On May 8, 2010, Army Specialist Matthew White was on a dismounted patrol of a village in Afghanistan when an IED went off, severely damaging his right leg. For several months afterwards, White was focused on limb salvage, trying to save the leg even though doctors recommended otherwise. “Ultimately, I had to make the decision to amputate it and wish I would have done so at the beginning,” he said.
Six months after his below-knee amputation, White joined Disabled Sports USA and other Warfighter Sports participants at the 2011 Bataan Memorial Death March, an annual 26.2- mile march through the New Mexico Desert at White Sands Missile Range. Although he didn’t “run” it, he considers it his first marathon. “It gave me confidence to do more,” he said. “I also liked the idea of hiking and carrying a pack, just like my military days.”
White feels he has always been a decent runner, but didn’t think he could go that far of a distance. “Then I realized that I enjoy running; it made me feel normal.” Starting out though, he realized he needed to get his endurance up. “I couldn’t even do a quarter of a mile,” he said.
Within the first six months of recovery, White received a running blade. He had to wait for the bone density to come back and get used to the leg, particularly the variation in height. “I had to learn how to run again,” he said. “I had to condition my residual leg and also lift weights to build up strength. Improving my diet also helped me with longer distances.”
Because running enhances the risk of skin breakdown is one reason why White has preferred to alternate running with other less impactful activities, such as biking. He also has participated in golf clinics offered by Disabled Sports USA, gone scuba diving with SUDS, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, and participated at Ski Spectacular. “I like to snowboard, but I am not necessarily great at it,” he said.
But the physical and mental challenge of running is what appeals to White. His first long-distance event was the running segment of a triathlon relay in New Orleans. Approximately a year after his amputation, he ran his first marathon in Chicago. “I realized after my first marathon that I needed to do more training,” White said.
The Chicago Marathon, which he has now done twice, is his favorite. “It was my first one and was quite a personal accomplishment for me,” he said. Since that first one, he has run the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon. This October, it is no surprise that he plans to return to Chicago and run that course again, which will be his seventh marathon overall.
Besides running, White has a passion for animals as well as helping other veterans. The Dumfries, Virginia, resident is currently a program administrator for the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO) and its Operation Service Dog Access. He has helped with rescue animals in the past, including his own. “Even if you don’t need a service dog, I recommend getting one as a companion,” he said.