Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gathering Clouds - Charleston Marathon Part I

Super Kids!
On Wednesday before the race, I participated in a discussion with 4th - 7th grade kids at Saint John Catholic School in North Charleston. I had been asked to speak by David Hill, who knows a coworker of mine, Betty Niermann. The kids are doing a LEGO robot design and research project where this year's theme is Biomedical Engineering. Greg, a MUSC Biomed PhD student spoke on fascinating research, and I gave a short talk on my injury and prostheses.

Unfortunately my high tech running foot was back at ProCare being updated, so I brought my older one for the kids to see. I believe they were most impressed with being able to see and touch it. I was about their age when my original accident happened, so we shared a connection in time. For some reason I was a little more nervous talking to these kids, but I think that was because I wasn't sure exactly what I should say to them about amputation. It was my intent to show it does not limit what a person can do, and because we look different it does not mean we are not human beings too.


Earlier in the week I exchanged some emails with Mike Lenhart, and we discussed the marathon and whether or not it might be wise to drop to one of the shorter race distances that day. This was something Jennifer and I had discussed and had been on my mind. The last injury and subsequent lack of training was not making for confident mental race preparation. I wrote this to Mike:

"To be 100% honest, I do not know if I can run the distance if I have issues with the socket much less off the abbreviated training. I probably won't know until Friday evening or Saturday morning which leg I will wear. I will be on the starting line, I know that. I think it will be a long day, my time will be very slow, but I don't care...I just want to cross that finish line now. I feel more anxious than my first able-bodied marathon since I know what is coming."

Mike had my best interests in mind, recalling how he and Scott Rigsby took over 6 hours to finish a marathon. Scott, a bilateral amputee, had issues during the race that caused setbacks for him on his way to his "unthinkable" IronMan dream.  Were I in Mike's place, I believe I would have offered the same advice to another runner found in a similar position, knowing what was likely best and what would likely happen.


During this week before the marathon, a winter storm had hit much of the south; Atlanta was covered in snow and ice. There was some delay getting my leg to ProCare, despite my sending it on Monday via overnight delivery. We had some icing on bridges here, but along the coast the roads were generally clear. Stephen kept in touch with me as the package finally arrived Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 12. This would give them perhaps 12 hours to work on it and ship it back so I could have it on Friday before the race.

Little did I know things would get even more interesting.


Made by ShowOffs in Mount Pleasant, SC
On Wednesday I heard from Ashley's mom, Carol. The weather in Atlanta was not forecast to clear in time for them to come to the race. This made me very sad, I had many times thought about crossing that finish line with my surprise - the IFOPA singlet I would be wearing - and seeing Ashley there.

It seems so many things were conspiring to tell me not to do this race. Not enough training; a newer injury behind my knee; my friend Ashley would not be able to come to the race; my running prosthesis - if it made it back on time - would be completely new except for the Nitro carbon fiber foot itself. What would I do if I put it on and something was terribly wrong with the fit? Could I run for a longer period of time I had ever done in my life?

Questions easy, answers hard is something I learned long ago. This answer would be twenty six point two miles long.

And I had not run one step all week.


There was one very bright spot in this gathering gloom: our IFOPA donations were picking up momentum. Several people who had already given once came forward to help again. Most of the previous donations came from people I knew like family and friends. Now friends of friends joined our ranks. Jennifer began the snowball rolling and others joined in, Colin and Kristin Cooley, Ian Mountford, Lori Jomsky, Christopher and Crea Wilno, Tom DeSee and so many others took up the banner to help cure FOP.

It was an unbelievable display of human caring. It came to mind that there is no greater love between friends, many unseen, and no matter what the odds, they will stand at your side and never flinch. In fact, if they could they would take your burden and make it their own. We do our best, we depend on each other to do the same, and we will never, ever, give up.

My step-daughter Becca and her husband Chris Winn responded with their second donation to help cure FOP. This brought tears to my eyes...Becca and Chris will be first time parents in March. It's not like they have any money to spare with Baby Winn on the way in this economy, yet here they make another donation to help people they have never met. This act of love was nearly unbearable to me. It still is as I write this. 

My soul began to grow quiet. Whatever comes, we will not stop. Through all the unknown, the uncertainty, the possibility of failure, there would be no giving in and no giving up. With support such as this, I will be on that starting line and will go as far as my body would take me. I had no idea how powerful this knowledge would be.

Friday, however, would continue to test the will.

And it would not end there.


  1. Great story and well stated! Can't wait for Part II!

  2. Thanks John, I have sure enjoyed writing and reliving it. Get that BQ so we can run it in 2012!

    - Richard