Thursday, August 7, 2008

Amputted Legs and Carbon Feet

I volunteered at this year's Hope and Possibility event with the Achilles Track Club. The Achilles' mission to "enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics, to promote personal achievement, enhanced self esteem, and the lowering of barriers between people."

On June 22nd over 3,500 people, 'abled' and 'disabled' ran 5 miles in New York City's Central Park. Of the 3,500 runners there was a large contingency of disabled military veterans. Some where racing on their hand crank chairs while others competed on their foot or two feet, depending upon their amputations. Of all the veterans I saw and or spoke with the first thing I noticed was their youth. Most where veterans of the current Iraq and Afghanistan operations. None appeared older than twenty-five.

'Bobby' rolled up to me at the sound stage at the end of the race in a traditional wheelchair which, must have been quite cumbersome to have pushed over five hilly miles. This was Bobby's first race and he was excited to see how his time compared to the running competitors."Do you know the first place winner's time for the runners?" He asked me. "No, I don't but I'll find out for you." I found out that the runner who came in first was a full minute ahead of Bobby's finishing wheelchair time as told him as much. His face fell in disappointment. "Really? Wow, I guess I have a lot of work to do on getting faster." I told Bobby that I though that he did a great job for this being his first time racing in the chair.

We chatted for a few more minutes where Bobby told me that he had his leg blown off in Iraq and that he just survived his sixteenth and final operation. I wondered which was worse, the loss of his leg or the 16 operations? Here was this kid who had lost his leg, went through who knows how much unbearable pain and he's smiling telling me his story. I thanked him for his service. He asked if I was in the military. "My only connection to the military," I responded that my father was in D-Day and that I watched the t.v. series Combat when I was a kid. Bobby was pretty impressed with the fact that my father was a part of what Tom Brokow named the "The Greatest Generation."

"I gotta' find my girlfriend now. Thanks for your help." I watched Bobby push himself up a small hill and wondered if he felt that his sacrifice and loss was worth it in the end. I didn't get to ask him but I did ask another maimed Army vet.

Tom was gathered by Tavern On The Green drinking pop and shooting the breeze with several of his friends and fellow disabled vets. He had a carbon leg in place of his left leg. I think that the science and technology is fascinating and I asked him how he liked the carbon fiber. "Well, I can't run on it yet. I used my chair today but I'm getting used to it."

"I'm sorry." I said referring to his leg.
"Don't be, I do it again in a heart beat. I helped my buddy."
"How is your buddy?"
Well, he's been in the hospital for a year and a half but he'll get out eventually."

Tom told me that he had trained to be on a special unit and that he would not be "allowed" to return to the work that he loves so much due to his amputation. "I'll probably get a desk job.

"I'm sorry."
"Hey, I told ya' don't be. I love my country and I'm doing something to protect it."

After we parted I made my way home feeling very sad and...well, just sad. I saw so many 'kids' without arms and legs. Some of them lost all four limbs and it was heart breaking. No matter what your politics are it's just plain heartbreaking.
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