Despite losing his legs at mid-shin as a result of injuries sustained in Afghanistan, Steve Martin is a seasoned runner.
Birthdays, wedding days, the day you met your soulmate. Some dates are forever seared into the memory bank.
For Steve Martin—no, not the comedian/actor—two dates cannot be erased.
The first date: Sept. 24, 2008, the day he was blasted 30 feet into the air in Afghanistan after the Humvee he was riding in detonated an Improvised Explosive Device, leaving him with a fractured elbow, fractured hips, busted ribs and two mangled legs.
“I have no memory of the explosion itself,” says the 44-year-old Martin, who lives in Phoenix. “I just remember waking up, laying on the road, being confused.”
The second date: Nov. 3, 2009. After 14 surgeries in an effort to save his limbs, both legs were amputated at mid-shin.
“It was scary,” says Martin, “but it was necessary. It was about taking a chance on getting my life back.”
Last Sunday, Martin, his prosthetic limbs in place, ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Half Marathon. It was his 25th half marathon since his life was forever altered, all Rock ‘n’ Roll events. He has knocked off three marathons, too.
He finished in 3 hours, 11 minutes, 12 seconds.
Transforming from a man with a scarred body and fragile psyche to an endurance junkie was not easy. For 14 months after the accident, Martin could do little by himself. He was constantly preparing or recovering from surgeries. He needed to be chauffeured everywhere.
His mother moved from Houston to Phoenix to care for her son. She prepared comfort food—fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy for dinner, scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. Which was fantastic for his taste buds, not so good for his waistline, which expanded.
“She took care of me like I was a kid again,” says Martin.
Being treated like a kid when battling a 24-hour flu is one thing. Being treated like a child for nearly two years is something else.
“I struggled [thinking], ‘Am I going to be a burden on my family?’” says Martin. “’Can I take care of myself? Am I ever going to walk again?’”
“I’m fortunate. I have an amazing family and lots of good friends. I just thought, my family wasn’t going to let me down, so I wasn’t going to give up.”
Martin served in the Army from 1991-1996 and the Army National Guard from 1996-1999. At the time of the accident in 2008 he was working as a State Department contractor, embedded with an Army infantry unit helping train Afghanistan police.
When Martin was blown 30 feet into the air by the explosion, fighting ensued and insurgents tried to drag him away. But a fellow contractor, Jose Guillen, hustled from another Humvee, covering Martin’s body, protecting him, yelling at him to keep his head down.
Of Guillen’s actions, Martin says, “He’s a hero to me and my family. It’s not something you can repay. It’s not like a car loan. The only way I can repay him and the others involved is to lead a good life. To go out and live.”
So Martin runs. His first race was a 5K. Then a marathon. Not any marathon. The Bataan Memorial Death March in the rugged high desert terrain at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The race honors the service members who defended the Philippines Islands in World War II.
Martin competed with a team and one of the event’s rules is that all the members must finish within 20 seconds of each other. Martin’s teammates stuck by his side. Their time: 11:20:35.
A 20×24 picture of the team crossing the finish line hangs on an entry-way wall to Martin’s home.
Since then have come the 25 Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons.
“They make it fun,” Martin says of the Rock ‘n’ Roll events. “The bands. You get people who walk the entire race and they’re not frowned upon. They’re out there doing it. I’ve been one of those people. You talk to people along the route. Being a double-amputee, it starts a lot of conversations.”
In February, Martin knocked another item off his bucket list, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. There were six amputees in the expedition. Five of them were single-leg amputees. Martin was the only double-leg amputee.
His message to men and women who have suffered catastrophic injuries?
“Get off the couch, get off the meds and get busy,” he says.
Immediately after the accident, Martin asked himself, “What am I going to do now?”
He’s still asking questions, only the phrasing has changed.
“Today,” Martin says, “I ask, ‘What am I going to do next?’”
Professionally, Martin works for the Arizona Department of Safety as a highway patrolman.
Sunday’s race in San Antonio was the 15th Martin has run with his 68-year-old father, Marty, a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War.
When Steve first returned from Afghanistan, Marty sat by his son’s bedside and asked a pointed question.
Says Marty, “After hugging him and telling him I loved him, I asked ‘What the hell were you doing?’”
As in, “Son, why were you risking your life?”
To which Steve replied, “Dad, I was just doing my job.”
Son told father one more thing that day.
“Dad, there’s a reason I’m still alive. There’s a reason our team’s still alive. And I’m going to find that reason and fulfill it.”