“We Started This Together, And We’re Going To Finish Together”

April 27, 2009

The Boston Marathon is an annual marathon sporting event hosted by the city of Boston, Massachusetts, on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897 and inspired by the success of the first modern-day marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics,[1] the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s most well-known road racing events. It is one of five members of the World Marathon Majors.

Today, the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) manages this event. Amateur and professional runners from all over the world compete in the Boston Marathon each year, braving the hilly New England terrain and varying weather to take part in the race.

The event attracts an average of about 20,000 registered participants each year. In the 100th running of the Boston Marathon in 1996, the number of participants reached 38,000. While there are cash prizes awarded to the winners of the marathon, most of the runners participate for the accomplishment of having run the race at all.1

Special Forces soldiers Army Staff Sgt. John Walding and Army Maj. Kent Solheim, both wounded warriors, start the 113th Boston Marathon together, April 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires

Special Forces soldiers Army Staff Sgt. John Walding and Army Maj. Kent Solheim, both wounded warriors, start the 113th Boston Marathon together, April 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires

On April 20th, two Special Forces Soldiers who were both wounded in combat, competed in the race. What makes their participation unique, is that both are single leg amputees and both competed in the race on Hand Cycles. Army Major Kent Solheim who is a member of the US Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and Army SSG John Walding from the 3rd Special Forces Group, were injured in different countries. Solheim in Karbala, Iraq and Walding in Afghanistan. Both of these Heroes received the Silver Star for their actions in combat and both Soldiers officially finished the race. Solheim finished with a time of 1hour, 50 minutes and 23 seconds. SSG Walding was right behind him, finishing in 1 hour, 52 minutes and 53 seconds.

Solheim was wounded in Karbala, Iraq, while he was assigned to the 3rd SFG. His team fast-roped onto its target, and in the gun battle that ensued, he was shot four different times. Originally, doctors tried to save his leg, but 20 months later, he made the tough decision to have his right leg amputated. That was seven weeks ago.

Walding was wounded in Afghanistan on April 5, 2008, when a sniper’s round instantly amputated his right leg. From there, Walding folded his leg into his crotch and tied it with his bootlace. With the help of his team, he later made it down the side of the mountain.2

Both Soldiers recuperated from their injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. While the rehabilitation process is often a long, tedious and painful one, the team of experienced therapists who work there, provide one of the best places for our wounded warriors to recover from their injuries. Both Soldiers took part in extensive physical therapy, but felt that the support of each other, made their recovery that much better. Their friendship caused them to push themselves harder and further than they may have done alone.

“I really believe God put us together for a reason,” Walding explained. “If Solheim had not been here with me, I would have not pushed as hard as I did. I still would have hit the gym, still have done the cardio. I would have still ran and done what I was supposed to do, but we feed off each other. It really has doubled what my intentions are.”

“It’s huge to have a partner when you are going through something like this,” Solheim said. “John and I are able to work out together. We both support each other and have been close friends here. I push him, he pushes me; it’s a mutual thing. Both of us have achieved high levels of success and our own goals because we have been able to push each other.”

“You have to have that kind of support behind you,” Walding said. “We’re Green Berets; we’re not lazy people. When you take a Green Beret and say you can’t walk any more, it’s not just the physical aspect, it’s the mental aspect of, ‘Man I can’t go run today,’ and it’s a lot to take in. I gave three years of my life to get this hat and join the brotherhood, and now I may not have that job anymore.”3

Not only do both Soldiers have the support and encouragement of each other, but they have the support of their families as well. That’s always important when someone is recovering from an illness or injury and even more so to wounded warriors. The support of their families is essential to their recoveries. Neither Soldier was initially training for the Boston Marathon, but training to enable them to be able to interact and do things with their children, like they always have.

“We were just training so we could play with our kids again,” Walding said. “It’s not our kids’ fault that we got shot and going through this together, it doesn’t matter who finishes first. I couldn’t have done it without Kent and we will finish together.”4

According to SSG Walding, out of 26,385 participants in the Boston Marathon, only 20 of them were using hand cycles. It wasn’t an easy thing for them to be able to compete, but with the assistance of Team Achilles – Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, it was able to happen. The Freedom Team is a program that is operated at Walter Reed. Achilles makes the hand crank cycles available to the wounded warriors. The goal is to get them out of the hospital and back on their feet and exploring the many opportunities that are available to them.

“Having lost a leg, you can’t swim because you have sutures in your leg,” Walding said. “You can’t ride a bike, because you can’t wear a prosthetic. You obviously can’t run or walk, so any type of cardiovascular activity you want to do is going to come from your upper body.”

“I just got tired of the exercises Walter Reed has in the clinic,” Solheim said, “so I just decided to try the hand cranks. I took one to a local park … and started riding on a daily basis. I was there with SSG Walding and it was just something we started doing together. It’s been a tool for us to get out of the hospital, outdoors everyday,” he said, “and now it has led to the opportunity to do the race.”5

Prior to competing in the Boston Marathon Solheim and Walding had been riding the hand cranks for only about 7 weeks. What they’ve both been able to accomplish in such a short time is amazing! Both Soldiers have much bigger goals in mind than the Boston Marathon and I’m sure that with the drive and determination that they’ve exhibited thus far, that both of them will be able to accomplish anything and everything that they set their minds to.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Marathon []
  2. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=54074 []
  3. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=54074 []
  4. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=54074 []
  5. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=54074 []


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