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Q&A with the Veteran Who Went Viral For His 2017 Boston Marathon Finish

Earl Granville lost his leg to an IUD in Afghanistan in 2008, but uses running as a form of recovery and is now a four-time Boston finisher.

A former staff sergeant in the Army, Earl Granville, 33, now works for two nonprofits that help disabled veterans live an active lifestyle: Operation Enduring Warrior and Oscar Mike. He’s also a public speaker, helping others find their purpose in life and those who are battling mental adversity. Granville, who lives in Scranton, Pa., races with the Achilles Freedom Team as an athlete—because the four-time Boston Marathon finisher lost his leg in 2008 from an IED blast in Afghanistan. He credits Achilles Freedom Team with making it possible for him to run, and it’s also how he met his guide, Andi Piscopo, in 2014. After almost nine hours on course during the 2017 Boston Marathon, Granville inadvertently created the enduring viral image of the race when he carried Piscopo and the American flag across the finish line.

Was the dramatic finish at the Boston Marathon something you planned?

There was a little chatter and joking about carrying her across the line during the race. I had to stop at a few medical tents because I kept cramping. I told her I didn’t want to quit even if it meant walking. Once we turned onto Boylston Street, I knew I had to run despite the pain. In the heat of the moment, I picked her up and carried her across the line.

What’s all the attention been like since you finished?

Overwhelming. I had no idea the race was still being televised. I’ve decided to use the attention to spread my voice and ideas of battling mental adversity and bring awareness the best I can. I hope people see it and get inspired and spread the inspiration to others.

Why have you turned to running as an amputee?

Some of it was for me to find my purpose again. Another thing that motivated me was hearing that my brother was proud of me. I decided to challenge myself more. I hand-biked the New York City Marathon in 2010 and Boston in 2014, 2015 and 2016. I’ve done 5Ks, 10Ks and a half marathon. After I hand-biked Boston in 2016, I waited at the finish line for two of my buddies on the Achilles Freedom Team. They both ran and are both amputees. I never thought I could run a marathon. Watching them was my inspiration to do it.

What’s it like learning to run with a prosthetic leg?

There’s a lot of trial and error. My other leg is full of hardware due to the blast too. It was salvaged, but will never be 100 percent. You have to figure out what the best prosthetic is for you. You get nervous. You fall. But what do you do when you fall? You keep on going. You master it.

What role has exercise played in helping you battle your demons?

I feel like what I was struggling with wasn’t just traumatic stress; it was mental adversity. Two and a half years after I lost my leg, my twin brother, Joe, who was also in the Army, committed suicide. That’s when my downward spiral hit. I learned that Joe was very proud of how active I’d been since my injury with things like snowboarding and ice sled hockey. So I started doing more physical challenges in honor of my brother. I eventually realized I wasn’t doing them for Joe. I was doing them for me. I found my new purpose in life.

Mental recovery can be as challenging, if not more so, than physical recovery. What was your experience like?

In our life we’re going to deal with adversity, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, stress, anxiety, depression. That heavy weight can hold us down. When I left the military, I lost my purpose. I found a new one as a public speaker and helping others find their purpose. Once you find it, make that purpose your passion. Your purpose may be your employment to pay bills and provide for your family; your passion is what you wake up to do for you. The two shifts people have to make to go down a more positive path are changing their attitude and stepping out of their comfort zone.