Here's Johnny - Iron Horse, redux
I got up darned early Sunday morning, pretty sure that it would be a good 'un. I was right. My buddy Dave showed up at my home, as planned, at 6:40 a.m. I greeted him with a cup of coffee, filled one for myself, and hopped in his car for the short drive to Midway. He'd gotten more sleep than I and was judged by both of us to be the safer driver. (I could get used to having a driver. Volunteers can send their resumes to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a photo of your vehicle and its cupholders.) Despite the nearly 1,000 people entered in the eighth annual Iron Horse Half Marathon & 12K, there were plenty of parking spaces left when we arrived. We parked where I usually do before Midway City Council meetings - in the last space on the road just before the City Hall parking lot. From there, it was just a few blocks to the start of the race. As the runners began to arrive - 750 in all - I saw a man who hadn't been able to run or even walk for the last decade. Sunday morning was a good one for Matthew Bradford, too. In Iraq in 2007, he was nearly killed by a roadside bomb that claimed both legs and his eyesight. The plan had been for Bradford and Army Sgt. First Class Tito Pineiro to serve as honorary starters and set off in handcycles 15 minutes before the rest of the contestants. Six days before the race, though, Pineiro was killed while training in a handcycle - an accident that might not have happened had he been running instead. The only time Bradford expressed any sadness about anything during an 11-minute interview was when we discussed what happened to Pineiro, whom he'd looked forward to talking with during the race. Bradford said sometimes, he wondered what his life would be like if he hadn't stepped on a roadside bomb - yet when I asked him how his life was today, his first response was one word: "Amazing." He was proud of his blue UK-logoed prosthetic left eye, and his beautiful wife, Amanda, whom he almost certainly wouldn't have met had that terrible day in Iraq not happened. He was proud of their three children. And he was proud of his work with the Operation Enduring Warrior group, which included several very long races and obstacle courses. Matthew Bradford was handed the proverbial lemon and has mixed a sweet glass of lemonade, which seems to be, if you'll forgive me for two clichés in one sentence, always half-full. I thought his plan was to serve as official starter for the race, then peel off and let the runners pass. That's not what happened. Oh, he was passed by all of them, but with Amanda pushing his handcycle, he finished the race. However, when I spoke with race organizer Chuck Griffis the following day, Griffis was confused by something. The sophisticated equipment that records the time of each runner didn't show Bradford finishing at all. Instead, it showed the last finisher to be Tito Pineiro, with a time of four hours and 14 minutes. For a change, I knew something that a city, county or race official didn't. I told Griffis that Bradford was wearing Pineiro's race bib. I'll admit to a certain long and even jealousy as I watched the runners stretch, among them a sparkling lass clad in Union Jack running shoes. See, I used to be a runner - or at least jogger - myself, with four Bluegrass 10,000 races under my belt. (45:12 was my best outing, and a lag at the start cost me at least 30 seconds. Yes, technology then wasn't what it is now.) Unfortunately, an old basketball injury and later cartilage removal and, ahem, an expanded beltline, have all made it unlikely that I'll be able to run long distances again. In fact, my right knee barks at me constantly these days. But . Unlike my fellow vet, I have two legs, and two eyes, and if I can't run or even do cardio every day, there are still plenty of things I can do to ward off depression, obesity and the Grim Reaper himself. As we drove home, I thought about Matthew Bradford's "amazing life" and decided that sins, screw-ups and losses notwithstanding, mine's pretty good, too. I would like a pair of those Union Jack running shoes, though.