Thursday, January 26, 2012

Little Miracles

This is a post I have been meaning to write for a long time. I can't say exactly when I noticed the first small miracle, or I did notice but didn't really see it. It doesn't really matter, because now I know. There are miracles, real miracles, in our lives. Not some hocus-pocus magic acts, not a sleight of hand trick, but events so incredible as to be nothing at all.

You can see them every day. In fact, by not looking your will often recall them after they have passed, even though at the time you thought...isn't this...special.

There are larger ones. I often see losing my foot to be able to run again as something that fits this size. But there are smaller ones, many I have seen, and wonder how many I may have missed.

One happened to me at the track after an early morning workout. As I finished up and began my walk down lane 8 to my vehicle, I noticed small birds on the chain link fence. Not just sitting there, but as I walked they flitted and moved down the fence, following me. There was a connection, a bridge, these little birds following me. I now have birdseed in my backpack, so next time they can have breakfast.

For the past couple of years I have been noticing something unusual. When life took a downturn as it invariably does, when circumstances beyond our reach to change things conspire to deter our best efforts, I knew I could expect something good to happen. Something that would restore my faith. Something that made me think...out of this chaos there is a design. All is chance and nothing is. And if you look and listen, you will be told.


With my recent injury, two things happened that make me decide to write this post.

Readers of my blog know what running means to me. Running was me as a child, I never made a distinction where one started and the other ended. Even now, I can be driving to work, and look at the side of the road, I see myself running. To me running is the affirmation of life, the physical self in flight, pure abstract freedom.

Running is me, I am running.

So now that this knee injury threatens to end my dream of running the Boston Marathon, I'm sure you can understand why I would be distraught. In fact, through my entire amputation journey, I don't think the blues hit me as hard as now. Every day I think of this race, of how it will be to stand on that starting line, how as a runner there can be no higher calling. And how it could end, perhaps because of a miniscule tear in the meniscus. Without a foot I can run, but with a torn meniscus running becomes a thing of pain again, and the joy goes up in a vapor trail.

So I've been feeling down, feeling my fitness slip away, watching much needed training days pass without one step forward. I am very much in a state of purgatory, not knowing what my future will be. I recognized the feeling of descent, growing quiet. Time to listen.

And then last night, as I was preparing for sleep, I received an email. Someone thanked me for this blog, for helping them understand what a loved one was going through. The closing was this: God bless you.


Then today I told friends I was having my MRI tomorrow, and through the messages Carol Kurpiel, adoptive (in definition only) mother of Ashley wished me well. She made me think of how minor my issue was, how any such pain made daughter Ashley panic and wonder if it would mean a complete end to part of her mobility.

Then the second little miracle happened.

One of my Twitter friends, Lori Jomsky, made a generous donation to the IFOPA on my FirstGiving site. This completely overwhelmed my emotions. I had been wondering if I would even be able to make it to the starting line of the Boston Marathon, and here someone without any current posts on my part asking for help, made a donation. It was more than a donation.

It was a small miracle.


These things happen to me most every day. I do not always see them at the time, but I know if I listen, if I look closely, if I remember, I will see them.

You can see them too, these small miracles. They are real, they are not magic.

They are life, and a part of all of us. We can each make them happen, and we can all experience the little miracles that make up every day.

You can make one happen.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Mortal Part

Just back from round one at the doc.

Dr. Ohlson is very dedicated to getting me to the staring line at Hopkinton on April 16 and I feel good about that; if it can be done he will do it. The x-rays showed some expected degeneration due to my age but nothing substantial from what he told me. My problem is in the joint line and he explained how the meniscus can be asymptomatic; you can be doing damage and not aware of it. Only the outer part of the meniscus receives enough blood to make speedier repairs, inner problems have no blood supply and represent a greater healing challenge.

Next step is to get an MRI to get a clear picture of the injury site. If little or no damage then a possible cortisone shot and PT would help get me back on track. This would be the best outcome and the one I am hoping for. If I have a tear, well, that could be bad. Very bad. of this morning still don't know what exactly is going on. I had a 'moment' when I got back to the office that I have felt building since I found myself injured. I think I am mainly a positive person, but having come so far to maybe not making it to the starting line was much on my mind. I intend to hobble the distance with a crutch if I can't run IF it wouldn't damage the knee further. It's going to take more than a lost foot - or sore knee - to stop me.

However, I am not going to ruin my knee if continuing to run now would make things worse than otherwise rest and possible surgery could fix. There is next year. I did qualify to run the Boston Marathon, my name is on the entrant's list and that cannot be taken away from me. Ever.

I have gone from wheelchair to running a marathon, and as a human being, I am as unstoppable as mortal man can be. I will only quit when life calls the game, until then, just get me in the game coach.

We won't regret it. Ever.

The Immortal Part

When I meet the morning beam,
Or lay me down at night to dream,
I hear my bones within me say,
"Another night, another day."

"When shall this slough of sense be cast,
This dust of thoughts be laid at last,
The man of flesh and soul be slain
And the man of bone remain?"

"This tongue that talks, these lungs that shout,
These thews that hustle us about,
This brain that fills the skull with schemes,
And its humming hive of dreams,—"

"These to-day are proud in power
And lord it in their little hour:
The immortal bones obey control
Of dying flesh and dying soul."

"'Tis long till eve and morn are gone:
Slow the endless night comes on,
And late to fulness grows the birth
That shall last as long as earth."

"Wanderers eastward, wanderers west,
Know you why you cannot rest?
'Tis that every mother's son
Travails with a skeleton."

"Lie down in the bed of dust;
Bear the fruit that bear you must;
Bring the eternal seed to light,
And morn is all the same as night."

"Rest you so from trouble sore,
Fear the heat o' the sun no more,
Nor the snowing winter wild,
Now you labour not with child."

"Empty vessel, garment cast,
We that wore you long shall last.
—Another night, another day."
So my bones within me say.

Therefore they shall do my will
To-day while I am master still,
And flesh and soul, now both are strong,
Shall hale the sullen slaves along,

Before this fire of sense decay,
This smoke of thought blow clean away,
And leave with ancient night alone
The stedfast and enduring bone.

- A. E. Housman

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Visit to the Chop Doc

I am going to see Dr. Ohlson on Wednesday to get his professional assessment of my knee. It was more sore today, likely because I ran 10 miles yesterday with 5 miles at MP (marathon pace). It wasn't bad until I did a couple of strengthening routines this morning when/wince it because more sore. Still, thankfully, no sharp pain, just a steady uncomfortable ache.

As I left the office for lunch I felt discomfort nearly as bad as it was last week. I knew the Sunday run and exercises today could increase the soreness if only transitory - but I thought it was the smart thing to do to get a diagnosis as to exactly what I am facing. I recalled Joan Benoit's plica knee surgery, and 17 days later she won the marathon trials back in 1984. In another 3 months she would win the first Olympic women's marathon; I clearly remembered seeing the diminutive but extraordinary young runner on tv who captured a nation's heart.

My injury site is different from Joan's. What I am looking for is NOT to hear I have a tear; I am hoping my many years of running has made me strong enough to avoid this nasty problem. On Wednesday I will find out. If I can overcome this hump I will not run downhills until I am healed, and then only marginally until the race.

I've learned my lesson and hope I don't have to pay for it much longer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Owie Update

It has been almost two weeks since my knee tossed out a pain warning flag that something was amiss. I still believe the pain in the medial meniscus is from too much downhill running on my treadmill. Boston is a net downhill course and having run downhills on a similar course many years ago, I know not being prepared will result in a very bad race. We live on the coast of South Carolina in what is known as the "Lowcountry." It is basically flat here; very little elevation change and the only hills are bridges.

I had not been running hard on these net downhill runs, but I did note the extra stress on my knees. In itself, not a bad thing, it was exactly the training effect I was seeking. My stupidity lay in doing this on most of my treadmill runs. Many people HATE running on the treadmill, I find it a great training tool if not partner, always there and ready to go. If the weather is bad or I want to save time, more of the latter I admit, I can quickly toss on some shorts and be ready to run quicker than preparing for the elements outside. I can watch the Olympic trials on tv or run the virtual Boston course I made right there on my iFit equipped NordicTrack Elite 9500 Pro treadmill.

Boston Marathon Landmark: The End is Near!
(Note: I am not sponsored nor receive any compensation from any products or services I mention in my blog. As an athlete I am always interested in what others find works for them without ulterior motives. I.e., if an amputee athlete is employed by a prosthetist this needs to be made clear when interacting with the public or potential patients.)


I have been running once or twice a day with this injury, at most 6 miles so far. The main thing is not to lose too much fitness while allowing it to heal. Had it seemed at all worse, I would not hesitate to see my doctor, however, that does not seem to be the case. I feel it is improving and I am very actively working on strengthening, icing with light compression, anti-inflammatories, massage, and using the many Biofreeze samples we've gotten in our race packets. I'm also taking glucosamine, bromelain, and reparagen in an attempt to help the healing process along.

Yesterday morning I could hardly tell I had an injury, but a few hours later the slight tenderness returned. I knew it was way too early to call a victory, indeed, I expect to have some discomfort for some weeks.  Certainly enough sense, I hope, not to push the pace until I feel I am close to being healed without setting myself back.

Runners are often told to "listen to your body." This takes time and experience and almost always a runner will push too soon by at least a factor of 2. I am always amazed at how runners will "test" an injury, only setting recovery back longer or making things worse...and then complaining that they can't run at all. I am saying this as much to remind myself as to warn others.


I have missed 3 key workouts so far and know I will miss some more. The upcoming week was to be one of maximum mileage and the following weekend was going to be a run and bike ride with my brother Mark. I had been looking forward to this workout more than any others, but going 21 miles over several bridges would not be wise. My thinking is to take the rest of January easy, work on getting my knee strong so I can confidently run, and then have February and March to put in the work needed to run well at Boston. Getting to the starting line healthy sure beats not getting there at all no matter what the fitness level.

If I do not feel I am progressing later this week, I plan to see an orthopedist to determine exactly what is going on in my knee. The hope is this is not a meniscus tear that might require a surgery, only continued rehabilitation. 

Yes, the thought has crossed my mind....what if. At this point I do not think there is any real need to consider that possibility, only to remember what I have done to get this far and to recall what adversities I faced to complete my first marathon. I will do my best to get to Hopkinton in a high level of fitness and ready to give my all.

That is my plan. If fate has some other ideas, then I have learned to accept it. I do know this: I will not fail in the doing. I have the will to get there. I will do what I need to do to


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jato is (Almost) Famous

My amazing running prosthesis from ProCare with a technologically advanced electric elevated vacuum system was recently featured in an Ohio WillowWood post here. As older readers of this blog may know, I named my running leg "Jato."

I wear the Ohio WillowWood LimbLogic VS elevated vacuum suspension on my walking prosthesis too. I had tried a mechanical vacuum system, but due to the length of my residual limb I could not have a very good prosthetic foot beneath it. With the much smaller and lighter LimbLogic VS pump, I was able to get brand new Freedom Innovations Renegade AT foot you can see here. Both are incredible!

So why do people choose one type of pump over another? That's a post for another day, but I think it is something of a personal preference and the particular circumstance(s) like mine. Electric pumps do make a low-level noise when they operate for a few seconds to maintain vacuum, and in some places that is unacceptable. I have found once I tell anyone around me who asks aloud "what is that noise?" that they tend to place the sound as part of the ambient noise that surrounds us every day. For the most part, when I am running, I never hear the pump operate.

The fact is elevated vacuum puts the residual limb in a healthier environment. For me, it feels more natural, and for my running, it provides unique benefits that plague other suspensions. As I am writing this I know I need to write in more detail, so I am going to save it for a post about my three prostheses soon.

The thought just occurred to me that I haven't named my everyday prosthesis yet. Hmmm...suggestions?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Running Injury: Can I Get A Whoohoo?

After my Sunday 15 miler with some MP (marathon pace) running, my 'good leg' left knee cranked up a pain alarm.  It became quite sore on the medial side, not super sharp but enough to cause me to limp that evening. By Monday it I was concerned enough that I called a local PT for an appointment, thinking I really need to know what was going on quickly so I could get after a recovery that meant business.

Gerber daisy blooming - Dec. 21, 2011
I had run a lot of miles prior to Christmas, and over the holidays I cut my mileage way back and did no speedwork. The idea was to allow the body to recover from the hard training, and I thought I had been successful. Pain, however, is a teacher who's class cannot be least not without severe consequences.

As I thought about what might be going on, I realized I had been on a steady diet of training on the new treadmill, and that meant running on the virtual Boston Marathon course of many downhills and a few stiff uphills including the infamous "Heartbreak Hill." Considering how I felt running the declines I am somewhat convinced this caused my injury, and from online pics it seemed likely either the medial meniscus or the tibial collateral ligament were among the most suspected 'usual suspects.' I have had many running injuries over my career, but this is a new one.

Sometime during this process the thought struck me: I have a running injury. It wasn't that long ago I couldn't run at all, and now I have a running injury! I felt myself smiling...ah irony, you old crowbar to the knee you.

So I am off to the see the PT wizards and discover what the exact problem is, as well as see what they think about my running a half marathon this weekend. My prize is Boston, and my sight is singularly focused on it. If I have to take some time off now you bet I will...


Good news, I should be back on track soon. The discomfort was localized in the meniscus area, but range of motion was good and nothing causes sharp pains or made it any worse. So anti-inflammatories, icing, massage, and some strengthening should do it and I'm hoping the pain will subside by the weekend to allow me to run the half.

I saw John Mart at Imagine Physical Therapy in Mount Pleasant SC, not far from where I run on the town track. Very thorough, I got some immediate relief, and he understood my needs as a runner. A PT who runs will almost always have an edge over one who does not run or understand our mindset. It is what we have to do, not what we need to do that drives us forward, compels us to go beyond.

Since I had hoped to run well at this race I hope I can make it to the starting line without being held back nursing this injury. If I don't run it I will likely do a half at Folly Beach next month. The goal race is Boston, and if I don't run a single race before then it's okay by moi. Detours will confront us, but running off the road onto the rocks miles below is not effective training.


Winter in the South
Sometimes to move forward you have to take a breather.

Do I smell roses?

No, it's a camellia blooming just before Christmas....

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Running Into 2012

My Boston training is now in the second block of workouts. So far I am very pleased with my progress, with few stinker runs, one of which was last Friday, and I have made headway against some of the things that conspire to derail my workouts. None of my previous marathons were completed without my slowing considerably in the final miles. The one race where I felt this would not happen due to my high mileage base an asthma attack felled me, the first big one I had had since I was a child.

21st Century Technology - Running the Boston Marathon course on my NordicTrack Treadmill

With my history, there is no way I have supreme confidence Boston will not administer an austere test on April 16. I have learned many lessons, not the least of which marathon day, like life, will likely not be the one you planned for or expected. So you plan and train and leave it to destiny, fate, or luck as to what the result will be. What you cannot expect is for this holy trinity to assist you in any way, shape, or form if you have not sold your soul to the training. Without that, you are not going to get there from here.

My training is based on a Jack Daniel's plan, the one that produced my able-bodied PR way back in 1997. On that day I ran well until I experienced some cramping that ended my dream of qualifying for Boston.

How life's colors shimmer and change.


Next weekend I am running the half marathon at the Charleston Marathon. Jennifer has had bronchitis and will likely run the 5k if she has recovered. Good friends Kelly and Brian Luckett will be here running the marathon. Long-time friend Joan D'Alonzo - all the way back to the Runner's World Compuserve forum -  will be coming from her new home in West Virginia. 

I'm sure a flood of memories will overtake me at this race. My marathon there last year took pitted me against many adversities; one after another and another. In looking back I could say I was tested...yes, something could have happened that would have stopped me in my tracks, but it did not. As long as I kept moving forward, no matter what the obstacle, I had to prove I would do it. And I did. Despite running - by far - my slowest marathon ever, I finished. 

When elitist athletes poo-poo the times of slower runners, I can attest in many cases, yes, they are slower, yet they display a toughness, grit, and determination many faster runners will never know. We are all runners, fast and slow, whole and broken. Out of many, one.

When I finished the Charleston Marathon I found I had qualified as a mobility impaired athlete for Boston. Even though I am training every day and often twice a day for this most historic race, part of me still cannot believe what I am going to do. I am going to be on the starting line for the 116th Boston Marathon. I am going to be there with some incredible athletes and friends, and truly, it will be a day like no other. I've had many days like that now, something I have been able see since landing on the other side of the fence.

From there to here
So yeah, I expect it to be an emotional, nostalgic day but I think it will be a celebration of what has been accomplished. Not just what I have done, but what so many people have done that allowed this miracle to happen. My surgeon, Dr. Blake Ohlson, and his team. The genuine, caring people at Roper St. Francis Hospital. Larry Wiley, my first prosthetist. My current CP Stephen Schulte and his forward-thinking team at ProCare. And last but first in my heart, my sweetness and light and wife, Jennifer. There are many others who do not know me at all yet prayed for and wished me well...the suppport goes into my heart and will carry me as I keep. moving.  forward.

The truth is we all must do the best we can, and depend on others to do the same. When any choose not to do this, we all suffer; when all choose to do all they can, then truly there is little we cannot overcome. Whining begets whining, and only whiners can tolerate that for very long because it validates their misery. This goes nowhere but down. 

We call that place hell.


Given my training schedule, I have not been able to blog as much as I'd like. Up at 4 or 5 am most weekday mornings to get in a workout before a 9 hour workday, then another workout that starts at 7:30 pm if I'm lucky, leaves little time for anything else other than showers, eating (on the run), and sleep. I am continuing my fund raising honoring our friend Ashley Kurpiel benefiting the IFOPA here. 

Often I feel I am not doing enough for this cause, that we are so close to bringing a drug to market that all we need is a benefactor who can end this disease for the Ashleys and Joshuas forever. Forever. Instead of a Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or this or that politician building monuments to themselves, they could do something eternal. They could help bring the end to FOP's destruction of bodies in our lifetime. I can say I very likely would have never known Ashley without my amputation, and on that level I have some understanding why others do not feel my passion for ending this disease.

So it us up to us to do great things. I believe we can do it. I believe we will do it. From running a marathon to helping others to do the same; from doing what we can to inspiring others to doing more than they could imagine.

I ask that you help us, all of us, here. And for that, I promise to give my all, here. April 16, 2012, the Boston Marathon. 

Together we will make the miracle routine; we will make the amazing seen every day.