View Full Version : Friends use Boston Marathon as stepping stone

04-22-2009, 13:20

Friends use Boston Marathon as stepping stone
BOSTON (USASOC News Service, April 22, 2009) – Behind the story lines of the 113th running of the Boston Marathon there is a patriotic story to be found.

Forget the fact the Boston Marathon is held on Patriot’s Day, a local holiday set aside for the anniversary of the Revolutionary War battles at Lexington and Concord.

There is the story of two close friends and Special Forces Soldiers who were both wounded in combat— one in Iraq, the other Afghanistan. Both are recipients of Silver Star Medals for their actions in combat, single-leg amputees and official finishers of the Boston Marathon.

Maj. Kent Solheim from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and Staff Sgt. John Walding from the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) completed the marathon on hand cycles. Hand cycles are a type of bike in which the rider pedals with his arms instead of his legs. Solheim finished in 1:50:23 and Walding was right behind him at 1:52:53 accomplishing their joint goal of finishing in less than two hours.

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, Solheim was shot four different times. Originally, doctors tried to save his leg; 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, while assaulting an objective. A sniper’s round hit Walding in lower leg, instantly amputating 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.

Walding spent four months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in Washington, D.C., before deciding to return to Fort Bragg. In February, he had to return to WRAMC for receive a higher level of care.

“My rehabilitation progress has been phenomenal,” said Walding. “Since returning to Walter Reed, I’ve gone from literally not being able to walk a full day without my back hurting to being able to run a seven minute, thirty second mile last week.”

Walter Reed has a strong team of therapist and experience that is passed down to every Soldier who passes through there, Solheim said. The rehabilitation process is a long road, but support is essential to that process.

While at WRAMC, Solheim and Walding met up again—both were in the same unit previously, Company B, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group.

Solheim and Walding know the physical therapy helped, but they believe their friendship pushed them further.

“I really believe God put us together for a reason,” Walding explained. “If he had not been here with me, I would not have 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; 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 anymore, 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.”

The Green Berets not only found motivation in each other, but in their families as well.

Family is essential to recovery; from the wife, the children, parents or just someone who supports you, it’s one of the most important factors in making a comeback, Solheim said.

“To have the support of your wife and kids back home and show you this is why you’re here is essential,” Walding began to explain. “I don’t necessarily get healthy to get back to an (Operational Detachment), I mean, that is where my heart is, but when my son is 12-or 15-years-old and wants to play football, Daddy can run around and play football. When my daughter wants to play tennis, Dad can play tennis. It’s not their fault this happened to us, but having their support is the best motivation anyone could ever ask for.”

“We weren’t training for the Boston Marathon when this started,” Walding said. “We were just training so we could play with our kids again. 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.”

The Soldiers had help getting into the race.

It would not have been possible without Team Achilles – Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, said Walding. People don’t understand how difficult it was to get hand cycles into the Boston Marathon, out of 26,385 participants, 20 were hand cycles.

“That’s because of Team Achilles, they fought to get us in here not only getting us the spots, but we didn’t have to qualify either,” he continued. “We just have to say, ‘I have an interest to get on a hand crank and do 26.2 miles, and they make it happen.’ They are truly an enabler for people who want to get healthy.”

The Freedom Team program is run through WRAMC. Achilles makes the hand cranks available to the Wounded Warriors with the goal of getting them back on their feet and looking at other opportunities the athletes have in life.

“Having lost a leg, you can’t swim because you have sutures in your leg; 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, so I just decided to try the hand cranks. I took one to a local park in D.C. and started riding on a daily basis,” Solheim said. “I was there with Staff Sgt. Walding, and it was just something we started doing together. It’s a been a tool for us to get out of the hospital, outdoors every day, and now it has lead to the opportunity to do the race."

Originally the Boston Marathon was not a part of the process; it was something the Soldiers did on their road to recovery in order to keep their fitness up. Prior to competing in the Boston Marathon, Solheim and Walding had only been riding the hand cranks for approximately seven weeks.

The Boston Marathon is a large accomplishment, but the men have bigger goals, getting back to life.

“I’m no longer in the hospital fighting for my life. Now, I’m getting back to life,” Solheim said. “I think the Boston Marathon is kind of a capstone to what we have been doing. We’ve trained together, worked out together, and in my mind, we’ll finish together. Whether he is in front of me or behind me, it’s insignificant. We started this together and we’re going to finish together.”


04-22-2009, 13:21
Special Forces Soldiers Staff Sgt. John Walding and Maj. Kent Solheim, both Wounded Warriors, started the 113th Boston Marathon together. Although they would finish the race approximately two minutes apart, the men started and finished together. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires; USAJFKSWCS Public Affairs)

04-22-2009, 13:22
Maj. Kent Solheim rides his hand bike down the chute of the 113th Boston Marathon. Solheim, a Special Forces Soldier and Wounded Warrior has only been riding the hand bike for approximately seven weeks and was the third hand bike racer to finish the marathon. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires; USAJFKSWCS Public Affairs)

04-22-2009, 13:23
Staff Sgt. John Walding and Maj. Kent Solheim, both Special Forces Soldiers, joke after both finished the 113th Boston Marathon on hand bikes. Walding and Solheim are single-leg amputees who used the hand bikes as part of their physical therapy. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires; USAJFKSWCS Public Affairs)

04-22-2009, 13:23
Amy Walding congratulates her husband, Staff Sgt. John Walding, a Special Forces Soldier and Wounded Warrior. John lost his right leg in Afghanistan one year ago, but still completed the 113th Boston Marathon on a hand bike in less than two hours. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Curt Squires; USAJFKSWCS Public Affairs)

04-22-2009, 19:46
A great story. Thanks for posting it.

Red Flag 1
04-22-2009, 20:15
Great post Dan!!

These guys should write the book on upperbody strength, IMHO.


RF 1

04-22-2009, 20:42
Excellent story. Well done, Gents...you're an inspiration.

04-24-2009, 23:45
Good to see them staying active and setting and achieving goals, but there are manual (no mechanical advantage in the propulsion system) racing trikes (wheelchairs) for competing in able-bodied foot races. If they want to race cranks, there are lots of full and metric centuries and long distance bike tours available.

04-25-2009, 00:13
John and I were on the same Sage team and prior to that we were in French together...a great soldier, SF warrior and friend. After graduating we kind of lost touch but met again while we were both at WRAMC. During a conversation I asked what his plans were for when he was released from care. He responded, "I am going back to my team of course. I am a team guy, not merely a tabbed guy."

I am glad to see he is up doing whatever the f*&k he wants to! Drive on brother!


04-25-2009, 08:11
Thanks for the post Dan. Inspirational!