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Marathon Man

Brian was diagnoesed with meninigococcemia at the age of four and lost his calfs and feet. Today he tries to break the three hour record. How he got there? Read on:

I was diagnosed with a rare form of meningitis called meninigococcemia at the age of 4. This is an extremely serious and often fatal disease. Doctors must diagnose and treat the disease within hours. The disease's symptoms are flu like which means it can be hard to diagnose in enough time. A common phrase associated with the disease is "healthy at breakfast dead by dinner". A large percentage of people that survive the disease have permanent physical and/or cognitive damage. In my case the result was that I became a bilateral below the knee amputee.

Although this is a terrible disease I have been able to lead a full and adventuresome life. I would not be the person I am today if I had not had to overcome these obstacles as a child. I ran my first marathon in Jan 2014. I was not a serious runner at that point. In fact I was barely a runner at all. I had never run more than 4 or 5 miles in my life. I relied on my strength training and high intensity interval training to get me through the marathon. I completed it in 4 hours 30 minutes. At the time I was happy to check off a bucketlist item and did not think much more about running. It was not until Aug of 2016 that I started to train a lot more seriously. Over the course of a few months I trained for and ran the Houston Marathon in Jan 2017 in 3 hours 27 minutes. At this point I realized I might have the chance to run a lot more competitively and began training seriously. The result has been three world record in a row over the past year. I am the fastest American Amputee and I have lowered my marathon time to 3 hours 3 minutes 22 seconds.

Every child has a quirkiness (physical or mental) that makes him/her special and defines a lot of he/she is.

What was your childhood like, having to "crush obstacles" daily? How did it effect who you are today and what advice would you like to give other special kids out there?

Growing up as an amputee undoubtedly presented obstacles that are different from what the average child typically faces. However, I did not think of myself as different from any other child and I think that this was a major strength. I did not let being an amputee define or inhibit me. I chose a goal and figured out the way that I would need to work differently to overcome it. This lead me to become a competitive horseback rider, play baseball and basketball in my town leagues for years. Everyone person faces their own unique challenges and obstacles on a daily basis in life. They must figure out how to surmount them. For me being an amputee was my challenge but by not letting it stop me or be my excuse I have been able to experience and accomplish a lot in life. I think that this is a lesson that is important for all people. Never let an obstacle stop you, there is always a way to surmount it.

How did you get into running and how did it feel the first time you put the "running blades" on?

Even before I had ever run a marathon was on my bucket list. I started running very slowly. 1 minute a day on the treadmill for a week and then 2 minutes a day for a week. It took me close to 2 months to reach a full mile. I was still running on regular walking legs. They are not meant for running and therefore were heavy, and awkward. Because they were not meant for running they often caused chafing, blistering, and skin tears that never truly healed. For some reason I kept up this daily torture of running. I have been told that I have a determination and perseverance streak that borders on insane. Luckily in late 2013 I moved to NJ and had to find a new prosthetist closer to me. The new office was able to help me get my first set of running blades. Running blades are one of the most customized and expensive set of prosthetics (most expensive set of non bionic prosthetics, the new microprocessor knees and ankles can run over $100,000). They cost roughly $30,000 per leg to fabricate and the time spent customizing them to my specific limb can take well over 150-200 hours. I received my blades right before my first marathon. Running in them for the first time was one of the most amazing sensations of my life. I felt as though I was free and flying. Gliding across the ground so effortlessly. My skin wasnt tortured and I didnt and have to constantly fight through a sea of pain. To say that running blades changed my life is an understatement. Just like contracting meningitis, having running blades changed the trajectory of my life.

When you compete, you're running "bare - blade". What purpose does traditional shoes have in your routine?

In order to make the running blades work in the most efficient manner for me my prosthetist actually uses tire tread on the bottom. This allows for great traction and also allows for me to swap out new tread as needed very easily. For running purposes shoes serve no purpose for me. However, in daily life I use shoes the same as anyone else. Even as an amputee I tend to gravitate towards lighter shoes with thinner soles. It helps with my proprioception of the ground.

What is your take on the discussion that the blades might give an advantage to a runner?

What does your experience tell you and do stories like Markus Rehm's and Hunter Woodhall's are of any comparison when you think about breaking the sub 3 hour record?

In the present time the idea that blades give amputees an advantage is total nonsense in my opinion. Amputees are lacking muscles and joints that help propel them forward. I know for me to run well I have to spend many hours going to a physical therapist to strengthen other areas of my body. I also have to spend my hours going to a chiropractor to help rehab the strain I put on parts of my body such as my hip flexors that take an amazing amount of workload seeing as I do not have calf and ankles to help propel me forward. To me, I find it ludicrous that people think I have an advantage with less muscles groups to work with. Markus Rehm and Hunter Woodhall are both amazing athletes. I do not think that they have an advantage. Instead I think that they have had to work harder than other athletes in their sport to succeed. True they probably have a talent level higher than the average person. But in the end they have both needed to show an amazing amount of GRIT and determination to get where they are. I think that calling it an unfair advantage lessens what we have done as athletes. We have all broken barriers that people did not think possible. Amputees are no longer just cripples that are expected to lead a sedentary life. The three of us as well as many other amputees that are leading a happy fulfilling active life are able to show the world that we can do anything we put our minds to.

What can we learn about human bio-mechanics from the design of the blades, providing no heel at all and facilitating a mid/fore-foot as a default for competing and jogging?

How does this sit together in your opinion with the running shoes concept that encourages landing on the heel first?

I will say at the start of this answer. I do not have scientific backing for this, it will purely be my own beliefs as an athlete and what I have felt as an amputee. I just do not want them to be taken out of context. My personal belief is that the mid/fore-foot strike pattern is the best way to run. It is the most natural stride for a human. 

When you walk or run barefoot you natural gravitate towards this type of footfall because it is the best way for the body to absorb shock. As an amputee runner not having a heel on the running blade can be difficult if I am trying to stand still or simply walk. It is like moving around on tippy toes all the time. However, when I am running it is by far the most efficient device for me to move. 

Landing constantly in a forefoot manner allows me to use my own momentum in a positive forward manner. It increases my efficiency and decreases the amount of energy my body has to use to keep me moving forward.

It is important to educate runners that no matter the shoes they choose to wear heel striking is not good running form. Personally I do try to encourage people to work on running form and move more towards a mdi/fore-foot strike. A lot of my friends are minimalist/barefoot runners and have great success and reduced their injuries. I think it is clear that is the way I intend to raise my children. Neither of my two children have ever worn a traditional shoe for any reason. They have always remained barefoot or in a super thin wide toe box shoe. This has already show positive results. They both have a lovely forefoot strike that allows them to bounce and glide along effortlessly. It has been a pleasure connecting with you and of course using the Wildling products. My son absolutely loves his shoes. Next year I can't wait to introduce my daughter to them as well!

Thank you, Brian and Run Wild!

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