What A One-Legged Runner Taught Me About The Economy

Scroll down ↓

Simply remembering the moment sends chills down my spine…

I was standing shoulder to shoulder on the inner roadway of New York City’s Central Park. It was Marathon Sunday. A crisp November day as runners in varying states of glory and agony entered the final mile of the race. The crowd was thick, electric, cheering on everyone who passed. I was instantly a part of everyone’s families. Go mom, go dad, go gramma!

But, there was one who caught my eye…and made me cry.

He was in his mid thirties, shaking, exhausted and drenched with sweat that ran down the one leg that supported his body. Crutches on either side kept him upright as his teammate from the Achilles Club jogged slowly 10 feet back pushing a wheelchair that would serve as a back-up.

It was clear, though, by the 25 miles that lay behind them and the steely, anguished look on this one-legged runner’s face…the wheelchair was simply not an option. He’d come this far standing up, damned if he was going sit down for the final mile.

I burst into tears and would’ve screamed louder, but for that fact that, at that moment, I couldn’t get a sound out.

Suddenly, the variety of things I’d bemoaned earlier that day seemed ridiculously small.

“Who the hell was I,” I wondered, “to be complaining about so many things that, in light of what I was witnessing, now seemed so astonishing small?”

Moments like this wake us up…

They deliver us out of the realm of what’s wrong and into the realm of what’s right. They remind us that, to the extent that we are in control of the circumstances of our lives, there is little that is insurmountable. And, to the extent that fate serves up challenges and changes that are not within our control, it’s how we rise to those challenges that, in large part, defines our experience of them.

Does that mean it’s always easy? No.

But doable? With rare exception…yes.

The lesson taught to me by the one-legged runner stretches beyond the marathon, though.

In fact, it seems to be incredibly relevant today, where so many are enduring shake-ups, unexpected changes in circumstance and wondering what’s coming next. Getting through these times isn’t necessarily easy.

For many, like our one-legged runner, it will take a tremendous amount of work, will, creativity, and adaptation.

But, if there’s a pundit to be followed through this journey, in my mind, it’s not the “sky is falling” TV crowd, but rather, the one-legged marathoner who, not by words but by example, proves the simple proposition that

It is possible to not only survive, but thrive, after an extreme change in circumstance.

Envision it. Train for it. Work for it. Will it. Create it.

So, what do you think?

Have you ever experienced something like this, either as a participant or observer?

What’d I miss? What would you like to add?

Let’s discuss…

Join our Email List for Weekly Updates

And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...

25 responses

25 responses to “What A One-Legged Runner Taught Me About The Economy”

  1. Chef Keem says:

    Thanks for this, Jonathan. There’s not much I can say – makes me shut up and re-evaluate my outlook for today. Seems like “easy-picking”, all of a sudden… 🙂

  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Chef Keem – Glad you enjoyed!

  3. Betsy says:

    Hi Jonathan – this was a beautiful story. I have a similar one to share.

    My son has cerebral palsy, and as it turns out, was quite the star in adapted athletics. His earliest options, though, were solely through Special Olympics. Being pretty fast, and also because his challenges were physical and not mental, he was placed in the 4-person relay. He was the team leader, in the number 3 position, making up for lack of speed in the first two, and handing off to a teammate who was a good sprinter but would only run to his coach.

    My son’s leg brace was very heavy, and he abandoned it soon after this race because it slowed him down, and made his awkward gait even worse. During this relay, at the state meet, he tripped over his own foot and fell, painfully, on the cinders.

    Without the use of your muscles on one side, it’s really hard to get up when you’re sprawled flat out, bleeding. But he did, with the help of another runner in the next lane, who had lagged behind him. They finished their leg together, and handed off their batons. And then my son’s new friend, who had Down’s syndrome, escorted him to the first aid station.

  4. Todd Smith says:

    Great thinking, Jonathan! Whenever we think we’re a victim, we’re thinking insane thoughts.

  5. Thanks for passing this along, Jonathan.

    NYC is where you’ll see things you won’t see anywhere else. 🙂


  6. riva says:

    my grandmaster taught me a long time ago: there’s always someone better off and always someone worse off. we are always in the middle.
    we have blind students, deaf students and students with developmental disabilities at our karate school. and they are an inspiration and reminder of the physical health and abilities that so many of us take for granted.
    always be grateful. every moment. every day. no matter what.
    things could be worse. they could be better. but, they are what they are.
    fall down seven times. get up eight.

  7. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Betsy – Thanks so much for sharing your story about your son, that was incredibly moving. Kind of reminds me of the story about the womens’ sotfball championship game this summer where one of the women hit a home run, but broke her leg in the process and the members of the opposing team picked her up and carried her around the bases. The human spirit is truly inspiring at times. 🙂

    @ Todd – No doubt, it’s easy to surrender power, we’ve all done it and will do it again, it takes a lot of strength to rise above that surrender. Which is why moments like this are great to pull you back in.

    @ Dave – Yeah, there are definitely certain things that only the energy of NYC can capture.

    @ riva – love that “fall down seven times. get up eight.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story about your grandmaster

  8. This is an interesting circle. Back in July, I wrote a post about a runner friend of mine, named John, who lost his leg. My initial motivation for this post came from an article that you wrote on July 16 called “Rather Be Dead Than Disabled?”

    John went on to run a marathon less than a year latter, and I was deeply moved by his courage and determination. I concluded with, “No matter what challenges we face in life, the meaning of those challenges is always our choice. With the right mindset we can overcome any hurdle, rise to any set of circumstances and conquer any challenges.” (story is here: http://tinyurl.com/69xs9u)

    Like you, this experience gave me great cause for evaluation and gratitude.

  9. Jonathan,
    My adopted daughter’s birth father lives in Africa – we adopted her when we lived there as missionaries. His wife passed away after childbirth and he is crippled with polio (has no use of his legs and only partial use of one hand). As one of his best friends, he asked us to raise his daughter b/c he thought more of her life than anything else. That’s courage.

    He also taught me alot about “inner fight”.

    When I first met this man (who lives his life on the red dirt of Africa – no wheelchair would work on their terrain), I felt pity and treated him like most of us would treat a “crippled man” (hand-outs, charity). One time I was doing something for him and he stopped and asked why I was doing it. I told him, “because I see that you are crippled and need help.” He politely corrected me, saying, “Randy, you need help too. We all need help in some way or another. You don’t help someone because they are crippled. You help because what’s in your heart.” SLAP!! Wow, his words resound in my ear almost 10 years later. We look at his life and immediately feel like we should rescue him. But the fighter in him and the obvious courageous spirit that had grown in him since birth rejected a charitable hand-out. It was insulting to everything he had done before I arrived. (So much for the American missionary rescuer!) What he received graciously was encouragement – something that didn’t try and take over his life, but something that gave him that lift.


    Here’s a picture of my good friend: http://tinyurl.com/54q8ua

  10. Rod B says:

    I have experienced this most recently. I am in a middle of a career change.I have been in the restaurant business for 25 years.I have achieve the VP ranks and experienced many systems and companies including owning and operating my own. I am now transitioning into the Hospital Tech business. How does that relate? It does not relate except for the people skills and systems knowledge I have acquired.
    The restaurant business is a 24/7 business and can be a Grind on anyone including the family. I usually worked 12 to 16 hour days six days a week. Now I work a normal 9-5 but flexible to do what I need to do during the week or weekend. I now work 4 to 8 hours depending on what the project needs are.The bonus is Family time and more money than I ever thought I can make. WOW. This is a paradigm change for me and I can now see that with all the changes going around in the world and the U.S. we must be flexible in our approach to income generation or jobs or companies. We literally have to retrain ourselves to keep up with the demands of the global economies. I can tell you I have known this since we began conversations in the mid 1980’s and with NAFTA. The difference is I am now experiencing the change along with America and the World.

  11. Meryl333 ( twitter) says:

    “What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are.” rainer maria rilke

  12. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Jonathan – wow, that’s too funny, it’s amazing how intertwined we all are. 🙂

    @ Randy – what an inspiring story, thanks so much for sharing that. It really shows how so much of the way we experience the world lies in our perception, beliefs and actions, beyond pure circumstance.

    @ Rob B – You’re in an increasingly growing boat with a lot of other folks. I know the restaurant biz well, my wife was in it for many years, it definitely takes it’s toll and the hours are hardcore. Sending you intentions for success in new areas and happiness and fulfillment in your new direction

    @ Maryl333 – Beautiful quote, thanks so much for sharing that.

  13. I have a framed picture in my office. I found the advertisement in a magazine. Entitled, The Greatest Last-Place Finish Ever. Mexico City Olympics, 1968.

    The story of John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. Mr. Akhwari fell and injured his leg. Bandaged & bloody he hobbled across the finish line hours after his fellow marathon competitors crossed the finish line.

    Afterward, a reporter asked the him why he had not retired from the race, since he had no chance of winning. He seemed confused by the question.

    He answered, “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish.”

    Both your story & this one inspire me to finish the race I started.

  14. Jonathan,

    I count myself lucky that I know Randy Vaughn who shared his wonderful story & contribution to this post.

    I really appreciate Randy sharing this story. He told me when I conducted a men@pause seminar with him recently.

    Jonathan, since you were kind enough to also conduct a men@pause seminar, I invite people completely FREE to listen to both you & Randy’s talk at http://www.menatpauseseminar.com

  15. Mark Dykeman says:

    Jonathan, have you ever heard of Terry Fox? He was a cancer survivor who organized a Marathon of Hope, where he intended to run across Canada (all ten provinces) and raise money for cancer research. He ran the equivalent of a marathon most days.

    He lost his leg to cancer several years before and ran on a prosthetic leg in addition to his good leg.

    This was in 1980. Sadly, when he was running through Ontario, the sixth province on his run, he was forced to stop because his cancer came back, this time in his lungs. He died of cancer the following year, a month before his 23rd birthday.

    Today his family runs a foundation in his name that raises millions of dollars each year for cancer research.

    Just the story of another one legged runner.

  16. Matthew Scot
    That’s a really beautiful story about pride and patriotizm.

    I hope that when I find myself in a trial, I will be as proud and strong as John Stephen Akhwari.


  17. @Matt,

    I hope I have the courage of Mr. Akhwari as well.

    Thanks for comment to Jonathan’s great blog post.

  18. Usiku says:

    Time and time again, we are reminded that endurance has never been a function of the physical.

  19. John Haydon says:


    Great post. I checked out the Achilles Club and my first thought about this guy was: “Of course he’s going to inspire many people – he has a mission!

    Throughout my life, a constant lesson that I seem to keep re-learning (or just remembering) is the unbelievable power of mission.

    Imagine if the same guy was in this race, but he was angry and bitter because of his obstacle. Would anyone be inspired? Would he actually even begin the race?

    Victor Frankel drives home the important power of mission and meaning in “Man’s Search For Meaning”.

    Thanks for such an enlightened post!


  20. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for this, Jonathan. Waking up opens us to seeing where it’s possible to thrive.

  21. Hi Jonathan,

    This was an extremely well written post as usual. I’ve been kind of burned out and stressed lately and reading this story really made me lighten up. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m lucky and that life is great despite its little annoyances.

  22. Incredible journey into reality, this moving story needs to be published in the New York Times.
    Thank you Jonathan for your beautifully written post, it’s message is thought provoking for all of us.

  23. Justin says:

    How inspiring that is, that a one-legged man could do so much and without any assistance. And what a great lesson that even after experiencing such a harsh disability, you can still achieve anything you want. I’d say that is a good lesson that everyone should acknowledge.

  24. Annie says:

    Two and a half years ago, my husband died quite suddenly at the age of 51. I felt like the most picked on person in the universe. We had only been married a short time and were both finally experiencing the joy that we had longed for our whole lives. Why me? Why did this happen? Why, why, why, was a constant question. I felt sorry for myself; I wanted everyone else to feel sorry for me. For a while I was paralyzed by the grief. But when I finally surfaced and looked around and started to hear other people’s stories, I realized I had joined a very big club of people whose lives took a turn that they didn’t want or expect. Hard stuff happens to everyone to different degrees. But I still had so much, it took a while to change my perspective, but now at this Thanksgiving season especially, I see blessings all around me.

    I’m not sure I have reached the point as Rainer Maria Rilke suggests of loving the difficult (re; Meryl333), but knowing I can survive what for me was the very worst thing, gives me the strength and knowledge that I can survive anything.

    Thank you for reminding us that we need to count our blessings most especially in tough times.

  25. Ruth says:

    The power of the human spirit is absolutely awesome. And when we see it in action I think it often overwhelms us even as it makes our own whines and “I can’t do thats” seem really insignificant. I’ve been reading the story of Azeem Kayum as he tells it in Wrestling with the Goddess, and it’s so amazing to see what he’s overcome with severe mental and physical challenges to become an inspiration to many others.