Interview: Dick Traum: Q & A with the President of Achilles International

Article excerpt

Achilles is an international organization with a mission of encouraging people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream sports focusing on long distance running. It promotes health, well being, socialization, mainstreaming, and achievement

EP: Tell us about the members of Achilles International?

Dick Traum (DT): If you have seen disabled athletes participating in a marathon, the chances are that they are members of Achilles. We have members in over 70 countries and 100 locations throughout the United States. The typical disabilities of Achilles members include amputation, cerebral palsy, paraplegia, organ transplants, and traumatic brain injury. Many of our most recent members were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

EP: Tell us about yourself ...

DT: In 1965, while standing behind my car at a gas station on the New Jersey Turnpike, a second car hit me from behind and crushed my legs. The right one became infected and was amputated above the knee. In 1975, a friend about my age had a heart attack, and another acquaintance suggested my joining the YMCA inasmuch as, like our mutual acquaintance, I was overweight and working many, many hours in a stressful situation. Because it was never mentioned, he was surprised to find that my limp wasn't associated with being overweight but with having an artificial leg.

When asked if I could run, my response was "Sure." A hop and a skip sort of worked. Over a period of several months, I improved from being able to jog a couple of hundred yards to a full mile, and soon afterwards, two miles. For an above-the-knee amputee in the mid 1970's, this was very, very exciting. I became involved with the West Side YMCA Running Club, and by May 1976, ran a five mile race. My first marathon was on October 24, 1976, and it was the first New York City Five-Borough Marathon. A picture of me appeared in the January 1977 edition of Runner's World and was given to a young Canadian by the name of Terry Fox. He had osteogenic sarcoma and was about to lose his leg. His basketball coach showed him the picture as an example of what one could do after an amputation. Terry's reaction was that if "that old guy could run a marathon," he could run one every day. Following the surgery and recuperation, he set out to run across Canada completing a marathon every day. 3,300 miles later, he became Canada's most celebrated hero and had raised millions for cancer research. Unfortunately, the cancer returned and he died in June 1981. That September there was an invitation to Toronto to participate in "Terry Fox Races" in order to resume the fundraising effort. I volunteered again in 1982 and saw many people with disabilities either participating or cheering.

As a board member of the New York Road Runners Club, I suggested to our president, Fred Lebow, that we begin a program to introduce people with disabilities to our sport of running. At the end of the 8 week course we changed the focus to a running club, which was named after the Greek God Achilles.

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EP: Can you tell us about Trisha Meili's affiliation with Achilles?

DT:: In 1989, Trisha Meili, who is better known as the Central Park Jogger, was left for dead after being accosted by a gang of teenagers in Central Park. She joined Achilles during her rehabilitation, became a member, ran a 4-hour New York City Marathon, and joined the Achilles board. After becoming our founding board chair, she wrote a book called I Am The Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility. The title of her book generated a major Achilles program, which is a five-mile race called "The Hope and Possibility." It attracts several thousand runners to Central Park with the theme of able-bodied individuals and people with disabilities running together in a mainstream situation. The race is currently being replicated throughout the United States in places such as Madison, Wisconsin; Cincinnati, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; and the first Hope and Possibility Marathon will be held in early 2011 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. …