Sunday, November 7, 2010

The NYC Marathon on one leg

Congratulations, John Devine. Congratulations on completing the New York City Marathon. And thank you for being hero today.

John Devine, having a bite
I was worn out this morning and ready for a day of rest. I settled in to watch the climax of the NYC marathon on the TV, even though the finish line was one block and three avenues from my couch. I could hear the helicopters through the TV and the window. I got up and put on a pair of shoes. (And actual pants. Haha.)

I'm so glad I went. I'm glad I took the long way home. Something told me to turn back and check out the exit near the finish line.

That's where a man asked me to take his picture. He wanted his daughters to see him after he finished the race.

I didn't even notice the crutches at first, much less the missing leg. I was busy with my own stuff, and it wasn't until I tried to frame him, that I said, Oh.

I'm not sure whether it was out loud. 

John rode through all five boroughs in his wheelchair today. He completed the marathon in 2 hours and roughly 24 minutes, a pretty incredible time.

I spent the afternoon marveling at the 45,000 people who came out to tackle this course today. Pretty impressive for anyone. It's something I will never accomplish.

(I've got eight sibling and nearly all of them have done one of these, or at least a half. My niece, too. Incredible. I'm proud of them, too.)

Wheelchair competitors, in front of The Dakota
And look at all these guys who did it in their chairs. Man.

I have a special place in my heart for amputees, because I lived with them for about five months at Walter Reed. I was the only broke-back in the ortho PT room every day. I met wonderful people there, at all different stages in their recovery. Watching them deal with their loss so gracefully gave me the encouragement I needed to face mine.

I will never know what John went through after his right leg was torn off his body in Vietnam. I came in late to his story. He graciously filled in a few details. He was an airborne soldier in the Marine Corps. A mortar round took him down in Quang Nam Province. They called it Charlie Ridge.

Today, I got was a brief glimpse of the after picture. Forty-two years later, John is looking pretty good. It happened April 26, 1968. The date came instantly, without pause, when I asked how long it had been.

Since then, John has completed about fifteen marathons. Enough to lose count. He's done a few other things, too. Raised two daughters. He's quite proud of them.

Near the finish. Second place?
Maybe; I got confused.

John's got a wife who loves him, too. She has traveled across the country to be with him for marathons before, but this morning she stayed home on Long Island, in Massapequa, where it was warm.

"My wife's a couch potato," John said. "This like agony for her."

It was rough for him for awhile, too. He was up at 5:30, down to Staten Island, where the temperature hovered just above freezing. There was a lot of waiting, huddling to keep in body heat.

I met John about six and a half hours and 26.2 miles later. He had worked quite an appetite. He kept munching down his apple while I snapped his picture. He could hardly have been happier. Me too.

John was generous with me when I came back to get his name and his story, and another picture. He took his medal out. Amazing. He earned it. I was trying not to intrude to much, but I wish now, that I had asked for a closer look.

He leaned back against one of my favorite New York City buildings, The Dakota, and he smiled.

John Devine. A medal earned.
Thanks for sharing your story with me, John. Thanks for the inspiration. It will ride with me a long time.


  1. My father's uncle was paralyzed in WWII, I suppose it could have been easy for him to just spend the rest of his life feeling sorry for himself but he didn't. Instead he enrolled in a watch repair course and opened his own business. He played sports. He was President of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. He help raise my dad after his sister passed away. He was very generous and helped a lot of my family members financially through college (including myself).

    He passed away two years before I was born, so I never met him but because of all the stories I was told growing up, it still feels like I know him.

  2. I met John Devine at the Kerry Lied Rally in Washington DC in September, 2004 and have remained friends with him, constantly in awe of the things he's accomplished, not just for himself but for dozens, probably hundreds of young wounded warriors from this war. He should really write a book. I'm offering my writing services, John.

  3. Wonderful story, Silver. Life's about getting up again when you get thrown.

    Laura, very nice to hear.

  4. John has been a friend for a very long time. He is really a special person. The facts that he is a 300 game bowler and a whole in one golfer are amazing, but do not say nearly enough about how very special he is. John worked in the insurance industry while raising his daughters. He spend his free time in sports and helping others. As long as I've known him he has been visiting with local people with recent amputations to help them through their transition and most recently has made regulary visits to Walter Reed Hospital to visit with soldiers coming back from Iraq. John is the best.
    Angela Melledy

  5. I am one of those very blessed folks who met John after losing my entire right leg (same amputation as John's) to an impaired driver of an SUV in Manhattan eight years ago. John would graciously meet me at my PT appointments in Long Island and offer much hope and inspiration during an extremely difficult time in my recovery. He has since remained a loving friend and mentor--there is no one like John Devine!!

    Singer/Songwriter/Wounded Troop supporter

  6. Thanks for posting John's latest success! Hello John! Miss ya! Wish I could have been there this year...NYC is my favorite of the marathons I have done (Marine Corps-the most difficult). Achilles International says I can join them with my handcrank bike (chair)for the West Palm Beach marathon 5 Dec! God bless Walter Reed and Achilles International! Too bad the Iceland volcano interferred with our plans to do the Krakow marathon again last year!
    -Rosemary (fellow AK and marathon alum)

  7. I know John personally. He is an amazing humble man who has accomplished so much with one leg than most with two. He is truly an inspiration to many people and deserves only the best in life. Congrats to John for once again completing a marathon and for inspiring yet another person.

  8. Great to hear from all of you.

    And it's nice to hear Walter Reed spoken of so fondly. I would not be able to stand today (or even sit up) without the folks at that place.

  9. John has always been an inspiration to me since I was a novice amputee. He made me realize that all things are possible, that the only barriers are in our minds.

    God Bless John Devine.

    Brian Maher, BK

  10. Novice amputee. That's an interesting concept. Makes sense, but I hadn't thought of it that way before.

    BTW, can you imagine if the race were today? Someone mentioned that to me this morning, and the longer this dreary day wore on, the more I thought about it. We got lucky yesterday.

  11. One of the kindest men that you will ever meet. You are so lucky that he asked you to take his photo. He has a heard of GOLD and he is one of the strongest guys I have known. He shares his experiences with so many Vets and he is a man I will always call my hero! Johnny you gave it your all and this was a fast time with just completing Marine Corp one weekend earlier! I am so proud!Linda

  12. FYI, John is also a past recipient of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year...Semper Fi John!

  13. I have known John for around two years, when I rejoined the Long Island Harmonica Club after a long absence. John is a member of that club, and I quickly became aware of that one trait in John that has made all of his accomplishments possible. He is incredibly focused on achieving goals, and lets no impediment stand in his way. In the four or five years since John has been playing the harmonica, he has come a long long way. He works at his "blues" music, has learned to bend his notes on the small diatonic harmonica, and to hear him play the "Godfather" theme, "Summertime," or his blues version of "Shortnin Bread" is a real treat. Our Long Island Harmonica band plays at nursing homes, condos, senior centers, etc., and this Thursday, on Veterans Day, I'll see him as we play at a very appropriate place for that day, the NYS Veterans Home in St. Albans.

    Ed Gold