Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ferst and Ash

Cindy Ferst and Ashley Kurpiel

Last week Jennifer and I drove to Buford GA so I could have a few prosthetic issues tended to. My leg has not fully healed from the cellulitis although in the previous week it did look much better. I would be getting fitted for new liners in case the old ones had the infection embedded in them. Only later would I think...had I not gone to ProCare this particular weekend, we would have likely missed another not-so-little miracle.

Shortly after making my appointment some weeks back, I received an invitation from Kristin Carnahan, a prosthetist at ProCare, to the AmpItUp 5k which would be on Saturday. Having recently restarted my running for the second time this year I knew my race would be slow, but the cause - providing a camp for kids with amputations or limb length differences - was compelling. So I signed Jennifer and I up to do the race, programmed my NordicTrack treadmill with the course information, and began looking forward to doing the race.

The day after the 8 month mark to the Boston Marathon I learned that my courageous friend, Ashley Kurpiel, would be doing her first race ever, and it would be this 5k! She would be pushed by Cindy Ferst; they had become great friends after meeting at this year's Getting2Tri camp. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed. It was as if some giant puzzle was slowly coming together. This was suppose to happen. Always suppose to happen. Would happen.


Freedom Innovations Catapult Running Foot
My appointment at ProCare resulted in new liners being ordered, leaving my walking leg (I have an older backup) to fix a vacuum leak, and replacing the secondary filter on my running leg Jato. I asked about the new Freedom Innovations running prosthesis, the Catapult. I really, REALLY want this foot; my right leg, particularly the hip abductors, are more stressed over distance and I think this foot would help. However, this will necessitate an entirely new socket since my vacuum pump is in the space where the secondary "power spring" is located on the Catapult. My residual has changed since I first ran with Jato at the Charleston Marathon, so at some point we will be looking into a new leg with this highly desired new running foot.

Jato with Nitro Running Foot
For this race I would be running with old paint Jato. It is always difficult for me to run races when my fitness level is low. Mentally, when I race I want to have some goal for it. It may be a marker for where you are in training, or the actual goal race where you want to do your absolute best. I had only been running again for about 6 weeks, and although I was slowly coming back, I knew it would be a less than stellar finish time for me. Turns out that was true, but it was also one of the best times I have known running.


 Ashley's friend Christy Coholich drove her up from Peachtree City and we visited a while before the race. They left as I got ready for the race. I was beginning to regret a decision to have Mexican food for lunch, chicken tacos, as they seemed to be sitting heavy on my stomach. Well, not much to do but hope than with over an hour to the race that the feeling will go away.

The race is not far from the hotel. While Jennifer parks I grab our race packets and we get ready to go. There are more amputees than I have seen at any race, including many old friends from previous Getting2Tri camps. Cadie Jessup is sporting her new running leg, Michael Thompson looks ready to go, Mary Beth is looking very fit, and Thomas Morris is game-day ready.

We mill about the starting line and are told to line up opposite the direction the race map had indicated we would go. Well, maybe I made a mistake I thought, but some details I usually get right. With a good luck kiss from Jennifer, I still feel the heaviness in my stomach and wonder if I will embarrass myself by, uh, spilling the beans.


Off we go and I know I must pace myself and hold back. The course is basically a one mile tour of the park run multiple times. For the size of the field the pack clears quickly and I settled into my pace. It feels good but I know it is a little fast.

Round and round we go. I note my GPS watch that the mile markers are not even close. I expect there to be some differences, but these far exceed margins of error. I see lots of amputees ahead of me, pass a few, and always try to express some encouragement as I can. 

I see Ashley and Cindy ahead of me and slowly pull up alongside. Cindy is working very hard and they are one impressive sight together. How is this possible? To me this is, and remains, one beautiful picture: these two women, working together, doing what neither ever imagined. I was blessed to see it happen.

As I approach the finish line area I see by my watch that I can't be finishing just yet, so I continue on. I am getting very tired now; the slight hills are not steep but take their toll on this lowcountry boy. I take a couple of walking breaks, somewhat depressed I have to slow down. As I near the starting line once more, by my watch, I should cross the road to the finish line but there is no volunteer there directing traffic, so I continue on, feeling I am barely moving.

Around the entrance again and finally back to the finish line area. I am well over 3.1 miles and my body is letting me know it. Around some sharp corners and I am done. Finished. Kaput. The main victory is I didn't puke.


Nearing the finish line
After recovering a bit Cadie and I head out to run in with Ashley and Cindy. Ashley has a most sweet and joyous expression on her face. Angelic. My fatigue falls away. The moment is all there is.

Ashley tells us she is going to walk across the finish line. We all stop and Ashley rises from her chair. Together with Cindy, in Ashley's one-footed hop, they cross the line.

It is a finish and a new beginning.


And this they did together.

The Real Dynamic Duo


We had a good time taking photos and catching up some with our friends. ProCare, my team of prosthetists and a sponsor of the race, impressed me with their support. It wasn't about just their company and their athletes, but all athletes and the cause of the race. 

Steve Ehretsman presented Ashley with a special award for "Most Courageous" at the race. We were all so proud of what she had accomplished; it was indeed a crowning star for a most wonderful evening.

Our Fearless Friend

Where does Ashley go from here? Anywhere she wants to go. More to come...much more. And we cannot wait to see this new journey unfold.

With wings.

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