Three amputee friends have inspiring run

BOSTON -- The marathon complete, finisher’s medal hanging around his strong neck, Andre Slay walked toward the family meeting area, carrying a clear plastic bag with his belongings in it in one hand and his leg in another.

“How many of those do you have?” an inquisitive volunteer asked.

“Huh?” Slay responded.

The woman repeated the question.

“How many what?” Slay asked her back.

“How many of these,” she said, tapping the carbon-fiber running leg the 32-year-old amputee was carrying.

The Little Rock, Ark., native had just completed his first Boston Marathon and his third marathon overall since he lost his right leg in a 2006 motorcycle accident.

Slay was one of three amputees from Little Rock to run Boston on Monday, along with friends Chris Madison and Jeff Glasbrenner. Glasbrenner, 41, ran Boston last year and was stopped just shy of the finish line when the bombs went off.

He then recruited Madison and Slay to join him for 2014.

But first, he had to get them running. Which, for amputees, is no easy proposition.

“It was excruciating,” Madison, 39, said of learning to run and then training for a marathon. “At first I had to get a running leg, a leg designed for running. Then I had to get the fit right. And then as I ran, I lost weight, so the fit would change and I had to get that changed. I wanted to get to the point where I was working on my cardio and my endurance, not fighting with my leg.”

Madison lost his right leg in a boating accident when he was 10, but he never felt excluded from the sports he loved and even played baseball throughout high school. That was just about the polar opposite of Glasbrenner’s experience.

After losing his leg in a farming accident when he was 8, Glasbrenner was told he couldn’t play sports. He didn’t find out that wasn’t true until college, when he discovered wheelchair basketball. All he did after that was become a three-time U.S. Paralympian, a marathoner and an Ironman competitor.

The three runners, who have to stop every three miles during a marathon, sit down on the side of the road, remove their running leg and dry it and their stump in order to prevent injury, have forged a great bond.

“When I passed the point where I got stopped [last year], it was really hard for me,” Glasbrenner said. “I was like, ‘I made it here, now I’m going to keep going.’ And so it was really cool to have my buddies there with me to be able to get to that finish line together.”

And though they’d heard a lot about Boston, and understood the special circumstances surrounding the 2014 race, Madison and Slay said they still weren’t prepared for the experience.

“At first, I didn’t really anticipate the magnitude of it, the awesomeness of it,” Madison said. “There’s not enough adjectives to describe it. As we were running today and hearing the crowd from start to finish just hooping and hollering the whole way, I mean it just kept building and building and building. It really hadn’t set in until I got to the finish line, that I’m really here and I’m a part of this. Nobody can ever take that away from me.”

While they were in town for the race, the trio had a chance to meet some of the survivors of the bombing.

“We actually met them and traded stories,” Slay said. “We told them, ‘We’re running for y’all. This is why we’re running.’ Jeff had unfinished business, but at the same time we’re running for them. To show them that there’s people there for them. And if they want to run one day, they can.”

“I had the opportunity to engage in sports and do those things,” Madison said. “What I want people to know, I don’t want anybody to be in Jeff’s position where they tell them that they can’t do anything.”

“These Boston victims will not be in that position,” Glasbrenner said. “They’re going to have people like us, they’re going to have other people that inspire them to try to go after their dreams. Whether it’s running or whether it’s dancing, whatever it is, they can do it.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.