Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kelly Luckett - Amputee Trailblazer

Kelly's CAF Trading Card!

We first met Kelly at the Getting2Tri camp in March of 2010. I had read some articles about Kelly and had looked forward to talking to her about amputee running. Kelly has been an amputee for most of her life, far longer than anyone else I knew. She has been a mentor to me and helped with all the questions I had about running Boston as a Mobility Impaired Athlete over the years.

There is a wonderful article written by Kelly in the American Coalition of America's InMotion magazine here about the Boston Marathon. Kelly talks about the race last year from the unique perspective of an amputee who will be running her 10th consecutive Boston.

Hope you enjoy this special blog interview about a great friend and runner, Kelly Luckett!


You lost your foot at age 2 and you've told me you don't really recall not being an amputee. Probably the best known amputee runner at the time was Terry Fox. How was life as a child amputee?

As a child amputee, in the 1970's, I never knew another amputee, neither another child nor an adult.  I'd hear stories from people about their uncle or grandfather or whomever they knew wore an artificial limb, or an "appliance" as they would often call it (seriously, some older people at that time used to call a prosthetic limb an "appliance", and it would always give me an amusing image of someone wearing a washing machine on their leg!). 

Sadly, I never heard of Terry Fox until I was well into adulthood.   

The term "amputee" was actually pretty foreign to me until I was in high school, and even then, I did not feel any connection to that term.  I'm not completely sure why my family never used that term with me, but they didn't.  We just referred to my prosthesis as my "artificial limb" and there was never any label assigned to me.      

My parents did not put limits on me of what physical activities I could try, so I was active in Girl Scouts with hiking and camping trips, climbed trees, went ice skating, played all the usual games with kids in the neighborhood, etc. 

Many amputees find sport after losing a limb, like triathlon. What were you thinking when you first began running? What was the most challenging thing or things you had to work through?

What was I thinking when I first began running?  I was thinking I was just going to run the Peachtree Road Race 10K and that would be the longest distance I'd ever do!  It's very funny to look back and remember that 10K seemed like such a long distance to me then, and I had no idea I would end up doing ultramarathons. 

When I first started running to train for the Peachtree Road Race 10k, I remember thinking that maybe it was a mistake.  Maybe it was ridiculous to think that I could run 6.2 miles with one leg.  I told Brian of my doubts, and he told me to just try it, that it wasn't ridiculous, and that the worse thing that could happen is that I'd have to slowly walk to finish the race.  With his support and confidence in me, I kept training and not only did I finish my first race, all 6.2 miles, but I finished it running!  Little did I know that I'd somehow end up running marathons, 50Ks and races as long as 24 hours, and using walk breaks in those races is not uncommon and is acceptable!  

The most challenging things I had to work through when I first started running were really the same things that all new runners have to figure out, such as what to wear, what shoes work best for me (errr, “shoe”!), what to eat and when, and how to build up my mileage, etc.  I really did not have much in the way of challenges of running with a prosthetic leg, other than I only had a walking leg/foot for the first few years and it was much more difficult to have an efficient running gait with a walking leg than with the Cheetah running blade that I have now.     

Boston 2013 was so tragic, and 2014 will be your 10th consecutive year running the race. What are your feelings on this year's race and the personal milestone you will reach there?

Brian and Kelly at Boston 2011
I have tremendous emotional pain from the horrific tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon, knowing that innocent lives were lost, including a child, and that people were injured and lost limbs.

I am hoping that the 2014 Boston Marathon will be a celebration of the human spirit and the ultimate example of "Boston Strong".  l hope it will help with the emotional healing for everyone affected.

For me, being back in Boston and running the marathon will be very emotional. I do not expect it to provide closure, since I personally do not think there is closure to such a traumatic event, only acceptance of what happened and strength to continue with our lives the best as we can.   

This will be a milestone marathon for me, since it will be my 10th consecutive Boston Marathon.  I was stopped at last year's marathon on Commonwealth Ave at the Massachusetts Avenue tunnel.  The only part of the course BethAnn and I had to cover before crossing the finish was to run through that tunnel, then the legendary "right on Hereford, left on Boylston".  But we were stopped, and at that time had no idea of the unspeakable events that had happened and the damage that was caused.  Not getting to cross the finish line was completely insignificant compared to the lives lost and horrific injuries.  

To cross that finish line in Boston this year will be bittersweet.  I’ll be thinking of those who were injured, the first responders, and the families and friends of those who were killed.  Martin, Krystle, Lu, and Sean will often be in my thoughts during the marathon, as they have been this past year.

Since I have a unique empathy for those who lost one or both legs, I will continue to have them in my thoughts, and I hope the 1-year anniversary of the bombings and this year’s marathon will be a milestone for them, to help continue their emotional healing and transition to the next chapters in their lives.

Since your husband Brian will be your guide this year is he excited to share this with you? Will you continue to extend your Boston streak?

TNF Endurance Challenge 2013
Brian is excited to share this year’s Boston with me, since it will be such a significant year, not only for my 10th consecutive Boston, but to remember those who lost their lives and honor those who were injured in last year’s bombings.

It’s also exciting that this will be my 10th year being sponsored by Challenged Athletes Foundation, who has given me a grant to help cover my expenses to every single Boston Marathon I’ve done.  To add to the excitement, this will be my first year running Boston as a Hanger Clinic Patient Advocate!  I’m honored and proud to have earned a sponsorship from Hanger Clinic.  I had thought for a while that 10 Boston Marathons might be enough, that I should move on and try different races that time of year.   Now that I’ve been given the opportunity to represent Hanger, I’m planning to continue my Boston streak for a while longer, to represent both CAF and Hanger Clinic, as well as to enjoy running Boston a few more times.

Do you find yourself thinking of anything more often during runs?

I think of so many things while I’m running, but sometimes I just zone out and think of nothing at all.  I’m often trying to enjoy the scenery while I run, and to also be aware of my surroundings to avoid any trips, falls, collisions, or other problems.  I’ll often think about my mileage, pace, and breathing, and I try to do the math in my head of when I should finish, how many miles I have left, or when is the next time I need to have an energy gel or whatever I’m planning to eat for calories and electrolytes.  

When running gets tough on the longer runs, I think about people who inspire me, who do more than I do with less physical ability than I have.   I also think about the people who tell me that I inspire them, and that I don’t want to let them down.  I want to live up to whatever it is they think I am.  

What most people don’t know is that I always pray on my long runs.  I always thank God for specific blessings (including people) in my life, and then I pray for all the things I want to ask Him for.  I’m usually praying for friends who are going through a hard time, or have asked for prayer for a family member, etc.  Even friends and family who are doing ok, I ask God to protect them and watch out for them.  It probably goes without saying that I’ve done a lot of praying this past year for everyone affected by the bombings.

Any favorite memories of past races or training runs?

Rails-To-Trails 50k Finish Line
My favorite memories of races and training runs are the ones I did with friends.  Even though I almost always train on my own, and often run races by myself, the times I’ve run with people I enjoy are my favorites.  Some examples are the very long training runs I did when I lived in Atlanta, while training for a 50-mile race and a 24-hour race.  One of my very favorite running buddies when I lived in Atlanta was Holly, who would always join me for at least a few miles, often more, and I could always count on her if I needed good company on a run.  She helped me run 42k around Stone Mountain on the 42nd anniversary of when my foot was amputated in a lawnmower accident! Also, Anne and Drina, who were always willing to say yes to a 20, 30, or even a 40 mile run!  Anne and I ran the Silver Comet trail all the way from Smyrna to somewhere past Rockmart for 30-something, maybe 40 miles one day in 2010.  Good times!

Favorite memories of races that I’ve done with friends include every marathon I’ve run with BethAnn, which includes the several times she has run the Boston Marathon with me as my mobility impaired guide.  Her daughter, Mia, who I also consider a friend, ran the 2012 Boston Marathon with me as my guide, in the 2nd hottest year in Boston Marathon history!  Mia was melting from the heat but never gave up and made it with me to the finish!  I also ran with Mia in her very first marathon, so we’ve had some wonderful marathon memories.  More recently, I ran the last 11 miles of the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon with Nancy, a Savannah runner friend, in her first full marathon.  I enjoyed every minute with her, and it was such a wonderful experience to see her very first marathon finish, knowing she had trained so hard.

Another favorite race memory is the Savannah Rails to Trails 50k in 2012.  My friend Jennifer ran the 25k (she won 2nd place!), then hopped on her bike and rode alongside me for most of the last half of my 50k.  I hadn’t finished a 50k in a couple of years, so it was a personal accomplishment for me as well as a lot of fun with Jen.

Of course, races I’ve run with my husband, Brian, are some of my favorite race memories.  He has run with me as my guide for several Boston Marathons, as well as running with me in the Iron Horse 50 mile and FANS 24-Hour race.

Last but not least, one of my favorite race memories is my very first race, the Peachtree Road Race 10k in Atlanta, July 4th, 2003.  It’s what started this whole crazy running thing I love!

We both know the story of the great Jason Pisano, the West Warwick runner who, despite having CP and only the use of his left foot, completed 52 marathons in his running chair. You did see him run at Boston. As the years go by, can you tell me how seeing Jay at Boston made you feel? Did you ever speak?

Seeing Jason Pisano at the Boston Marathon was one of my favorite highlights each year.  He and his two guides were truly a team and it was obvious they were pros at this marathon thing!  To say that Jay was an inspiration to me is such an understatement.  He made me realize that what we perceive as a challenge is all relative to our experiences.  I thought I had a difficult time running 26.2 miles with “only one foot”; Jay pushed himself backwards for 26.2 miles, including those hills, with only one foot!  Whenever I saw him at Boston and thought about him at other times, I’d remember that if Jason Pisano could have the determination to do marathons the way he did them, then I could push through the tough miles of my marathons with a prosthetic leg.  He had such a presence, such a shining example of how strong the human spirit can be.

I only spoke to him a few times, very briefly, to introduce myself the first time I saw him before the start of the Boston Marathon, and to say hello when I’d see him each year.  Some years at Boston, the school gym (the staging area before the marathon for the wheelchairs, handcycles, and mobility impaired runners) was so crowded I didn’t make it over to where he and his guides were to say hello.

Tell us why guides for MI and VI runners have come to have "Guide" bibs worn on their fronts and backs as I believe you had something to do with this!

 The "Guide" bibs are worn on the guides' back in addition to their front so that when the faster runners catch up to and are passing a Mobility Impaired or Visually Impaired runner, they see the word "GUIDE" on a bright yellow bib and instantly know to be alert for a runner who may possibly be running more slowly than typical Boston Marathon runners, or not be able to see them if they cut in front of them.  This is very helpful to avoid collisions or other problems.  Because many MI runners get an early start time at Boston, the faster runners catch up to us in a few miles and pass us, and it can potentially be a bad situation if we impede their progress by being in their way.  They could trip and/or we could be knocked down, and no one wants either of those things to happen.

  The first year I had a guide run with me at Boston (my friend BethAnn, in 2007; I ran my first two Bostons without a guide), only one Guide bib was given to her to pin on her front, just like a race number.  Unfortunately, 2007 was the year of the Boston Marathon nor'easter, with enough rain, wind, and cold that the BAA almost cancelled the race.  Because of the weather, I wore running pants for the marathon.  During the marathon, no one could see my prosthetic leg since I had it covered with pants, and even though the Cheetah blade looks much different than a foot with a shoe, the runners were not able to see it in the sea of legs.  I am not a fast runner (I qualifying for Boston with the MI qualifying time), and I use the Jeff Galloway run/walk in my training and most of my races.  Therefore I'm at a much slower pace than most Boston Marathoners.  A few of the faster (and less kind) runners yelled "Get off the course!" to me as they passed me, because I was slower and they apparently did not realize I was one of the MI runners.  They couldn't see my prosthesis, and I'm assuming they thought I was a bandit, or one of the charity runners who started in a wave/corral sooner than I was supposed to.  Either way, I realized then that it was important not only to let the other runners know I had a right to be on the course, but to also make sure they had some indicator to let them know they were coming up on a slower runner.  My top priority when I run Boston is to make sure I am in no way impeding the other runners.

The following year at Boston, when I picked up my race packet, I asked if we could have two Guide bibs, so that my guide (my husband, Brian, that year) could wear one on his back as well.  We explained what happened the prior year.  We were given two Guide bibs, and it worked perfectly!  Since then, the BAA has required that the MI and VI runners' guides wear the Guide bibs on both the front and back of their shirts.

If someone was putting music to your amputee running soundtrack, what would it contain?

Runnin' Down a Dream by Tom Petty, Run Like Hell by Pink Floyd, and Long May You Run by Neil Young

One More Mile!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Good Day to Run. A Good Day to Live.

I had a good long run today, 15.25 miles with 4 on the treadmill and the rest on my favorite "Boston Marathon" course that takes me from Alhambra Hall to Charleston and back via the Ravenel bridge.

Rain had been in the forecast for this morning and I had planned to run outside whether it was wet or not and would wear warmer clothes if needed. Normally I don't mind running in the rain at all, but given a bit of soreness in my left calf I have been taking no chances on making it worse. As I begin my active taper my mantra is "don't do anything stupid."

I woke up at 5 a.m. Usually on the weekend I sleep until at least 8, catching up from the long weekdays where I sometimes run twice, before and after work. But I woke up as if to an alarm this morning and knew I would not be able to go back to sleep. I immediately was aware of the silence - no rain - so got up and checked the weather. No rain until around noon. Well now, a window of opportunity!

I fed the livestock - good dog Baxter and good cat Lexie - and enjoyed a bagel with peanut butter and banana, a staple in my running diet. After about an hour and a half I got dressed, hopped on the treadmill, and did 4 miles while watching a DVR of F1 qualifying on TV.

I've found it is almost always at least 5o cooler at the harbor than at home, so I made sure I took some warmer clothes to Alhambra Hall at old Mount Pleasant. Good thing too, because when I arrive in my short sleeve top it is much cooler and I change into a long sleeve top.

I check the forecast one more time the rain chance has gone from 0 to about 50%. Yeah, these climate guys really generate confidence...not that I blame them, but I do. :)

Well, it’s just after breakfast
I’m in the road
And the weatherman lied

- Paul Simon


The run goes quite well, more like I expected last week's run would be. What is absolutely wonderful is there are far fewer people about. The Cooper River Bridge Run was on Saturday and apparently few wanted a redux which was fine with me. My pace was good, less than 30s over marathon pace (MP) for the entire run. 

The wind was at my back on the way out, but seems stronger and in my face on the return trip with a few light showers. Stiff wind is very distracting because I am not as stable on my prosthesis since I have no calf muscle for balance. I feel like walking on a high wire that far above the harbor and have to be careful not to topple over.

I finish strong, running the last three miles at MP or a little better and finish for a total of 15.25 miles. I recover quickly and feel the way I hoped I would, tired but not exhausted. A grackle flies close overhead and lands in the live oak that serves as my start/finish line and calls out. I take her picture below. I know, difficult to see but I do like the photo.

I remembered Jennifer called the grackles "angel birds" after seeing the movie "City of Angels." We had grackles in our backyard making the raucous racket they are known for and were irritating me. She said, well, what if they are angels and you are chasing them off? Well now, that won't do. Ever since that day I no longer find their song quite so aggravating. I think of them as...angel birds.


I walk under a magnolia, enjoy the view of Charleston Harbor, and with the light rain falling think what a wonder today - this moment - is. Small miracles. So perfect. So fleeting.

I go home, shower, and sleep.

In two weeks I will do this, get up, and run the 118th Boston Marathon.

And fly with angels.