Bryan Hoddle was coaching track at River Ridge High School in Lacey when he first saw video of a Paralympian winning a 100-meter race.
Hoddle was impressed that a young man born without feet could find his way into competitive running. And then he had a thought.
“I think I could help him get faster,” Hoddle told his wife.
And he did, coaching Edmonds sprinter Tony Volpentest, who went on to set Paralympic records in the 100- and 200-meter races.
Seventeen years later, Hoddle is a sixth-grade teacher at Tenino Middle School. And he’s considered one of the foremost coaches for track athletes on prosthetics, specializing in working with military veterans.
Two years ago, Disabled Sports USA paid for Hoddle’s travel to Phoenix, where he first met Steve Martin, then an Arizona highway patrolman.
“Bryan taught me how to run in my new legs,” Martin said. “If not for him, I’d still be walking.”
Martin’s story is one of the thousands to come out of the Middle East wars. After serving two tours in the Army, Martin took a leave of absence in Arizona and went to Afghanistan to work with that country’s national police.
On Sept. 24, 2008, the Humvee in which he was riding struck an improvised explosive device.
“My injuries were severe – my lower legs were ruined, both hips were broken, ribs broken, both arms ...” Martin said. “A year later, I’d had 14 surgeries and my legs were still ruined.”
Martin had his lower legs amputated and started over.
“Three months later, he got out of the wheelchair and walked,” Hoddle said.
“Yeah, I walked like a baby deer,” Martin said.
With the help of Hoddle, Martin completed a triathlon – swimming, biking and running — within a year of taking his first steps. At 18 months on his new prosthetics, he ran a marathon.
On Saturday in Seattle, Martin ran in his 13th half-marathon and took Hoddle with him, completing a promise one man had made to the other.
“When we first worked together, his goal was to run a marathon, and I told him if he did, I’d run a half marathon with him,” said Hoddle, now 54. “When he called three months ago and said we were going to run the Rock ’n’ Roll half-marathon, I told my wife, ‘I wish I’d just told him I was going to buy him a pizza.’ ”
Martin’s goal was to complete Saturday’s race in less than three hours. His time was 2:59:59.
Running with Martin was a confirmation of friendship for Hoddle, who has worked with more than 1,000 amputees while maintaining his teaching career.
“Working with amputees isn’t that different than working with other runners – you look at the body alignment, see what needs to go, what you can change to make a difference,” Hoddle said.
There are, however, unique challenges amputees face. Hoddle has learned of them by listening.
“If I’ve had too much salt before a race, my legs will swell and the prosthetics won’t fit well,” Martin said. “During a race, I can lose weight and my legs won’t fit well. I’ll have to stop and go from a one-ply sock to a three-ply sock.”
Martin’s running legs, different than those he uses to walk, sometimes need mid-race tuning.
“Steve carries a four-millimeter allen wrench, so he can make adjustments if something goes wrong,” Hoddle said. “If a bolt in his leg moves two millimeters, he starts getting hot spots of pain.”
Martin, 43, said that as he recovered from his injuries, he dreamed of running again. Hoddle helped him do it. It changed his life.
“I’ve run in Savannah, Nashville, New Orleans, Pasadena — even in Edinborough, Scotland, with my dad,” Martin said. “He’s a Vietnam vet, and we’ve run three half-marathons together. His first with me was the year he turned 65.
“It’s funny, because we wear T-shirts that say ‘Veteran’ and people come up to both of us to thank us for our service.
“I’m used to that – I always say, ‘Thank you,’ – but after Vietnam, my dad never heard that. Not until we ran together,” Martin said.
Stories like that make Hoddle tear up.
“I never served in the military, but my grandfather fought in World War II and he was a hero to me,” Hoddle said. “When he died, I promised I’d work with veterans, try to help them any way I could.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 firstname.lastname@example.org