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Wounded Marine Beats Odds to Participate in Marine Corps Marathon

By Robbin Gould
Editor, Family Motor Coaching magazine

Former United States Marine Corps Sgt. Eddie Ryan will live out a dream in Washington, D.C., as he competes in the 35th annual Marine Corps Marathon. Family Motor Coach Association and others have arranged transport for Ryan and supporters to and from the race, via motorhome and passenger bus.

Running the 26.2-mile, 35th annual Marine Corps Marathon is not out of the ordinary for a former Marine, but in Sgt. Eddie Ryan’s case, the circumstances are extraordinary.

Bryan Purcell and Eddie Ryan practice for the Marine Corps Marathon.In 2005 Ryan was wounded while serving in Iraq and is now confined to a wheelchair, the result of a severe head injury that interrupted the normal communication from his brain to muscles in his legs, right arm, and elsewhere. Despite these disabilities, he will participate in his first-ever marathon, traveling the route in a specially outfitted three-wheel cycle while the cart is pushed by his “legs” -- former Marine Staff Sgt. Bryan Purcell.

As one of 30,000 marathon participants, Ryan will compete in the wheelchair class, cheered on by his group of supporters known as Team 413 (the number 413 designates his “alive day,” April 13, 2005, when he sustained the injuries in Iraq). He will operate the cycle’s hand controls to propel himself forward while running mate Purcell pushes from behind.

The three-wheel cycle was donated by AdvaCare Systems, a specialty medical equipment supplier, and customized by Orange County Choppers of Newburgh, New York, a company featured in the TLC television show “American Choppers.”

The Marine Corps Marathon route begins in Arlington, Virginia; winds through Washington, D.C.; and crosses the finish line at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial back in Arlington.

Because of Sgt. Ryan’s physical condition, special travel arrangements are necessary to transport him from his family’s home in Ellenville, New York, to Washington, D.C. He cannot fly or ride in a car or unmodified vehicle and must travel with two medical assistants. A traveling wheelchair, a conventional wheelchair, the racing cycle, and numerous other items need to be brought along also.

When learning of his travel issues, individuals and companies affiliated with Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) stepped in to help arrange Ryan’s safe passage. FMCA is an international organization of motorhome owners/enthusiasts and commercial member companies that support the motorhome lifestyle.

Alpin Haus RV, of Amsterdam, New York, an FMCA commercial member, donated the use of a 40-foot Monaco Knight motorhome for Ryan’s trip to Washington. The diesel-powered RV has all the conveniences of home and includes three slideouts to enlarge the interior when parked.

Adirondack Trailways, based in New York State, donated the use of a 45-foot, wheelchair-accessible passenger bus that will carry Ryan’s family and supporters to Washington and also serve as in-town transportation for Ryan during the race weekend.

Paul DuBois, FMCA national vice president, Northeast Area, worked closely with Purcell to iron out many logistical details associated with Ryan’s trip to Washington. He also sought the assistance of FMCA’s Angel Bus chapter, whose members work with Angel Bus, a nonprofit organization that coordinates ground transportation for patients in need who cannot travel by conventional means.

DuBois, who is a professional driver and former transportation manager, has driven busloads of Marine, Army, and National Guard troops throughout the eastern United States and will be driving Ryan to Washington in the motorhome.

Purcell, a Chicago resident and airline pilot, watched an HBO documentary titled “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq” several years ago. The show included an interview with Ryan and his mother, in which Ryan predicted that one day he would not only walk but would run again. At that point Purcell resolved to make that dream come true for the wounded Marine.

Earlier this year Purcell visited the Ryan family and convinced them that he and Sgt. Ryan should run in the Marine Corps Marathon. FMCA became involved when Purcell spoke with his motorhome-owning neighbor, FMCA member Jim Sadilek, about transportation.

Sgt. Ryan joined the Marine Corps after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On April 13, 2005, during his second tour in Iraq, he was shot twice in the head during combat operations. He suffered severe brain injuries and was not expected to live. However, with overwhelming support from family and friends, including his running mate, Purcell, he is progressing toward recovery and hopes to someday be out of the wheelchair. His rehabilitation is costly, and much of it is not covered by Veterans Affairs.

Ryan and Purcell will run the Marine Corps Marathon not only to bring attention to Sgt. Ryan’s situation, but also to the many service members who have suffered traumatic brain injuries in combat.

When Ryan trains, he keeps a mantra in mind: “Inch by inch, it’s a cinch. Yard by yard, it’s hard.” Despite the many inches Ryan and Purcell will travel to reach the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon, they will have accomplished what no one may have thought possible just five years ago.

For those who wish to assist Sgt. Ryan with his rehabilitation and continued recovery, tax-deductible donations may be made in care of:  Buddy Runs Inc., 1611 S.E. 12th Place, Gainesville, FL 32641; www.buddyruns.org/team413.html (specify Sgt. Eddie Ryan/Team 413).

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