ARLINGTON, Va. — More than 50 wounded, visually impaired and amputee athletes signed up for Sunday’s 2010 Army Ten-Miler, competing in categories of their own for the first time.
The largest 10-mile road race in the world attracted 30,000 American and international runners. Although participants with injuries have participated in past years, the growing number of wounded troops spurred the creation of their own division.
CPT Ivan Castro lost his vision four years ago when two mortars exploded near his position in Iraq. Sunday was his fourth Ten-Miler, and he’s also completed a dozen marathons.
He now serves as a recruiter for Special Operations Command and mentors Soldiers who return from theater visually impaired. He encourages them to compete and advocates special categories for blind athletes in sporting events.
“I let them know that life is not over,” Castro said. “With the right attitude and training and with the right technology, there’s nothing that can’t be done."
Another visually impaired runner, CPT Joe Bogart, competed in the race Sunday. An improvised explosive device destroyed one of his eyes and injured his other while on a deployment in Iraq. Bogart completed a second tour in Iraq last year and now is a company commander at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Bogart said he lost his guide after the first mile of the race and completed the last nine miles on his own.Recent surgeries couldn’t keep one female Soldier off the track.
1LT Bergan Flannigan of Tupper Lake, N.Y., was the second woman to finish in the hand-cycle category with a time of 1 hour, 1 minute and 54 seconds. Flannigan, who underwent three surgeries three weeks ago, lost her right leg to an IED strapped to a motorcycle in February.
On a presence patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Flannigan said she was walking through a market when she was hit.
“He waited for me to walk by, and then he detonated it,” Flannigan said of the man responsible for her injury.“After the blast happened, I couldn’t hear anything, it was just a ringing noise. Finally, when I actually came to, I was lying on the ground, and I finally felt it ... I was just screaming for the medic.”
Flannigan said that when she realized she’d been injured, her first thought was that she was going to bleed to death.
“I didn’t really know the extent of the injury, I was just waiting to die. Then I realized that I was not going to die, but when they picked me up, I saw my foot drop and I knew that leg was probably gone.”
Flannigan’s husband Thomas, also a first lieutenant, was deployed in Afghanistan with Flannigan, and actually answered the telephone call for Flannigan’s medical evacuation.
“He didn’t know it was me, but he knew it was my platoon,” Flannigan said of her husband taking the tragic call. “He said it was the scariest thing he ever went through.”
Flannigan was evacuated to Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she began rehabilitation and was fitted with a prosthetic within a few months.
“It was kind of weird at first,” she said of learning to walk with a prosthetic. Flannigan said she still experiences a lot of pain — both genuine and phantom.
It was one of Flannigan’s occupational therapists who encouraged her to take part in the Ten-Miler. However, because of her recent surgeries, Flannigan didn’t have much time to practice on her racing bike.
“It feels good,” she said of completing the race. “That last mile was a killer though.”
“It’s amazing. She’s always been somebody that if she tells you she’s going to do something, she’s always going to surpass what you’ve expected,” said Elizabeth Bierwirth, Flannigan’s cousin who cheered her on. SSG(R) Nick McCoy, from Redding, Pa., also competed using a racing bike.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was fun,” said McCoy.
McCoy lost parts of both his legs while on a dismounted patrol in Iraq in 2006 when and IED hidden in a pile of trash was detonated. Four other Soldiers in his unit were also injured. McCoy’s recovery was long, and it was two years until he learned to walk again.
“My first thought when I realized what had happened, was ‘where do I go from here,’” he said. Now McCoy is active in sports like cycling and rugby, and is working toward a degree in occupational therapy.
He said his competing in races like the Ten-Miler tells others that they should “never give up on life; It always gets better.”