- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

Imagine, for a second, you lost an arm or a leg or even an eye. What would you do?

Weird as it may sound, I have wondered how I would pick up the pieces and move on if I were dismembered or blinded. Would I try to become a Paralympian in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic leg? Or never return to running again?

Maybe this thought has crossed my mind more times than I care to admit because I guide an athlete without sight and have been fortunate enough to be around competitive Paralympians who choose to dwell on what they have rather than what they don’t.

It came as no surprise to me when Army Pfc. James Stuck, a 24-year-old lanky guy from New Kensington, Pa., told an audience at the Army Ten-Miler press conference Friday that he was lucky to be alive.

He lost his right leg below the knee when the armored Humvee he was driving in Iraq was blown to pieces after an improvised explosive device detonated just four days before last Christmas.

Stuck turned his personal tragedy into a story of phenomenal resilience and will power. Only a few short months after his accident, Stuck was mastering the slopes of Vail on skies and a snowboard, complete with a prosthetic leg and a desire to live life to the fullest. He even talks today about making the 2008 Beijing Paralympic team.

But this morning, Stuck will be doing something with an artificial leg he never did with two natural legs — run a 10-mile race.

Stuck will be one of a handful of runners from the Army’s Missing Parts in Action program. The team is made up of 18 military amputees as well as their physical therapists. MPIA, whose motto is “Some Assembly Required,” made its Army Ten-Miler debut in 2004 and ran last year, too.

The leader of the pack is Capt. Matthew Scherer, a certified vestibular therapist who serves as the section chief of the amputee physical therapy section at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He recently returned from a tour of Baghdad.

In his third year with Missing Parts in Action, he is more than just a therapist. He is a motivator, an educator, a listener, a joker, a friend and probably the best darned pit crew an amputee could ask for.

This year, as in previous years, Scherer will run the 10-mile course from the Pentagon through the streets of Washington and back to the Pentagon with a loaded pack on his back, lugging prosthetic walking legs and other body parts as backups in case the running legs cause too much pain because of the friction of the prosthetic rubbing against bare leg.

Scherer also will be keeping an eye on Spc. Joe Keck, a 22-year-old heavy equipment operator who lost part of his left arm when his Humvee overturned after being bombed July 16 in Afghanistan, where he had been station since March.

The Machesney Park, Ill., resident returned home to a teary hero’s welcome Aug. 18 with about 150 supporters gathering in his honor. Nearly three months since the accident, he has had 10 surgeries, and his left arm was amputated below the elbow.

Keck’s goal today is to go the distance. He, like Stuck, feels lucky to be alive right now.

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