...and go...and go. I did find two ADA (handicap) units. These are not reserved for the handicapped, at least not at this event.

I had about 40 minutes to wait, and found some shelter in a stairway. I closed my eyes and try to relax and meditate some...for some reason I kept seeing the mental picture of myself on the 7th floor of Roper Hospital. This is where I stayed immediately after my surgery, the first days of the journey that lead me to this new life. Back then I remember trying to imagine what it would be like to run again. Now I know.

********

I was in the 4th corral and we got started very quickly. As always, my main concern was not to start too quickly. Usually my first mile is a little fast if I don't reel myself in, but today I was not running quite so easily. After 3 miles I was certain this was going to be harder than I expected, and I hoped I would not crash and burn given all of the training I had done.

There was tremendous crowd support on the course, very much welcomed to hear even if we cannot always respond to it. Many, many people talked to me, definitely a mixed bag of loving the support and feeling a lack of focus for the need to acknowledge it. I simply can't ignore it and must give some response, in my mind I have to think the support goes into the heart and will be needed some day.

There were many kind words. One of the most memorable was hearing a guy behind me say something like:  

'Man, looks at that guy with the prosthetic...with all the aches and pains I complain about I'm not saying another word.'

I wanted to say I was not in that kind of pain today, but it did take me back to what I had been through to get to this day, to be able to run again. My vision blurred and I could not speak these words to him.

Photo by Dan Clapper
Throughout the race my left hamstring felt like someone was plucking it like a string, just enough to let me know something was not quite right. I did not stop to stretch, only tried to massage it as best I could and trying not to stress it more. Luckily it never did cramp, but given this sign I know I need to attend to it before I step up my training for Boston,

Dan Clapper and Peggy Klimecki, both Charleston area athletes, passed me during the race, Dan taking pictures and Peggy offering encouragement. Another woman, wearing a Boston Marathon top, ran by and asked if I was Richard Blalock, and then ran on, I have no idea who she was but seeing that Boston shirt sure brought the goal race to mind.

********

Photo by Dan Clapper
For me, the best moment of the race was our run along Liberty Street. We were headed into the sunrise, the spectators were incredibly loud and excited, and we runners were moving together in a tunnel of live oaks to the brilliance of a new day. 'Run toward the light!' I thought. For a short period I felt no runner's distress, just the lightness of running with these magnificent people. How could I have missed this...forever? 

How beautiful. With wings.
 
*******

Usually I like to have a little something left for the last 3 miles, but now I was struggling and not terribly happy about it. Even knowing the why if it, it is still hard for me to accept a slower time than I had hoped for. As we reached the final stretch to the finish line, I did try to pick up the pace one last time. My hamstring complained a little too loudly and I stumbled, looking like a wounded Big Bird as I regained my balance. 

S & L Photography
Crossing the finish line, a volunteer helped me, making sure I was okay after my stumble and there wasn't anything seriously wrong. I thanked him, received my finisher's medal, and headed off to pick up my gear as I was quickly getting chilled.

We had planned to meet at the letter "L" in the reunion area after the race, only I didn't see then letter on any of the pylons. Turned out they were on the other side of a walk/tree line, but Brian and Jennifer hunted me down and we soon all waited for Kelly after some coffee and food at a nearby cafe. Brian had a solid PR and would have gone faster save a nasty headwind that beat up the marathoners in the final miles.

Jennifer did quite well with her half and I was okay with my 2:04:42 finish. Kelly had an enjoyable race, no doubt even better that they have made the move from Atlanta to the Savannah area and this would be her home race for the future.

This was the first race in my new prosthesis from ProCare. the first couple of miles thought I might have some pressure on the distal end, but that abated and the leg performed flawlessly for the rest of the race. I have run in it a couple of times after the race and it feels incredible. I am looking forward to pushing my training with this, my state-of-the-art partner. More on it later!
 
*******

We spent the rest of the day recovering and reliving the race while catching up on all things running and even not running. After dinner we caught up on our caloric expenditure at Leopold's Ice Cream, amazing how quiet we became over our pumpkin pie sundaes. Okay, so this is the real reason we burn 1500 - 2500 calories at a race, still too much stigma attached to this secret fact.

*******

It is fair to say I was somewhat disappointed in my race time, but afterward the feeling I had was similar to other races where I did not run to my expectations. That feeling is the knowledge that with some changes in training I will run better, much better. I know it is in me to do so because I have done so already. I do believe this:

"Now I will turn the miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen every day."

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Catch Up

Two weeks Jennifer traveled with me to ProCare in Buford, Georgia. It is a 5 1/2 hour hike, and I was glad to have her company. The impetus for the trip was twofold, my running prosthesis had caused a couple of hotspots to arise on my residual leg and I needed to have my new walking prosthesis modified as well.

My running prosthesis has had no changes since the Charleston Marathon, where I was fitted and had one adjustment just before the race without me present to test it. Considering the speed at which all of this work was accomplished - replacing a plastic prosthesis that had opened my incision line from a prior company - it is a testament to their work that I've experienced so few problems until now.

Skin abrasions - blister bandages relieve pressure in socket
When one of the hotspots bled a little a couple of weeks ago, I decided it was time to get the problem fixed, as I must be able to train consistently to perform my best at Boston next year. Additionally, the spot on my tibial crest was getting larger and quite red, leading me to believe it might be infected. Indeed it was; when I got home I saw my family physician, and was given an antibiotic that started clearing it up in a couple of days.

*******

White hot Jato cooling it
Stephen Schulte worked with me to determine how we could take the pressure off these hotspots while making sure we didn't move the problem elsewhere. I was given a clear, hard plastic test socket that I wore on a couple of training runs and didn't notice any specific areas of concern. Given the green light, Jerry Brown at ProCare fabricated my definitive running prosthesis and they shipped it to me, along with a new foot for my walking prosthesis that I am very excited about. It is an improved version of the Freedom Innovations foot I currently have and is called the Renegade A·T. I will be installing it on my prosthesis soon and will review it in a later post.

This is the first of several upgrades to Jato, some of which is proprietary to ProCare and invaluable to me as a runner. Also, at age 58, my body is not as resilient as it used to be 25 years ago, so a good fit just won't do, it must be a great fit. And these are the guys who can deliver.

*******

I just ran a half marathon in this prosthesis and will do a race report as soon as I can get to it. Although my time was a little slower than I expected, I knew by reviewing my run logs and knowing the training I have been doing meant my endurance was less than optimal for a faster 13.1. I think it is human/runner's nature to always expect a faster time for a race even if we know we aren't quite prepared for such an effort.

Prior to the race I knew I might run as slow as 2:10; not that this really qualifies as slow, but of my 3 prior halves it would be the third slowest. I did run faster than that, but the last 3 miles were more of a struggle than I would have liked. I believe this may have been because of the recent skin infection and antibiotic's effects on my body, we are human beings and not machines.

I have a lot of upcoming news and hope to blog it over the next week. From my guides selected for the Boston Marathon (Guides? You need guides?) to my Savannah Rock'nRoll half marathon report there is much to tell. And I will...after the next run.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Little

There is a broad meadow, and on a small rise a single apple tree stands alone. Below an old locust wood fence runs along the shoulder of a rocky stream...squirrels chase each other on the rails.  Raccoons and opossums play on the bank, splashing in the water.

Deer stand along the far field, unafraid and unblinking. Birds flutter above, their wings beating a light rhythm.  The quiet thrum of insects is everywhere. Distant high mountain peaks cling to the sky, a deepening blue, in the indigo hues faint stars appear.

A wee white dog lies at the foot of the tree with several cats. One warm patch of summer grass is left bare as the sun filters through the leaves. Little will be here soon.

Little has been greatly missed by her friends.
 
She will be greatly missed by her friends.

*******

Last goodbye
Little Little (Sabrina)
1994 – 2011

Found on a trash heap, you came to be our friend. I leave you here, in my mind and memory, deeply loved.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

B-Bro Fort-2-Fort 2-Island Hop 'n Ride

My brothers were both much faster runners than me. I leaned more to the endurance side, while they would have been superb 200/400m men given their quickness. Older David's inclination was for football and was a running back in high school; younger brother Mark took on our dad's love for baseball. David has left us for now, but Mark is still running rampant though not specifically running due to a knee condition.

Brothers Mark (left), me, David (right)

Mark does bike, kayak, and has coached baseball while his sons inherited baseball fever. I have to say both boys could have been - and still could be - outstanding runners if they found a love for it. I have run races with the boys when they were younger and know they have the talent to be at least national class runners.

Back when ABC had shown some interest in filming Ashley Kurpiel's story and our fund raising efforts for the IFOPA, I had been thinking about venues for the show had we not been able to secure a race for the event. Chad Haffa saved us from not having a race, but I had working on some other ideas. The one event I felt I could personally pull off would be a run from Sullivan's Island to James Island, which would go through Charleston around White Point Gardens. I would ask anyone who wanted to run with me to just join in, maybe we would run at night to make it a little more special.

As it turned out this idea wasn't needed, but the thought stayed with me. Since I hope to be doing 5 or 6 20+ milers during my Boston marathon training, I thought this would still be a great course to run. Then lightning struck my pea brain...I considered having my brother ride his bike along with me, getting him moving a little more vigorously than usual and having some company and conversation along the way. Brilliant!

Thus the B-Bro (Blalock Brothers) Fort-2-Fort (Fort Moultrie to Fort Johnson Road) 2-Island (Sullivan's Island to James Island) Hop (Me) 'n Ride (Mark) was born. Genius!

The course will be close to this one:


The run will be around 20 miles. No date has been set yet, but likely in January 2012. I'll have to see how the training is going and preferably some clear weather for Mark. Or not, I may want him to enjoy all nature has to offer to the long distance runner.

I'll start the rain dance now.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thin Air

On Wednesday I received word from 7 and soon-to-be-8-time Boston Marathon MI (Mobility Impaired) runner Kelly Luckett that we were indeed confirmed to run the 2012 edition of this legendary race. Kelly spoke to the woman in charge of our division and was told she (Kelly), Shariff Abdullah (Singapore Blade Runner) and I (goober) were all in. Although we were waiting - and still are as I write this - on the "official" word directly from the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) in the form of an email or letter and wanting to see our names on the entrant's list, I knew I was officially in the race.

Shariff Abdullah, the Singapore Blade Runner (SBR)

*******

The week had started with an early morning 6 mile run on Monday. This was the first time ever I have run with a headlamp, and I found it worked extremely well. The lamp I have was purchased in Maine when Jennifer and I were vacationing with my brother Mark and his wife Debbie some years ago. I used it to get around at night after my surgery when I was on crutches or in my wheelchair; this was so I could see without waking Jennifer and to avoid tripping/running over rugs, pets, or any other inventive obstacles.

Back to the run, as I started my 6th mile, I felt my residual leg pistoning some (moving up and down) in my liner. What I should have done was to stop, check my leg, and likely added a prosthetic sock to snug up my fit. Trouble was I did not have an extra sock with me...or much good sense.

I continued to run and when I got home I found a previous hot spot had the skin taken off and was bleeding a little. The nickel-sized spot was right on the tibial crest, where it is difficult to protect from the pressures of running. Further irritation would only deepen and enlarge the wound, so I would need to take some time off.

Since I have had some issues in this area in the past, I made an appointment with my prosthetist and will get an adjustment soon. To help mitigate pressure on the area, I applied some material to either side of the tibial crest to push the affected area away from socket. This should remove the most intense forces from causing any more damage.

Such an injury will cause several training days to be missed. Usually this upsets me some, but given I did not heed the warning signals, I have learned yet another hard lesson. In a stroke of questionable fortune, I developed a seasonal cold that would require some downtime as well. So now I am taking care of two mortal conditions simultaneously, but should be pieced together and ready to go in a few days.

*******

After I learned of my acceptance into the Boston Marathon, I posted the news on Facebook and Twitter and sent a few emails. It was great to share this announcement with people who have been there with me for this journey, many supporting my fund raising efforts at the Charleston Marathon for The International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association (IFOPA), honoring our friend Ashley Kurpiel.

As I sat at my desk processing what this meant, I kept thinking of the day my surgeon told me my running days were over. I was not ready to give up, yet those words fell on my spirit with the weight of a thousand tons. Going from that dark moment to this one is nearly impossible to convey.

It crossed my mind that miracles are not some kind of supernatural magic, rather, a very real condition that deep belief can bring to pass on sheer will. The will to take what is not, and transform it into what is. Even if it is not to be, to never yield to the dark. Dr. Ohlson took what was not, my damaged right foot, and in its void a the miracle arose.

Out of nothingness, this bright thing. Being.

*******

I still plan to celebrate the direct, official email or letter that the BAA will send that confirms my place on the starting line, no doubt to be framed and cherished for the rest of this life. Life is strange and surprising; few if any of us see the voyage from beginning to end with clarity of the journey. There are a few more surprises along the way, and I hope I can make a few dreams come true.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nine Twelve Two Thousand Eleven

On this morning at 10 am I registered for the Boston Marathon. Mobility Impaired runners will not get official word until around September 28, so barring something completely unforeseen, I should get my notification then by email.
*******

Going back to 2007 when I still had two anatomical feet, I had given up on this dream ever becoming reality. I was training for the Jacksonville Marathon and my running times had been become stuck with my foot pain only increasing over time. One day that November my right foot found a small pavement depression and I believe the last of my peroneal tendon shredded. I limped home and knew I'd never make the starting line in Florida.

Not only was I not going to run another marathon, but a lifetime of running came to a hard stop. There would be no more races. No evening runs where twilight transformed me into a golden, winged messenger. I would not stand on another starting line chasing ever distant PRs. The life of this runner was over. Finished.

Yet I could not let go. Something in my mind, despite the reality, would not let go. I had faith in nothing at all but faith in what I was.

Then I let go.

I let go of a part of me, one of a pair that had carried me throughout my life. I had to lose a very real part of me, to regain myself. How odd to feel a part of you has preceded you into the forever, detached and no longer living.

And from that loss I become alive again, alive in a way far beyond any dream possible. Seeing life as a new citizen, living a new life as a different me.

From reality to dream to reality, I will now find myself standing on the starting line of the 2012 Boston Marathon. I will be there with my mobility impaired friends, two who will be Kelly Luckett and Shariff Abdullah. From our losses we will look within and find spirits that will not be stopped, the spirits that are us.

Human beings.

With wings.

Monday, September 5, 2011

This and That

Random pic of jackass parking at Charleston Bagel

I have several posts in the works, including a rather negative one about the way runners are treated by the Town of Mount Pleasant Recreation Department. I don't like dwelling in the negative, which is why that post has been in editing mode for over a year.

This post will cover several things that happened this week and a few rambling thoughts as well.

*******

First, two things have happened for the 5k at the Francis Marion Dirt Dash on September 10. We thought there was a chance the race might have national network television exposure for our cause, the International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association. However, scheduling did not work out despite our best efforts to come up with an event with the extraordinary help of Chad Haffa, the race director.

Second, Ashley Kurpiel, our friend and FOP champion, had a previous engagement before the network expressed an interest in this story. Considering all of the circumstances, she decided to attend the prior event since it would be very expensive to come here for the 5k. The trip would be by car and it is uncomfortable for her to travel 6 hours. We'll miss having her at the race, but I know she is doing what she needs to do...live her life every day.

*******

Last week's training went well, only downside was missing my run on Monday due to travel and then my speedwork suffered from a bit of fatigue. I rallied and ran 10 miles on Saturday and 16 on Sunday to make 50 miles for the week. My goal was 55 miles so a little short, but the two back-to-back longer runs was a great workout. The weather was a tad cooler, something I felt out on the road on Sunday where I kept a good pace and finished strong.

*******

Small cut on skin from pinching liner with benzoin protectant
I still have trouble with my liner pinching my skin at times. For protection I had been using A&D ointment at the direction of my prosthetist. However, it was clogging and disabling my vacuum pump far too often. We were then told to start using mineral oil, but it does not protect the skin as well as the A&D. In short order I had some skin breakdown in the creases of the liner where it bends behind my knee.

I decided to try some tincture of benzoin as a skin protectant. This worked for shorter runs, but the mineral oil tended to break it down and I still had some broken skin. For the past weekend run I used the benzoin and then a layer of New-Skin the night before my runs. This protected my skin but I still noted the covering was breaking down and wondered if it would eventually clog my pump again.
Sweat in the frame when vac pump goes on vacation

Doing a bit of research, I found another skin protectant I have ordered. It has great promise and if it works I'll blog about it later.

*******

Boston Marathon registration is in one week. I can't find anything about signing up as a Mobility Impaired athlete. My friend Kelly Luckett, a veteran of the race many times over, is trying to get in touch with her contact to see what our procedure is. I still feel a little hesitant to say "I am running Boston in 2012!" until I am confirmed with a number. So for now we'll let this pot simmer.

*******

I have nearly finished the book "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. It is the life story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and B-24 bombardier in the Pacific in WWII. I could not help but think of what he and so many other POWs endured during the war, horrible, inhumane things. I think of whining I hear at work and at times online, and wonder how any of us would survive a day, an hour, hell, a few minutes of the abuse these men endured. My patience is short with these malcontents knowing we have life so easy even in these challenging economic times.

Read this book. It will make you a stronger person. And you may just remember it when you think about whining the next time you have to reboot your computer and think you are enduring the unendurable.

*******

I am looking forward to the 5k on Saturday and hope to run well. Last year I ran the half marathon, my first as an amputee. It was a hot, humid day and a struggle for me to finish. This year the races start an hour earlier so there should be more shade. Given I am running 3.1 miles instead of 13.1, I suspect I will fare better physically, plus my prostheses last year was not the extraordinary one I have now.

I will run thinking, a little, what might have been had this event received a national audience, highlighting our friend and, I think, life-teacher Ashley Kurpiel. I will run for her, knowing every, every day is precious and none to be wasted.

And I will try to fly.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Goo U

Note: I am not sponsored by anyone at this time nor do I have any financial interests in ANY companies I mention...if I did I would disclose it here. I think any amputee with competing interests should make the truth known. However, any companies or products I do use and feel strongly about I will mention especially those they will help my fellow runners, two-, one- or no-footed.

*******
 
I have used Shoe Goo for probably as long as the company has been in
existence. It has saved me hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the many running shoes I have worn on two feet. Now that I have an outsole on my blade, I depend on this product even more.

What Shoe Goo does is minimize/prevents breakdown of the shoe outsole. Without Shoe Goo, I would likely get no more than 250 miles on a pair of running shoes before completely wearing through most outsoles. Back when I ran over 2000 miles a year - and I am approaching doing that again - this would mean new shoes about every 5 weeks without Shoe Goo, or 10 weeks with it.

Having a blade complicates things. Currently I have an Asics Gel-Nimbus 12 outsole glued to the bottom of my blade. It is not a simple thing to replace it; my prosthetists at ProCare do this for me. They do expert trimming and make sure the height is correct. I've yet to have a problem with the outsole coming loose on my blade so I know they are doing a good job.

Since my prosthetist is in GA over 300 miles away, getting a new outsole means either having them resole the blade when I have an office visit or am in the area, or sending the blade to them which means no running while it is gone. The latter is unacceptable to me; so far the former has been my modus operandi.

Now that I visit less often, it is important that I do not wear out my outsole on my blade, and here is where ShoeGoo shines. I should also note as long as I can keep tread on my blade I don't have to be as worried as much out midsole breakdown, as my blade provides plenty of shock adsorption which it needs to provide energy return anyway.

Shoe Goo on Nitro running blade - Asics Gel-Nimbus outsole
My friend Kelly Luckett has asked me about how I handled outsole replacement, and I told her about Shoe Goo. She was rightly concerned about using something new just before an upcoming marathon, something we runners try to avoid. However, I told her it was not slick, was actually 'tacky' on the roads and once you had gotten a good coat on your outsole, it would actually pick up some asphalt debris and not require as much re-gooing. Kelly gave it a try at the San Francisco marathon and loved it.

I feel I am something of a scientist on using Shoe Goo after so many years of experience, so here I have distilled the finer points for the gimp runner:
  • Have new outsole glued onto blade by prosthetist.
  • Wear blade until first signs the sole is being roughed up or about 25 miles; when in doubt sooner is better than later. May wear off more quickly if outsole is too new/smooth.
  • On first application, apply Shoe-Goo thinly on outsole and let dry for at least an hour.
  • After about an hour apply heavier coat and let dry 48 hours. Note due to personal wear pattern some areas need more attention than others.
  • Best to reapply at least thin coat after run if you can give it a day to dry...I find it will wear down quicker if you are unable to give it much less drying time than this.
  • Use on both shoes...I have several pair of shoes in my left-foot rotation and always have a 'cured' shoe ready to go.
  • Keep supply on-hand...I buy 5+ tubes at a time. It is not very expensive.
 You are now a graduate of Goo U and your soles thank you.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Surf City ACA

    Don't tell me what you can't do. 

    Show me what you can do. 

    *******

    This is our friend Ashley Kurpiel SURFING with other attendees of the Amputee Coalition of America conference in 2010. Ashley has the extremely rare fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), she lost her right arm and shoulder due to a misdiagnosis of her condition as a little girl.


    Come meet Ashley as we honor her and raise money to stop FOP as we run through the Francis Marion National Forest on September 10, 2011.

    Sign up for the 5k here and we will see you there!

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Run Forest Run!

    As mentioned in the prior post, a network television show may want to highlight our fundraising efforts for the IFOPA (International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association).

    This came about when a Twitter / Facebook friend Colin Cooley mentioned it to someone "in the business" (I am not sure how many details I should offer for now) who he knew was looking to do a different kind of program. What makes this show so unique is it will be an attempt at an uplifting, positive theme instead of some of the more contentious subjects that pit contestants against each other.

    They wanted to know about any upcoming fundraisers we were doing. The All-American 5k would have been a perfect venue had all this happened earlier, but that was water under the cart path. I still plan to run the Boston Marathon in 2012 honoring Ashley Kurpiel and fund raising for the IFOPA and you can preview that page here.

    Ashley Kurpiel (center) at the All-American 5k
    The network scheduled dictated we would have to have a race far sooner than that, so we had to organize a new one or piggyback on an established event. Having never put on a race and having so little time to do it, I was completely overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to do it. The thought did come to mind of two local people who I could talk to about either a new race or an existing one, as I had little confidence I could do it myself.

    I first talked to Mike McKenna, who has been a dedicated supporter of my efforts of fundraising for IFOPA. Mike is also the current Charleston Running Club president and was co-director of the Catch the Leprechaun race back in March. Last week we had a good phone conversation, and we concluded that asking Chad Haffa, the race director for the Francis Marion Dirt Dash half marathon and 5k would be our best bet.

    I sent Chad a FB message and he immediately gave me a call and agreed to letting us latch onto his 5k. Not only that, he went the extra mile and quickly set up the Active.com 5k registration to allow a donation to be made to the IFOPA as well as stating that all proceeds from this race (outside of expenses) would go to the charity as well.

    Among the hats he wears, Chad is a firefighter, trail/endurance runner, and race director. We are deeply appreciative of what he has done for us, as this opportunity to give FOP national exposure may not have had a venue otherwise. Again and again I am amazed of where this journey has taken us, and what might not have happened had it never been started. How can there possibly be any regrets?

    My first amp half marathon - Dirt Dash 2010
    So the title of this post, "Run Forest Run" is exactly that, a run through the Francis Marion National Forest on September 10, 2011. I ran the half marathon last year at the inaugural race and will run the 5k this year in support of the IFOPA. This was my first amputee half marathon in 2010 and turned out to be a difficult race with the heat and sharp-edged prosthesis. This year the race starts an hour earlier and is designed so there will be more shade in the later stages of the run. Chad is striving to improve his events and has responded to runner's comments from last year.

    Television show or not, the 5k race will be a charity event for the IFOPA and I intend to be in good shape to run it well. I hope readers of this blog will consider running or walking the 5k and donating when you sign up for the race here. Please note the 5k race is being used for IFOPA fund raising, and the half marathon donates to the Mount Pleasant Fire Departments Wildland Firefighting Program. The latter is something Chad is involved in as a firefighter and is a great cause as well.

    *******

    Hope to see you on September 10, 2011! Please say hi to me, I have no problem talking about my prosthesis or answering any questions you have. Several people have asked me questions because they or someone they know are looking into elective amputation and have never talked to someone with a lost limb.

    Carol and Ashley Kurpiel
    Ashley plans to be there as well and I hope you get a chance to meet and speak to one of the most remarkable people you will ever know. Running this race WILL help Ashley and everyone else with FOP, so Run Forest Run!

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Connect To Purpose

    On Wednesday, June 22, Dr. Blake Ohlson and I gave a short presentation at a Roper St. Francis Healthcare (RSFH) event. Dr. Ohlson had asked me to speak to a nurse's group in August 2010, by far the largest audience I had the extremely nervous pleasure of speaking before in my life. This group was larger yet, and oddly enough, although I was a bit anxious, I did not fear I was being tossed into a lion's den where my voice would fail me.

    The prior week I had been to ProCare to get my new walking prosthesis, and I mentioned this talk to my CP Stephen Schulte and how I wasn't as anxious. Stephen said something like, "Well, you do know your subject well since you lived it." Indeed. Rarely a day go by that something in these past two years does not float up in the pool of memory, sometimes a small detail that is not small at all. I had been thinking about my roommate at Roper Rehab, a man one year younger than my dad. That he was there with me as my life was changing. As I thought of this, I wondered how I could keep the raw emotions in check as I told my story.

    *******

    I met Leigh Darby, who was working with Dr. Ohlson and me on our presentation. She had sent us an idea of what we would talk about, first Dr. Ohlson would speak about the Ertl procedure in less technical terms and how the team concept is essential in this surgery and recovery. To underscore the team concept, he managed to work this video about lack of team cooperation. Funny, I once had a cat named Pinky, a white female short hair who was probably smarter than me...and I don't hear any disagreement out there.

    While waiting our turn, I also had a nice chat with Dr. Ohlson's PA, Kate Eden, who assisted in my surgery. She is now training for a half marathon, perhaps the same one in Savannah that Jennifer and I will be doing in November. I got a chance to talk to the Rock Doc himself, something I really like doing outside the professional confines of the medical office. We chatted about running shoes, music, and I got a preview of the Pinky video.

    Things were running a little long and I tried to gather my thoughts for my part of the talk. I had printed out the timeline of my blog so I wouldn't get flustered on remembering the significant dates I wanted to mention. Other than that, I had no detailed notes, and wanted to speak from my heart about the procedure I went through with my surgeon at Roper St. Francis, my recovery and return to running.

    *******

    Leigh gave us an introduction, mentioning my first visit to Roper was when I was 5 or 6. I wrote about this in a prior post here. The short version is as a little boy I was trying to catch a bullfrog in a neighbor's drainage pipe, slipped and cut my right big toe. My parents had to take me to Roper's ER for stitches. After my talk this became more personal, as I will write about later in this post.

    Dr. Ohlson gave an engaging presentation, being an Assistant Professor Orthopaedic Surgery at MUSC as well as an outstanding musician, he has a personable stage presence. As I listen to him I found myself thinking in slight amazement about the journey that brought me to this place, today, one of the least likely public speakers I know, who happened to be me. I was nervous, but as my wise wife Jennifer has said somehow I can speak 'outside' of myself. I think it's true as otherwise I'd be a wreck.

    My talk was much of what has been written on this blog: my injury, my life before my ankle went south, my talks with Dr. Ohlson and my surgeries, the care I received at Roper, my return to running culminating with the Charleston Marathon this past January. As I prepared my thoughts for what I wanted to say in the days leading up to the talk, I knew it would be impossible to keep my emotions in check.

    And impossible that was.

    *******

    Afterward as we left the stage, I had several people shake my hand, I was completely overwhelmed and stupefied from my talk. As I approached the exit, a woman said: "Hi Richard...do you know who I am?" At that point I may not have recognized my own mother, but she told me her name, Beth Bevins, who was a childhood friend and next door neighbor. It was their driveway pipe I was trying to catch that infamous bullfrog, the one that sent me to Roper to get my big toe stitched up over 50 years ago.

    Beth now works at Roper.

    *******

    Until the end of my days it I will always be grateful to the people who took care of me. My transition from able-bodied runner to sitter of the couch to a runner again did not happen without this medical army working together to fix me...in a good way! :-) I am sure at times they have the worst job in the world, caring for those human beings who cannot come back to us. Yet is it the worse, helping us in our greatest time of need? I hope the successes, however large or small, help them to know this: what would we do without you? The suffering would be never ending. At times I hope you know you have the best job in the world and you can see it, the difference you make, in this one life.

    *******

    Card I received from Diana Topjian, VP of Nursing, among some other treasures: my 1997 Chicago marathon shoes - two of them! - Old Glory and trophy from the All American 5k,  and Cure FOP bracelets
    So much of my life has changed, it is hard to believe, and it seems destined to continue to come into this new light. I suppose we all feel or have felt that some special destiny awaits us. I tend to believe it does, and recognizing it may not be anything what we imagined it would be.

    There is one thing I hope I communicated but not sure I did in my talk. We all know there are no guarantees in life, that things can and will happen for which there is no "fix," nothing than can make life better or, at times, save it. We all face a certain destiny we cannot avoid. This in itself will not stop us from trying, from research and searching for cures, from easing the pain of others, from doing what we can do. When we think we are at an end, look and search again. Dr. Ohlson, the doctor who told me: "dude, I think your running days are over" is the very surgeon who removed my pain and set me flying again, along with all of the healthcare professionals and allied services that stitched this broken wing.

    *******

    As I write this a network television company has contacted Ashley and me about the possibility of doing a show about our story. At once I am terrified and humbled and stunned where this life has taken me...that this would never have happened had I not decided to pursue the passion in my life, and had that not led Ashley to contact me after my operation. With such exposure this will help bring FOP into national recognition at a time when there is a promise that a drug can be developed that can arrest the disease and stop it in its tracks. Not a cure, but immediate hope that those with FOP can know it will go no further; that those diagnosed may have lives largely unaffected by the disease until a cure can - and will be - found.

    It is impossible for me to say why my largely introverted and shy life has taken an opposite tack into the wind. All I know is I would change nothing, that no matter how hard it is for me to do some things, that I am willing to do them because I must. We will not stop, we will not quit. Lives depend on us, every single one of us.

    Let the amazing be seen every day...in you.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Elective Amputation Part III - The Physician and Saving Lives

    I have written a couple of blog posts about elective amputation. The first is here and the follow-up is here. This will be the third in the series, and one that I find disheartening and disturbing to write. It concerns physicians who only see amputation as dismal failure. Additionally, if it must be undertaken, then as much limb as possible must be saved, even if it means taking half a foot and rendering the patient barely able to ambulate, much less enjoy life again. Let me say here and now that partial foot amputation is pure butchery, simple as that.

    I want to mention there are physicians who know amputation is often the best choice for their patient. For a person who first faces limb loss this can be a traumatic experience and the word "amputation" tough to hear. Since they have not had time to process the situation or arm themselves with knowledge about the procedure, they often make a choice they may later regret. I recall an article about Dr. Tom White, a national class runner and physician himself, when faced amputation after an accident exclaimed: "Doc, I'm a runner!...Save my foot. Please save my foot!"

    Dr. White would go through many years of pain and suffering to come to the conclusion that amputation was the best possible outcome for him. He simply did not know, or was able to understand, that loss of limb does not mean loss of life, it preserves and can enhance life far beyond anything one can imagine.

    My surgeon, Dr. Blake Ohlson, never made me feel like the doofus I can be on occasion. The fact that I thoroughly researched the history of the Ertl procedure, knew that with a prosthetic foot I could run again, and, I think, my outlook was positive with an intense desire for success, made us know this needed to be done. I did not want it, but not having it was a far worse alternative.

    I know my decision has helped others struggling with this choice - for some it may seem like a no-win situation. Far from it, this is NOT true and there are many stories of miraculous success that stand as solid proof. The typical story is not that a person regrets having the amputation, only that they regret not having it sooner.

    *******
    Kelly Luckett, multiple Boston finisher, ultramarathoner, mentor
    For once in my life I feel I have made a real difference not only in my own life but in others. Although I knew failure - or worse - could befall me, I don't think I ever dwelled on the negative. There is no place to go but down doing that, and I found myself pleasantly amazed how a positive outlook bred more positive results. No matter how bad things may get, gazing into the darkness holds no hope of coming into the light.

    ********

    Scott Rigsby undergoing reconstructive foot surgery
    Scott Rigsby lost one foot at the time of his accident, then chose elective amputation when a reconstructed foot proved to be nothing but a painful remainder of the accident and loss of his athletic ability. Many surgeries and recoveries racked with infections had no end in sight; he then chose what some surgeons would consider unthinkable, to have the foot removed.

    Scott then did the unthinkable, becoming the first bilateral amputee finisher of the Hawaiian Ironman competition.


    *******

    The driving force behind this post are people who have contacted me through this blog who are researching and deciding on elective amputation. In most cases these folks have far worse injuries than mine; they are in excruciating pain and on high levels of painkillers/narcotics just to get through the day. Some are unable to work or enjoy any semblance of a normal life and personal relationships are under pressure. Several have had many surgeries only to face more and more that will not ease their pain and possibly/likely increase their discomfort. Every surgery is another chance for complications to set in from infections to more tragic results. I know suicide has an appeal to some, to end the pain and suffering at the hands of...yes, the one who has sworn an oath to do no harm.

    The absolute tragedy and inexplicable behavior by some - not all - physicians is telling a patient that they are crazy to want amputation, in fact they need to have a psychological evaluation for suggesting such a thing. The patient should want 10, 15, 25 or more surgeries to "fix" the condition that will never be corrected, never mind each surgery brings risks as well as trauma to the body and spirit. Ask these surgeons if they can "fix" the patient and you will get sidesteps and indeterminate answers at best. They cannot promise on any level that anything approaching normal mobility will be possible when dealing with crushed feet, missing heels, mangled limbs.

    Certainly an able-bodied person without any injury who wants amputation as some sick form of mutilation needs to be evaluated and possibly committed, but hopeful anyone with an ounce of common sense can differentiate this from a person in an aircraft crash and a damaged leg, or suffering from a nerve condition where they feel nothing so they unintentionally destroy their legs as their feet flop about.

    The patient is to be satisfied to live a life in wheelchair or scooter, on crutches or a walker, in unwieldy braces or orthoses, all to save a useless and painful limb because the physician believes this is the best possible outcome. It is the doctor's implicit belief that being on high level of pain medication is the best protocol, the side affects and addiction are acceptable results, and that loss of a limb is the same as a lost life.

    Placing the patient in a brace or orthosis will cause the body to compensate, putting inbalances in place that can and will cause additional problems to the "good side" in a unilateral patient. As the "bad side" atrophies it may take years to recover from the losses. Then even if amputation were to occur the patient might have problems caused by the efforts to stave it off in the interest of protocol. Note I am not talking about minor injuries, but patients who have had significant trauma or other condition that has caused them to seek amputation as relief. My initial accident was not a cause for amputation at the time, it was the effect of arthritis destroying my joint that ultimately lead to my decision.

    As living, breathing truth, I am here to tell you it is wrong and borders on incompetence for a physician to insinuate that someone with a damaged limb is crazy to want to discuss and have amputation. A loss limb is not a loss of life, far from it. Done under the skilled hands of a talented surgeon, an amputated limb is often the best possible outcome, for it ends the life racked by pain. Narcotics and their destructive properties to organs are terminated. Finally, with a modern prosthesis, there is little to nothing a person cannot do. Mow the lawn again? Check? Play in an orchestra? Check. Go snowing boarding or skiing? Yep! Golf, scuba dive, drive the car? Check, check, and check.

    Run a marathon? Become an Ironman? Climb Mt. Everest? All true.

    Cadie Jessup (center) in mountain climbing training
    So who is the madman, the physician who would sentence - and I mean that literally - their patient to a life of surgeries, to pain, to narcotics, to lack of mobility? Or is it the patient who wants an end to this madness and to have their lives back, to live again? Who indeed.

    Physician, check your premises. If you are unable to help your patient, refer them to someone who can. It may be ironic, but losing a limb may be gaining a life. This is particularly true for anyone who wants to be active again, who has dreams and goals as a human being, who knows every life is sacred and none are to be flippantly tossed aside into the 'good enough' trash heap of the uncaring. It is not my intention to be contentious here, but having seen and heard from people in constant pain because their doctors refuse to help them causes me to bring this into the open.

    There is music to be played, races to be run, mountains to be scaled, life to be loved.

    And on this Father's Day, catch to be played with a child someday.

    Let them live.

    The unstoppable Jason Gunter

    Friday, June 10, 2011

    All American 5K 2011 - The Race

    All proceeds went to IFOPA
    Just one week after attending the 2011 Getting2Tri National Paratriathlon Camp, which will have a separate blog post soon, we drove back to the Atlanta area for the All American 5k. This race honors local heroes, the prior year was run to benefit Dan Berschinski, and this year's race honored our dear friend Ashley Kurpiel.

    We took a circuitous route to Peachtree City (PTC) for the race, through Buford Georgia to visit  my prosthetist, ProCare, for a quick checkup and to discuss a new walking prosthesis to replace my original, thermoplastic test socket. (This is the same foot I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run in 2010.) Jennifer had not seen their facility and I was anxious to show her where the magic happens. Scott Rigsby, who is a friend and mentor to me and many others, happened to be there and we got to spend a few minutes getting reacquainted before we met with Stephen Schulte and his staff to discuss our plans.

    Lauri Buell, Ashley, Bob Truhe
    We then made the dash around Atlanta to PTC, the first visit there for either of us. Fortunately we weren't held up too long in traffic and would be able to have dinner with Carol and Ashley. As we parked and got out of the car, we met the race director who was just leaving. She asked if we were runners and told us about the race, which made us smile to tell them we had come to PTC for this very event.

    Although this was the first time we met Ashley's adoptive mom, to me it seemed we were old friends with much catching up to do. I'm always impressed with all the people Ashley knows, I am quite certain if she went on an excursion to the north pole, she would meet someone she knows there. "Mr. Claus, your friend Ashley has dropped in to see you."

    PTC is perfect for Ashley, because the entire community is built to get around in golf carts. She drives like a Formula 1 racer, in fact, "some say The Stig learned to drive from Ashley." The place has a rolling terrain that would test these lowcountry runners as well as some unexpected cart tunnels we would run through. The race day weather forecast was not horrid either; although warming up it would not enter the stifling category.

    From left, Woody Thornton, Kate Tamblyn, Eileen Tamblyn, Brian Johnston, Ashley Kurpiel, Me (tall one), Brennan Johnston, Michael Thompson
    Woody is a friend of Ashley's and a bilateral amputee; he told me his training had been minimal but ran his second fastest 5k today. At Getting2Tri camp, I was Eileen's volunteer handler. Eileen had been a marathoner before she lost her limb, and is now on her way to becoming 26.2er again. Brian and Brennan ran as a team of sorts; Brennan's prosthesis was causing him some issues so Brian hosted him on his shoulders and they finished together. Michael, also of PTC, did a run/walk.

    Master of Ceremonies Ashley at starting line
    There were about 400 runners and walkers for this race, the start being near "The Fred" or the Frederick Brown Junior Amphitheater. We received a choice of tee shirt or hat, I opted for the hat as I plan to make future use of it. I felt good during my warmups, Jato was responding  nicely. My only angst was how I was going to handle any steep hills; for the most part none were too bad but the tunnels were another story.

    Carol, Ashley & me
    After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem and a few words about the course, we were off. One of the steeper downhills was here at the start; then a right turn and an uphill. I was running comfortably; I can usually tell what kind of race I will have by a quarter mile. This did not feel like a PR day although my training says I am ready to do that now. Mile one was 7:53 and would be my fastest. Mile two was mostly cart paths, twisting and turning with many creases in the asphalt where tree roots were trying to push through. I had to pay attention to my steps and adjust my gait often.

    I don't recall exactly where the tunnels came into play, but I was not expecting them. The cart paths go under some roads, and coming from the light into the darkness made visibility difficult. I slowed to a shuffle because I could not see the footing at all, and was taking no chances on falling and injuring myself. I finished mile two in 8:11, a bit surprised it was not slower but mile 3 would fix that.

    Indeed I was slowing as my body and the morning heated up. I was damn happy this was a 5k and the end was near (!). There was one short, steep uphill near the end of the mile that nearly convinced me to take a couple of walking steps, which I mightily managed to resist. Finally mile three and I had slowed down to 8:27 pace and glad we only had a tenth of a mile to go.

    I ran strong up to the finish line, seeing Ashley on the left helped remove the running distress. I glance at the race clock and I see 25:31, 25:30 on my watch. The PR would have to wait for another day. Once I recover a bit I go watch other finishers with Ashley and wait for Jennifer. We see Woody finish, very strong on his dual Cheetahs a la Pistorius, and under 30 minutes. Jennifer comes in a few minutes later, a solid effort, and we head back to the start area.

    What did we do before smartphones?
    We enjoyed getting to talk to some of the folks we already knew and getting to know new friends too. Plans were made for the after party party, which would be a nearby restaurant for breakfast. The awards were in 10 year increments, and for us older, wiser ones this usually means an unsuccessful trip to the hardware store. Jennifer had a great showing at 11/28 in her AG, and I was 8/21 in mine.

    Unbeknownst to me, there was an additional award for the "fastest inspirational runner." Yes, my throat grew tight and my eyes a bit damp when my name was announced. I did a decent good job holding it together as my dear friend and source of bright inspiration Ashley Kurpiel handed me a trophy. Well, well.

    Michael Thompson and moi, 3 legged race?
    We took lots more pictures and chatted until nearly everyone was gone, then we headed out for breakfast. Jennifer and I sat at the end of the table with Carol and heard more of Ashley's journey through her amazing life. In my most humble opinion, this woman's life would make for one incredible movie, although it would be a monumental task distilling it into that format.

    Carol spoke with almost reverent respect for someone who has worked tirelessly and with utmost compassion for FOP kids, Dr. Fred Kaplan. His efforts may soon be bearing the fruit of clinical trials that may derail FOP in its tracks; a scientific paper is here describing the research. It is not the cure but it could stop the formation of bone growth in the individuals who have FOP.  

    Wow!

    *******

    Jennifer and I also had dinner with Carol and Ashley on Saturday.  Afterward Ashley became our tour driver as we hopped in the golf cart for a ride to the lake to watch the sunset, hence generating my earlier comments about her professional driving skills. It was a beautiful evening, the sky gorgeous in the changing light, a perfect ending to a perfect day.

    Sunset at Peachtree City
    Time and time again I have thought...what if...what if my life had been different, on that morning so many years ago, what if I had not run after the bus, or stood in the other line. If I could go back, change my life's path, and never experience all that I have experienced? 

    That long road would end here, at this sunset, with friends without equal.

    I would not change a thing.