Category Archives: Inspiration

Becoming a marathon runner

In early 2012 I was introduced to an incredible veteran’s organization- Team X-T.R.E.M.E.  I was invited to participate with them in the Bataan Memorial Death March which takes place in New Mexico while wearing a full pack and gas mask complete with filter. (The gas masks represent the honor and sacrifice our nations heroes have paid for the freedom we share. The Avon Protection C50 gas mask is a symbol of overcoming insurmountable odds in the face of adversity) training in the mask is a must in order to better prepare for any race or challenge due to the filter’s restriction of airflow. Because I live several states away from any other team member we were only able to fit in one training hike as a complete team. It was a 20 mile hike through the extremely hilly terrain of Richmond,VA. The hike went well and I was told that it was much more difficult than the terrain we would face in New Mexico. Our 26.2 march was a success; our packs were weighed at the finish line averaging between 45 and 50lbs.

Team X-T.R.E.M.E.’s mission is to honor, empower and motivate wounded service members. My experience with them prior and during the march made their mission a reality for myself.  I soon decided that I wanted to not only march a marathon distance of 26.2 miles but, I wanted to run one as well. I reached out to a good friend of mine, Mandy Goff, and told her of my desire to run a marathon. I was not prepared for how excited she would be about the news. Mandy, who is an incredible runner not only encouraged my quest to run a marathon but she also asked if she could join me running her first marathon as well.  Mandy suggested we run the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) later on in the year, which, sounded to me like the perfect marathon. The race is held inWashington, DC and is very patriotic. We had months to prepare for the race and I was excited that it happened to fall on my Birthday.

After picking the race I called one of my closest friends, Ashley Liebig. Ashley was one of the medics that administered care on me shortly after I was injured. Ashley and I became closer after I was at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. She emailed me often to see how I was doing and informing me of how the rest of my company was doing while they were all still deployed to Iraq. Ashley was also on my team during my first Tough Mudder. She always expects the most out of me regardless of my injuries and that is why I wanted her to run the marathon with me. At that point, I realized that I had a team and therefore I had no way of backing out.

I took my idea to my long time sponsor Eric Eisenberg at Biotech Limb and Brace and he agreed to be my sponsor for this race and cover all of my travel, lodging and race fees. The only thing I had left to do was sign up. I became nervous since I had heard that in previous years the race sold out very quickly.

I had mentioned that the MCM was in my sights as a goal for the year on my Facebook page, Noah Galloway-Athlete, and received a message from a woman that shared my enthusiasm for fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Her Facebook page- The Workout Girl, is one that I truly enjoy keeping up with and reading about her journey. Tiffany Tefft,(Workout Girl) asked if I wanted her guaranteed spot for the MCM. I was floored by her generosity and knew that I could not back out from that race following what she did.

The months leading up to my first marathon became blurred by other events. Over the summer, I competed with Team X-T.R.E.M.E. in a Tough Mudder as well as a Spartan Race. In addition, I became involved with Combat Fitness Training Facility(CFTF), under the direction of Sean Dickson. Just two months after I began to work out there, I found myself competing in my first ever CrossFit event, Rumble By The River.

I trained carefully for each event but I was not focused on running as one would expect from a person planning to run a 26.2 mile marathon. To make matters worse, every event I participated in that included any running ended up destroying my running leg.  My great friends at Biotech Limb and Brace were constantly repairing and replacing different components of my running leg which also contributed to my lack of marathon training in the months leading up to the race.

3 weeks prior to the marathon (when I suffered a short panic attack) I decided that I had to start running. I took advantage of the opportunity to run a couple of 5k trail runs that were part of our training regime at CFTF. I was thankful for the short runs since I was struggling with any running at that time. Sean’s concept of training is that his workouts are not specific to any sport, but rather, designed to allow any of the athletes at his gym to take on anything that life throws at them, including a marathon. Because of that, he told me that I would do better than I thought possible and not to worry. Those words gave me a huge boost of confidence. With exactly one week left, I ran 5 miles and called it a day, nothing was left to do, there was nothing more I could do a week before the marathon.

Two days prior to the Marathon Mandy and I flew to Washington DC from Birmingham, AL while Ashley arrived from Texas and her husband Aaron from Afghanistan. The night before the race we had dinner with Mandy’s parents Bob and Gwen along with two of her friends, Catherine Hadfield and Heather Campbell, they were going not only be our moral support but were also recruited as my own personal pit crew. I gave Heather, Mandy’s friend, a backpack with complex carbohydrate loaded supplements, various items for me to use on the course to dry my stump as it accumulated sweat, and BC Powder since pain was imminent and I wanted to be ready. I was extremely happy to enjoy with them a delicious pasta dinner and thank them for their help before heading back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.

I woke up at 4:30 am doubting my decision to run the marathon and thinking of ways to convince my friends to skip it. I quickly realized that they weren’t going to give me that option. The lobby was full of runners ready to take on the race, some stood out with their short running shorts or tight running pants, some were covered from head to toe in Goo packets, nutrition bars and water bottles hanging from vest and belts. I felt lucky that Heather was out there somewhere with my backpack waiting to meet us. I knew that I would rather hop the whole 26.2 miles on one leg before I lost my “cool factor” by wearing one of those vests. Everyone stepped out into the dark cold morning as we all moved like cattle through the streets to the subway. At that point we met up with another one of Mandy’s friends, Devon Holmes of Warrior Gateway, that wanted to run with us, as well as my good friend Ashley and her husband Aaron.

Right before the national anthem began, we had everyone together. There were 30,000 runners from every state and 54 countries; from where we stood we could not even see the starting line. Around 8am the race began but, we stood waiting for another 20 mins. When we started to move, it was a slow walk as we got closer and closer to the official starting line before we were able to begin running. I felt well rested and unusually fine with running as we started, but  I thought to myself “we still had 26 more miles to go”.

At mile 2 we stopped so I could empty the large amount of sweat out of my prosthetic leg. Inside the silicone liner I wear on my stump, sweat has nowhere to escape and becomes very uncomfortable, plus the rubbing caused by the shifting of the liner can quickly cause a blister. The quicker I get it dry, the better I am. Once wiped dry and everything back on, we were running. At mile 3 I thought to myself, “I feel incredible! The spectators cheering us on make this feel like it’s nothing!”  Of course I didn’t say it out loud because it was only mile 3.


Every few miles we stopped so I could drain the sweat and consume much needed carbs. The number of spectators on hand to cheer on the runners really did make a huge difference in blocking out what would normally be a, “Why am I running?!” type  of thought in one’s head. But, it was the mothers, fathers, family and friends of those killed in action wearing their loved-ones names and pictures on their backs as they ran that was a reminder of why so many are involved in this marathon. It was a reminder of why that person was willing to push through 26.2 grueling miles, it was a reminder of where I came from and those close to me that I lost and why I must not ever quit. Around mile 12 there were signs alongside the course with names of those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, needless to say, no one dared to quit there.
At mile 14 I announced that I was feeling extremely well and was enjoying the run . Sure, I had 12.2 miles to go, but I felt too good about the run not to share it with everyone else. I was thankful to have Mandy with me especially with my over enthusiasm. Whenever I started to pick up my pace without thinking about the distance I still had to go, she would reel me back to reality.

That worked perfectly until mile 25 when I decided I needed to go faster, much faster.
Shortly after mile 25 the road had a slight decline, I sped up, I heard Devon say, “Use it to your advantage”. I took his advice, but it felt too good to just speed up a little. So, I went faster and faster until I was in an all out sprint. I felt incredible and with each person I passed I felt stronger and stronger. A quarter mile later, it hit me like a Mack truck; I stopped dead in my tracks. I felt every muscle in my body screaming at me in disgust. Mandy was right behind me and immediately asked what I was thinking, truthfully, I had no logical excuse. It hurt to breathe, but I walked it out for a minute and was ready to run again.

Right before I returned to my steady pace, a guy with a flag on the side of the road said, “Do you want a beer?”  Now, normally I wouldn’t mix fitness and alcohol, or more importantly take a warm can of beer from a stranger on the streets of D.C. but at the time it sounded like a wonderful idea. I had numerous friends that had run marathons tell me they had a beer around mile 20 of a run and that it was so uplifting. Why should I be any different? I was just shy of being a “marathon runner” so in my mind I could handle one beer. I didn’t recognize the brand and it was definitely warm but it was the best thing I had ever tasted. I chugged it, thanked the man and carried on. Shortly after drinking the beer I got a serious “buzz” off the one beer which made me regret it as much as my mindless sprint moments beforehand.

I only had one mile to go so I choked down the urge to vomit and carried on. Before I knew it the run was over. I was so happy to finish with Mandy, Ashley and Devon. Our time was 5 hours 48 mins, a slow pace for Mandy and Devon. An incredible pace for Ashley, considering her busy work schedule prevented her from training at all, and not too bad for myself. But, I decided after the run was complete that I wanted to do another marathon and drastically improve my time. I went from just wanting to survive the run at the start to wanting to do another as soon as possible.


I rested for 3 days then realized that I wasn’t in too much pain so, I slowly ran a mile on Thursday following the race. On Friday I didn’t even get a mile before the knee in my prosthetic leg locked up, it had enough running. I was happy with it making it the entire 26.2 miles. Usually, it wouldn’t bother me that the leg was ruined after an event, but I foolishly signed up for a local 10K run earlier that morning and the race was the next day- 6 days after the marathon. Thankfully the guys at Biotech Limb and Brace loaned me a knee to use just for that one weekend. I put it to good use. Unlike the marathon, the 10K was faster in pace and I hurt from the minute we started until the second we stopped. It was Sean’s idea for me to run it and work myself off of the shock my body was in from the long distance I ran a few days earlier, it really did help. My body ached as we ran but with the support of a group of runners from Combat Fitness Training Facility with me, and Sean setting the pace, I pushed through it and finished in 58 minutes and 54 seconds, I placed 92nd out of 116 in my age group of 30-34 males, I was satisfied.


I have always hated running and all too often I did what I could to avoid it entirely. My new found love for it is a huge surprise. Truthfully, I can’t wait to run another race, I even dream about running. Whenever I’ve  heard runners talk about a “runners high”, I always thought they were crazy. I don’t know if I experienced a “high” during the marathon, but I certainly feel the lasting effects of something good and I want more of it. I’m not sure where this will take me next. Maybe, I’ll do a few more marathons; improve my time, and then move on to another type of event. It excites me to imagine the possibilities. I don’t expect those close to me to jump into marathon running, but I do hope they see the joy I find in knowing there are few things I won’t at least try. In my opinion most people have the ability to do all the same things, but allow fear to take over and prevent themselves from feeling the pride of knowing they are in control and hold the power to dictate to their body when enough is enough. You have to quit seeing yourself as weak, unable or beaten. Treating your body as a complex well-oiled machine is the only way you can ever conquer the weakness that spreads within your mind and takes over your life. You must set goals and ask those close to you to hold you to your word. You must train for anything, because anything can happen at any time. You should ask yourself, will you be physically prepared for it? Are you training to be average, or do you want more from life? If you want more, you must put in more. Remember that you can’t just train; you must TRAIN LIKE A MACHINE.

 

-Special thanks to Kevin High Photography for the incredible images from the Bataan Memorial Death March and Virginia Super Spartan Race.

 

From denial through acceptance- the story behind my recovery

I received a message on Facebook the other day from a fellow Screaming Eagle that said…

“Hey brother I know you don’t remember me but I was in HHC 1-502. I just wanted you to know that I think it is amazing you don’t let your injuries stop you from enjoying life. How do you do it? I’ve just got a screwed up back and TBI and I just can’t find a way to understand why and how to move on. If you have any advice I’d love to hear it. Thanks”

My short answer to him was- fitness. I am a true believer that the healthier you are, the happier you are. But, his message made me think more about my own personal trials and how fitness has helped me.

Immediately following my injury, I avoided drinking alcohol because I knew it was a trap so many people fall into after a serious injury.  I also decided to come off of all pain medications as quickly as possible to prevent an addiction to prescription drugs. After losing my arm and leg, as well as suffering from other injuries, I entered what’s known as the 5 stages of grief.  It began with denial, I felt as though the loss of two limbs, following the initial shock, wasn’t that big of a deal.  I chose not to experience most of what Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the numerous veterans organizations had to offer and I didn’t bond well with the other injured veterans in my same situation.  Truthfully, I was an arrogant jerk that refused help and thought my recovery would be better than the others because I didn’t see myself as injured.  This lasted for months, practically close to a year and seemed to overlap into the next stage, anger.

The anger seemed to stem from the denial.  Because I was blind to what was actually going on, little things would set me off like a time bomb.  Loosing my arm above the elbow meant that there were countless tasks, small and big that at first felt truly impossible.  I would get so frustrated and blow up on those around me when I couldn’t get something done as easily as I could prior to my injury.  I felt so helpless trying to open something like a pickle jar and then having to ask my wife to do it for me, I started to feel useless.  On top of all that, I was trying to walk on a prosthetic leg which had a knee I couldn’t control like my own.  I would fall in the house and every so often in public.  When I was outside I was so paranoid of falling, that my full concentration revolved around walking from point A to point B.  That would build up anger which I suppressed until I was home and then I would lash out over something as minor as trying to find the T.V. remote.  A vicious cycle began in which I became mad at myself but then tried to not get mad at what I couldn’t help yet, somehow my anger still came out later over something so trivial.  And though I was off medication, after a year I figured I beat the ‘over drinking’ possibility and allowed myself to have one, two, maybe 8 drinks every once and a while.  But suddenly every once and a while became every day, and eventually I found myself at stage 3, bargaining.

I mean, why couldn’t I have a drink whenever I wanted one? I sacrificed two limbs for this country.  I was forced to live in a way that wasn’t normal to what I was once used to. Everything I did took much more energy and work to accomplish, even just tying my own shoes.  I deserved a drink whenever I wanted a drink! It kept me grounded, calm and relaxed.  I earned it.  And, it slowly ate away at everything I used to stand for.  Nothing mattered more than getting a drink, hanging out with the guys and doing the one thing that felt good, the one thing that allowed me to forget my injuries.  This self medication spiral I entered was clearly never good for me.  I was out of shape, miserable and hard to be around at times.  It was the over lapping and reoccurrences of denial, anger and bargaining that led me into the worst stage of all, depression.

I remember days where I wouldn’t leave the house.  I slept on the couch, I was up all night watching anything that was on television.  I spent hours on the computer researching random topics just to keep busy.  Just recalling those times today makes me sad.  I felt too tired to be angry, or anything else.  I put on my happy face when I went out in public but I really just wanted to be left alone.  Each day seemed to put me further and further into a deep dark hole that seemed impossible to climb out of, and I didn’t have the strength to try even if I could.

Just as things got as bad as they could possibly get, my cousin invited me to workout with him.  I thought “whatever” I could use a little gym time.  Suddenly what began as a visit to the gym turned into the uphill battle out of the pits of depression that I needed.  It started slow, a few days a week.  My diet went from beer, cigarettes and junk food to protein shakes, grilled chicken, and water.  I found that working out wasn’t as easy as it was before, not only because I had allowed myself to get so out of shape, but because of my injuries.  Looking back, it was my injuries that made it interesting and new.  It was as though I was 14 again and in a weightlifting room for the first time.  working out became a trial and error process in which I got to find out what worked and what didn’t.  My attitude changed, my goals changed, more importantly, my life changed.  I slowly became healthier and happier.

It is estimated that approximately 50% of people who start an exercise program will quit within 6 months (Wilson & Brookfield, 2009). I had tried getting back into shape a few times before it finally stuck shortly after my injury. What helped this time was actually making the commitment.  A person cannot make a drastic change without a drastic shift in their entire life.  I started with setting realistic goals for myself.  I kept track of every workout, every pound, every repetition and every set.  I used this information to build off of and as encouragement when I wasn’t seeing or feeling the change going on inside and outside of my body.  I competed in numerous events, small ones at first but then I entered bigger and longer competitions and challenges.  None of the above happened overnight and truthfully, I am still not quite where I want to be physically, but it’s my desire for more that pushes me further.

When someone new meets me, they sometimes assume I am different than most.  They think I have the secrets to success which enable me to compete.  That, I may have suffered an injury but my body is designed to race.  Anyone who thinks that is wrong.  I struggled, and continue to struggle, as we all do.  Getting healthy and staying healthy is not an easy task for any of us.  It is not a hobby but a complete lifestyle change, a lifestyle change that can and will better your life.  We all have challenges, our injuries are different but they are never a good excuse. We all struggle with balancing our time between work and family yet we somehow find the time to watch television but not time to be fit.  Its proper time management that we lack, not lack of time.

My climb out of the darkness of depression was not easy, but I have seen it as possible.  My stages of grief were necessary for me to grow and to finally reach the acceptance stage of my injuries.  I wouldn’t change anything that has happened to me, I am honestly better for it.  My training grows with me, and, I have no desire to quit anytime soon.  Telling someone to be healthier is like spitting into the wind.  It takes showing them that anything is possible that changes lives.  Don’t tell someone why you can’t do something, show them how strong you are because you overcame those obstacles.  Above all, let those around you see that you don’t just train, you Train Like a Machine.

Determination at it’s best

About 7 months ago I was sent a personal message on Facebook, that started like this,

“I do not normally send friend requests to people I do not know, however…”

The message continued with this stranger explaining to me that she was born with a genetic bone disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta which causes her bones to fracture easily. This person has endured over 50 fractures to her legs as well as fractures to almost all of the major bones in her body. She spent 16 years in a wheel chair before she decided to start working out at a gym. Through incredible strength and commitment she was able to transition into using crutches. Today, she spends 5 days a week at the gym and thus far has hiked in places like: the Badlands, Virginia, Wyoming, Vermont and New Hampshire. She only weighs about 105 pounds, yet is able to bench press with 40 pound dumbbells and do dips and pull-ups with her own body weight with ease.

The more I read of her message, the more impressed I was by this woman. Here she was reaching out to me because she saw my picture (on a friend’s Facebook page) from a Tough Mudder race I did. Ilene told me that I was an inspiration, but truthfully,  she had it all backwards, her story motivated me with every line that I read. She said a lot of people ask her what is on her “bucket list,” in which she replies, “To be able to run.” With her condition, running is virtually impossible, so Ilene knew she would never be able to compete in a Tough Mudder event. However, she ended her message with a, “what do you think?” My response was short, “I would be honored to do a Tough Mudder with you. We could start at the earliest wave and take as long as we like to finish. You don’t have to run. How does that sound to you? I have thought about this all day. of course, it would be your call if you are interested.” At first, she seemed surprised by my answer but was eager to make it her new goal. That was how Ilene from Connecticut became a very dear friend of mine.

The next step (besides incredible training for Ilene) was for both of us to find the best event for us to compete in and for me to figure out a way to fund the race . I brought the idea to one of my incredible sponsor’s and good friend Eric Eisenberg, the owner of Biotech Limb and Brace in Birmingham AL. Eric agreed without any hesitation to sponsor my trip to race with Ilene. With that, I picked a date, the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder in Fredericks MD on September 9th; I got our whole team, Biotech T-shirts to represent an incredible company that has done so much for me over the years and was now allowing Ilene and myself to tackle another one of life’s obstacles and do it in style.

I have no doubt in Ilene’s ability; over the months I have used her ambition to make this dream a reality, an ambition of my own. With her commitment, I have allowed nothing to stand in the way of our race. Tomorrow is finally race day and I must say how proud I am to be part of Ilene’s first Tough Mudder. I chose only the closest of friends to do my first race with, and I was as nervous as she is right now. I know that by Sunday night, she will be ready for another race, and then another, and another. I don’t know why she chose me of all the incredible people that race every day, but I am truly honored that she did. It motivates me to train harder and harder knowing that I may be able to push someone else, even just a little, to eventually conquer a goal.

Update- Upon landing in Baltimore, I was quickly informed that traffic getting to the Tough Mudder event was horrendous. As I traveled out of Baltimore and closer to Frederick, MD the sky grew darker with each mile. The rain began to pour and all I could think was “How cool would it be to race today?” Our race wasn’t to take place until the next day and the forecast called for a 0% chance of rain. The high was going to be 80 degrees, which I thought would be the perfect condition all around for Ilene’s first race. Unfortunately, the weather caused extensive flooding, the field that was used as a parking lot became a large pit of mud. Following the previous day’s traffic problem, it had become obvious that the amount of racers/spectators was more than the local police force had expected. Great weather or not, the decision was made to cancel Sunday’s race. This was supposed to be an exciting race for Ilene and myself but just like that it was gone.

Ilene, her husband Brent and myself realized that although we were upset with the news, we needed to take a step back and reevaluate the situation.Tough Mudder announced that anyone that wasn’t able to participate in Sunday’s race or couldn’t make it Saturday due to traffic would be able to transfer to a race of their choice. So, over a delicious lunch at Cracker Barrel we decided that we were indeed going to return to another Tough Mudder event at a later date. Of course, here we were in Frederick MD with perfect weather finishing up our lunch that included a desert large enough to feed 6 people. Since it was given to us on the house we figured we had to finish it ( it would’ve been rude not to eat it). At that point, our stomachs were full and we decided that a long hike at a nearby state park would be a great way to spend the afternoon. It was no Tough Mudder but it was a great training hike in preparation for our next race. I was able to spend more time with Ilene and her husband and it turned out to be an incredible weekend even without a Tough Mudder race.

I am a firm believer that working out, eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle is a way of life. If, you are doing any of the above only for a certain race, event or even person other than yourself you are likely setting yourself up for failure. Both Ilene and myself were ultimately ok with the race being canceled because, we weren’t working out and living healthy just for that specific race. In reality, that race was just one goal, one challange, just like the next and the one after that one one will be. This is why today and everyday I choose to Train Like A Machine!

 

 

Special thanks again to Eric Eisenberg and his whole team at Biotech Limb and Brace.