Steve Martin, a Warfighter Sports ambassador, hasn’t stopped moving since he got his first set of prosthetic legs after becoming a bilateral below knee amputee in 2008. Whether it’s running more than 15 half marathons and cutting more than an hour off of his time or reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa earlier this year, Steve is always looking for his next challenge.
Steve Martin says it plainly and repeatedly: “I love to run. I enjoy running.”
Running however has been more of a challenge to Martin since he was nearly blown up by an improvised explosive device while working for the state department in Afghanistan.
The road to ambulation was a slow and painful one as doctors tried to save what was left of his shattered ankles and feet. After 14 surgeries with little improvement, Martin opted for an amputation.
Once the decision was made, there was no looking back. Less than two months after his below-knee amputations, Martin was fitted with his first pair of legs and determined to get back to an active lifestyle. “I did my first 5K two months after I started walking. I just walked it. Most of my first runs were really just me walking those distances.”
Although Martin had been running before his injury, taking it up again presented challenges. “I was just a few weeks short of 40 when I lost my legs and it would have been over a year and a half since I’d run a step. So during that time, I got out of shape, I put on weight, all those things that happen when you’re confined to a couch and averaging a surgery a month,” he said. “But I enjoy running and it’s something I try to do several times a week. Now I’m not fast, but I always reach the finish line.”
Martin got his first set of running legs, Flex-Runs, only six months post-amputation. He recalled his prosthetist initially told him not to think about running for at least a year until he got used to walking. That didn’t fit into Martin’s goals: “I’m like yeah, well, I want to run. So I was still learning to walk while I was learning to run.”
Then Martin challenged himself to participate in the 2011 Bataan Memorial Death March, the grueling 26-mile journey through desert and rough terrain in New Mexico. It was there he met Kirk Bauer, DSUSA’s executive director.
“Kirk handed me his business card and told me to keep in touch. After that I completed my first triathlon later that year, where I was pathetically slow, I contacted him.”
Martin explained that it was Bauer who put him in touch with running coach Bryan Hoddle who coached the 2004 Paralympic Track and Field team. “Kirk told Bryan I needed to learn how to run,” he said. “Bryan flew down to Phoenix and taught me how to use my prosthetics the way they are designed and quit trying to run like I still had my legs. That was huge. The first time I finished a 5K without stopping, I was on top of the world. I finally made it.”
Learning how to use running legs versus walking legs is a challenge in itself. “It’s a totally different way of moving,” Martin said. “With the running legs you can’t stand still. You have to be constantly in motion, like marching in place, or you have to find something to lean on.”
Martin, 44, is a reserve officer for the Arizona Department of Public Safety where he was employed for 14 years before his assignment in Afghanistan. He is only one of four double amputee police officers in the United States.
“My training never ends,” Martin said. “I train to stay strong and to try to get faster. I do cross fit four or five days a week and run three or four days a week on average. My full-time job is staying healthy, not get hurt, or sick, eat well, and doing all those things so my running can improve.”
In 2013, he and Hoddle ran a half marathon in Seattle. Martin’s goal was to do it in less than three hours. His time when he finished: 2:59:59. It was a victory.
“It was fortuitous I met Kirk and he called Bryan because I was trying to learn how to run on my own and it wasn’t working. What DSUSA, Kirk, and Kathy Laffey, DSUSA Special Projects Manager, have done for me has been huge. They got me back involved. They taught me to ski and they taught me to run through Bryan. I was on the Hood to Coast Warfighter team and have done the Bataan Memorial March with DSUSA. I was on the team with Kirk when we climbed Denali. In nine out of 10 races, I wear Warfighter Sports gear because I want people to know about this organization. It’s made a positive impact on my life.
“Now I just finished my 12th half marathon on prosthetics. I’ve taken an hour off my first race in just over a year. Now my goal is to take another 10 minutes off my time by the end of the year. I know I can do it,” he said.
“I ran one half marathon before I was wounded, but it wasn’t my distance,” he said. “Now it’s all I want to do. I want to find all the half marathons and run them. I’m not fast and I’m not going to set any world records. Sometimes I almost get knocked over by people coming over and patting me on the back and telling me at the finish line that they were going to stop until they saw me with my prosthetic legs. They said, ‘It really motivated me that you are out there doing that.’ All the pats on the back, all the high fives, those keep me going. That’s a cool thing for me.
“As long as I keep walking, I’m not quitting. I may be slow, I may just plod along when my back hurts. But as long as I don’t sit down and quit, I win the race.”