Congratulations, John Devine. Congratulations on completing the New York City Marathon. And thank you for being hero today.
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.)
And look at all these guys who did it in their wheelchairs. 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.
Wheelchair competitors, in front of The Dakota
I have no idea what John went through after his right leg was torn off his body in Vietnam. I missed that part of the story. He gave me 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.
All I got a brief glimpse of was the after picture. Forty-two years later, John is looking pretty good.
It happened April 26, 1968. He did not require a 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.
(Pic: 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 that sucker.
He leaned back against one of my favorite buildings, The Dakota. And he smiled.
Thanks for sharing your story with me, John. Thanks for the inspiration. It will ride with me a long time.