Wounded warrior starts – and finishes race
The 750 runners on two good legs at Sunday’s Iron Horse Half Marathon & 12K in Midway Sunday were led by a man who has none. Marine Matthew Bradford lost his legs and eyesight after a roadside bomb went off in Iraq in 2007. Sunday, he was the official starter, and his wife, Amanda, pushed the handcycle he was in for the entire 13.1 mile mini-marathon. Bradford had intended to operate the handcycle himself, with fellow Purple Heart-winner Army Sgt. First Class Augusto “Tito” Pineiro as his guide. On Monday, Oct. 9, the 38-year-old Pineiro, who’d run in even longer-distance races to raise awareness for veterans’ causes, was struck and killed by a car while training in a handcycle. “Tito’s sacrifice probably made a lot of other people aware of something they hadn’t thought about,” said race organizer John Griffis. While Pineiro wasn’t there, he wasn’t forgotten by race officials, who announced his passing before the race, or Bradford, who wore Pineiro’s numbered race bib on his chest. “I knew him, but not as well as I wanted to,” Bradford said before the race. Bradford said Pineiro texted him a few weeks ago to ask how long he thought the race would take. Bradford replied that the hilly course would preclude a fast time, and Pineiro responded positively, saying he wouldn’t have to train too much. “… It hurts that he was (killed while) training to guide me,” Bradford said. The disabled Marine and wounded-but-physically able Pineiro had taken part in two “Spartan” obstacle course events together, including one at Lambeau Field a couple of months ago. Each belonged to the non-profit group Operation Enduring Warrior, which had several members at Sunday’s race. After Pineiro’s death, the Savannah Morning News reported that in May of 2016, “Pineiro broke a record when he ran 100 miles in a gas mask at the Knock on Wood 100 in Greenville, S.C. The soldier wore one of the oxygen-restricting devices for the entire 37-hour journey, stopping every lap of a 3.2-mile loop to swap out the photo he was carrying – each of a veteran who was either killed in action or in need of help.” Bradford said he’d looked forward to getting to know Pineiro better during Sunday’s race. “That’s when you … kind of talk about the military service, and just life in general,” Bradford said. They would have had plenty to discuss. Pineiro had received five Purple Hearts for the injuries he suffered in the Army. Bradford was nearly killed when he stepped on a roadside bomb that was in a pipe under a road. “The pipe pretty much took my left leg off. My right leg was later amputated at the hospital and … shrapnel in my eyes blinded me,” Bradford said. Before the race, Bradford was approached by several people who wanted to thank him for his service – and, perhaps, get a closer look at a blue left eye with a familiar theme. “When they told me in 2007 that they could put any design on a prosthetic eye, as long as it looks good when they minimize it, I said, ‘Well, sign me up for designs.’ I’ve had everything from an Osama Bin Laden eye to the Marine Corps symbol to now, UK. No need for a boring blue eye – let’s get a design on there,” Bradford said with a laugh. His Big Blue eye wasn’t the only thing Bradford was enjoying. Asked how he was doing a decade after the explosion, he smiled. “You always look back and see how life would be if you didn’t step on the bomb, but I look at the life that I’ve lived, and it’s been an amazing life. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done or anything that’s happened to me, because it’s all led me down this road,” he said. That road includes six marathons, five half-marathons, six Spartan races, and his marriage to the woman who pushed him through the city streets and country roads of Midway. They met in 2010. After Bradford became the first blind double amputee to reenlist in the U.S. Marines, he was sent to the Wounded Warrior battalion at Camp Lejeune. “We kind of met and became friends, and next thing you know, here we are,” Bradford said, chuckling again. Bradford, 31, was raised in Winchester and moved to Virginia during high school. Today, he lives in Nicholasville with Amanda and their three children, two of whom she brought into the marriage. A few minutes before the National Anthem was played, Bradford spoke of the motto of men like himself and the friend he’d hoped to get to know better on the rolling hills of Woodford County. “I think the way we all live our life as amputees, wounded warriors – we don’t want to make excuses for anything. Anything that a normal person can do, we can all get out and do,” Bradford said. A few minutes later, with Amanda’s help, that’s just what Matthew Bradford did.