Lonnie's still out there. The other team members have already cooled down, munched muffins, shucked their prostheses to let the October air cool their blistered stumps; for a few of them, the Percocet has begun to take hold. The 2005 Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., is nearly four hours old. Thirteen thousand runners have crossed the finish line. Soldiers are gathering trash in the Pentagon parking lot. By the time the team members straggle to the bus, each of them has shaken off enough of the post-run daze to notice: "Lonnie's still out there?" asks one, then another. When the answer is a nod, many of the well-wishers, wives and physical therapists--but especially the other leg amputees--wince. Everyone passed Lonnie Moore at some point, and he was struggling. Around the eight-mile mark he fell, then hauled himself up and kept running.
Not that the others didn't suffer too. Balky prostheses, backache, unseen potholes, take your pick: Today hurt everyone. But while these nine amputees came as a team--the jaunty Missing (Parts) in Action squad, composed of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq--their unity is a brittle construct. Some barely know one another. They hail from all points on the map, from the Army, Navy and Marines. Some come from the ranks and some from the officers' corps. Hell, they even bickered beforehand about whether they should all run together, arm amputees pitting their needs against those of leg amputees. Accept the early start time set aside for them, or blend in with the able-bodies? Then one Army hand amp called a Navy hand amp a "retard" for suggesting they not start as a team--but bolted from the group the instant the start cannon was fired.
No, the one thing that unites them this morning is what they hate--the loss of a limb--and the hard truth is that, despite the fact that the several amputees run with staffers from nearby Walter Reed Army Medical Center, each of them wrestles that hate alone. Lonnie's still out there? I hope he's O.K., but, well, whatever....
In truth, it's no surprise that Lonnie's not in yet. Moore, 30, a retired U.S. Army captain from Wichita, Kans., hasn't been able to train much. He got his latest socket only 10 days before the race, and 10 days aren't enough for a casual runner--let alone a kneeless amputee--to get ready for the shock of 10 miles. The rocket-propelled grenade that blew into Moore's Bradley Fighting Vehicle outside Ar Ramadi, Iraq, in April 2004 took his right leg at mid-thigh. By the end of the first mile, after passing the side of the Pentagon that took the hit on 9/11, his right hamstring was in full rebellion. Moore slowed to a walk, then ran until the spasms flared again. His stump began to dehydrate and shrink, loosening the grip of the prosthetic socket, making the sweaty flesh slip and its tender tip pound ever harder against the carbon-fiber shell.
Still, they've all seen worse every day at Reed or at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas: faces speckled by shrapnel or covered with scars that look like melted wax, men wheeling through the halls missing two or three limbs. They've seen blood and heard screams, in battle and out. For some Missing (Parts) first-timers, today's run was the mountaintop they'd spent months trying to reach, the point they needed to prove. From the moment they regained consciousness in the hospital, they were goaded to get up and move, if not by their devoted "physical terrorists," then by one group after another that organizes sporting events for the disabled: the Wounded Warrior Project, Disabled Sports USA, the Achilles Track Club, U.S. Paralympics. They've gone camping, rock climbing, rafting, skiing, biking; they've tried sports they never would've considered trying before; they've fallen face-first into dirt and into snow. They've all had good days and bad.
Since late 2001, when U.S. soldiers began fighting in Afghanistan and then Iraq, 2,375 of them have been killed and 16,535 wounded, as of last Friday. Three hundred sixty-five of the wounded have lost a limb. Moore was number 114. He has been disabled longer than most of his teammates, so this run isn't his big breakthrough. That came last December when, two months after his fianc�e broke off their engagement, he entered a ski event that lifted him out of a deep funk. Today? A mid-race bomb scare forced organizers to extend the course 1.2 miles. Today is one of his bad days.
But back at the bus, they'll wait. Amputee number 130 is stretching on the pavement, number 158 is chattering away, number 34 is holding up his prosthetic hand so you can better read the letters A-I-R-B-O-R-N-E scrawled on the plastic knuckles. Some of the runners are displeased with their times; some are blas�; some are grinning. This is not your typical team, or race. This is recovery--each body healing, each finishing at its own pace.
LANCE CPL. AARON RICE
DEPLOYED MSU STUDENT LANCE CPL. AARON RICE WAS INJURED DURING A ROUTINE PATROL IN IRAQ.... RICE, A POLITICAL SCIENCE MAJOR AND A MEMBER OF SIGMA ALPHA EPSILON, HAS BEEN SERVING WITH THE MARINE RESERVE SINCE EARLY THIS YEAR. IN ADDITION TO SEVERAL LESSER INJURIES, HE SUFFERED A SEVERE LEG INJURY.