Power of one

He lost his leg, and still fin­ished a half marathon.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By LES­LIE BARKER

THE day af­ter Mike Di­mas had his left leg am­pu­tated be­low the knee, his sis­ter Yolanda sent me an email from his hospi­tal room.

“I told him that if by June he was up and around, I was go­ing to en­ter him in the lot­tery for the Hous­ton half marathon.”

That was April 24 last year. Mike had been in the hospi­tal for 22 days, fight­ing a painful and emo­tional bat­tle with necro­tis­ing fasci­itis (flesh-eat­ing bac­te­rial syn­drome). When the bac­te­ria were fi­nally out of his sys­tem – af­ter count­less ex­cru­ci­at­ing hours in a hy­per­baric cham­ber and three surg­eries – doc­tors told Mike he might lose his leg.

“I said, ‘Af­ter all the work you did to save my foot, you’re go­ing to cut my leg off?’” re­calls Mike, 45. “They looked at me and said, ‘We weren’t try­ing to save your foot. We were try­ing to save your life.’”

At that point, the idea of be­ing mo­bile at all, much less walk­ing 13.1 miles (21km), was all but un­fath­omable.

So, as her brother be­gan his sec­ond night with only one leg, Yolanda willed her­self to look for­ward: “I can only imag­ine how much we’d all be cry­ing if Mike was able to do the half,” she wrote to me. “Don’t want to rush him though.”

Mike had never been a run­ner. Not a walker, ei­ther. But Yolanda, a long­time coach for Luke’s Locker, knew how em­pow­er­ing cross­ing a start­ing line – and, if you’re lucky, the fin­ish as well – can be.

“I wanted to give him a goal,” says my long­time friend, with whom I re­con­nected when I was train­ing for my own first half marathon years ago. “We were all afraid.”

Less than two months af­ter Mike left the hospi­tal, Yolanda put his name, hers and that of an­other sis­ter, Liz San­tos, into the draw­ing for the half marathon – which would take place, by the way, on her 50th birth­day.

They had an un­der­stand­ing: If all three were selected, they’d all do it. If not, none of them would.

The morn­ing of the lot­tery, Yolanda sent a text to Mike at 5:15am: “Pack your bags. We’re go­ing to Hous­ton.”

That same day, Mike was fit­ted with his first pros­thetic. So, he says, “It seemed like a pretty good sign the half marathon was some­thing I needed to be do­ing.”

Through­out the next six months, Yolanda made a point not to set up a sched­ule for Mike. In­stead, she’d just ask pe­ri­od­i­cally how ev­ery­thing was go­ing, or how far he’d last walked.

The only time they walked to­gether was New Year’s Day.

“That’s when I re­alised how hard it was go­ing to be for him,” Yolanda says. “When he walks, he has to be aware of ev­ery­thing go­ing on with the pros­thetic. He has to stop now and then to do main­te­nance.”

Early in his heal­ing process, people told Mike there would come a day when los­ing a leg wouldn’t be all he thought about. Maybe that would be true for some­one else, he’d tell them; “not for me”.

“I was wrong,” he says now. “They were right. It’s no longer the thing that dom­i­nates my life or dom­i­nates my day.”

Sun­day morn­ing of the race, Mike woke up at 2am and started get­ting dressed, think­ing it was hours later. He was ner­vous, Yolanda says; she was try­ing not to cry. Mike, for his part, in­sists that first and fore­most, “We were cel­e­brat­ing Yolanda’s birth­day. I wanted to make sure people un­der­stood that. I didn’t do this to try to be in­spir­ing or to prove any­thing to any­one.”

But people were in­spired; how could they not be? There was the po­lice of­fi­cer who came run­ning up to them and said, “Best of luck to you, man,” and shook Mike’s hand.

When he and his sis­ters reached the wa­ter stops, vol­un­teers would read his name on his bib and chant, “Mike! Mike! Mike!” Yolanda says. Ev­ery now and then, she’d start look­ing for a place for Mike to sit down so he could change the lin­ers in his pros­thetic. Around Mile 10 (16km), Mike says he al­most gave in to his fa­tigue. But he kept go­ing.

At just over Mile 11 (17.6km), Yolanda put the dis­tance re­main­ing in per­spec­tive: “That’s just two laps around North­Park.”

“I said, “We’ve got this,’” Mike says. “‘Let’s go.’ At that point, we were side-by-side with the full marathon people. We heard more mu­sic, and we re­alised we were go­ing to fin­ish. We had our own en­ergy, just the three of us.”

He re­mem­bers turn­ing a cor­ner and see­ing friends and fam­ily – in­clud­ing their wildly ex­cited five-year-old nephew – at the fin­ish line. He felt a “well of emo­tion”.

“I can re­mem­ber walk­ing across it and turn­ing to Liz, but the mem­ory seems very sur­real,” Mike says. “It was like, ‘Re­ally?’ As sur­real as it was to cross the start line, it was that sur­real to cross the fin­ish line.”

“I’m not the only per­son who walked the half marathon that day,” he says. I’m not the only per­son who’s walked one ever. It’s a very per­sonal jour­ney. It was me walk­ing that marathon. Yes, I have chal­lenges, but ev­ery­body has chal­lenges.

“Ev­ery­body’s jour­ney is their own. For me, go­ing 13.1 miles (21km) might as well have been go­ing 100 miles (160km) for what it did for me, for the ac­com­plish­ment in my mind. It was much more emo­tional, more of a psy­cho­log­i­cal win than any­thing else.” – The Dal­las Morn­ing News/ McClatchy


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