Why Some People Succeed Against All Odds
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Meet Eric McElvenny
Eric McElvenny grew up in Western PA always knowing that someday he would serve in the US Marine Corp. Eric was your average guy. He loved sports… all sports. And was pretty good at any sport he played but probably better at baseball than anything else. He attended Annapolis Naval Academy where he played baseball and that’s also where he discovered rugby. Ahhh yes. Rugby. Almost immediately, Eric was better at rugby than he was baseball. He graduated from Annapolis with a degree in mechanical engineering and it was there that he met and married his wife Rachel.
After graduation, McElvenny was sent to Quantico, VA and then shipped off to Camp Pendleton. His third deployment sent him to Afghanistan where he led an Embedded Training Team (ETT). His job was to advise Afghan infantry soldiers. On December 9, 2011, about 5 hours into a dismounted security patrol through a small village, Eric stepped on an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) and triggered an explosion underneath his right foot. Fortunately the closest person to Eric was Corpsman Michael Shrum. Michael was a navy man and because the marines do not have their own medics, corpsman are part of their teams. Michael wrapped tunicates around the wound and got him safely to the helicopter. He was in surgery within 40 minutes of the accident but, sadly, Eric lost his right leg below the knee. Eric became an amputee that day.
It took 6 days for Eric to finally make it back to San Diego. He was taken to the Balboa Naval Medical Center where he had several additional surgeries. About two weeks after his injury, Isaac Moore, McElvenny’s Commanding Officer (CO) in Afghanistan sent him an email. It read ‘ let me know when you are ready to run your first marathon’. Eric was floored. Losing his leg hadn’t even sunk in yet and his boss was already challenging him to run a marathon. McElvenny had NEVER run a marathon in his life! While he was still in the hospital, Eric made a commitment not only to run a marathon but something even bigger. He set his sights on IRONMAN: IRONMAN Kona to be exact. Moore had figured out exactly what to say to push McElvenney’s buttons.
A month and a half after his life changing event, McElvenny met Nikko Marcolongo, the Senior Manager of Operation Rebound at the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). The CAF Operation Rebound® program is the premier sports and fitness program for American military personnel, veterans and first responders with physical challenges. Through CAF, injured veterans are provided unparalleled opportunities to pursue active, athletic lifestyles. The organization funds equipment, training, and travel expenses that assist our injured troops and first responders to harness the healing power of sport, regardless if the goal is to win Paralympic gold or just to run around the block. Nikko and CAF provided Eric with everything he needed to get to Kona. He received great coaching, equipment, training, and of course, his prosthetics.
It was extremely difficult prepping for the race. So difficult in fact, that Eric almost gave up. Although his coaches were phenomenal and he could physically and mentally handle the training, he struggled with his prosthetics. Eric required a bike leg for the 112 miles of cycling required for the race and he also required a running leg for the 26.2 mile run. If the legs didn’t fit perfectly they would cause him tremendous pain. He got blisters and, at one point, he had developed three separate staff infections where the prosthetic had irritated his skin so bad. He was convinced that IRONMAN was not meant for amputees.
Dr. Peter Harsch, Eric’s prosthetic practitioner at Balboa Naval hospital worked tirelessly to get Eric’s legs to fit him. His passion to help amputees feel and be their best was the very thing that changed Eric’s relationship with him from doctor to friend. Eric’s legs fit and functioned perfectly only weeks before the big day. In October 2013, 22 months after becoming an amputee, Eric completed his first IRONMAN. He finished in 11 hours and 54 minutes.
What is Eric up to these days? Why training for IRONMAN of course. He is determined to beat the current record held by an amputee; 9 hours and 57 minutes. Last October, Eric was also nominated as CAF’s Most Inspirational athlete of 2015. He took the stage at the Celebration of Abilities Ceremony to accept this prestigious award and continues to motivate and inspire young challenged athletes all over the world.
Homeland Magazine wishes Eric all the best with his new undertakings. Dream big and go get ‘em!!
By Carolyn Erickson