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He calls them his “C-legs,” and he’s been running cross-country on them since last July.
Monday, Eugene Roberts, a double amputee and Marine injured in Vietnam, also found his sea legs as he went for a run on his specially made prosthetic legs next to the ocean at Holden Beach.
Roberts, 62, who lost both his feet and portions of his legs in the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago, left California last July 2 to begin his 3,000-mile, 11-state “Running Across America for Jesus” trek. He reached Brunswick County on Sunday on his specially made hydraulic C-legs, so called because of their shape.
An entourage of bikers and law enforcement, along with Roberts’ wife of 40 years, Alicia, escorted him along U.S. 17 as he crossed the state line from Little River, S.C.
Monday, passersby saw him running around Shallotte.
“I thank the Lord Jesus,” said Roberts, sporting a black tank top with the word “Jesus” after jogging down Smith Avenue near The Brunswick Beacon office.
That, Roberts said, is the message of his mission—spreading the word of Jesus Christ and raising money for charity since the midsummer day his trek began at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, California. It’s the same base from which he departed for Da Nang, Vietnam, as a freshly minted, 20-year-old Marine in 1966.
“I had been in Vietnam 18 days when I got hurt in a landmine,” said the Maryland native.
His right leg had to be amputated above the knee; his left just below the knee.
For a while after that, Roberts said he “got into drinking and acting crazy,” but straightened up pretty fast after marrying Alicia and starting a family that now consists of four grown children and 11 grandchildren. He worked for 27 and a half years as a foreign claims clerk with the Social Security office in Maryland.
Roberts, who had been a distance runner in high school, said he started running with his prosthetic legs eight years ago with inspiration from an HBO show about Terry Fox. Fox was an amputee who lost a leg to cancer and attempted a cross-country run in his native Canada before succumbing in 1981.
If Terry Fox could run, Roberts reasoned, “I can start running for Jesus.”
In 2001, Roberts finished the 26.2-mile Baltimore Marathon in eight hours and 41 seconds. He also ran 5K and 10K races, two half marathons and ran across Maryland in 2004.
Roberts said he ran the first 1,000 miles of his current cross-country trek in pain because, he said, the vacuum-type, battery-operated prosthetic legs weren’t properly made.
“It caused so many problems, with blisters and the heat,” he said. “But the good Lord just kept getting me back up.”
In New Mexico, he ditched the uncomfortable legs for ones that were easier to run in.
He has been averaging 16 miles per day consistently ever since, running only during daylight hours with Alicia attentively following her husband’s every mile in their Chevy Roadtrek van marked with Roberts’ “Running Across America for Jesus” signs.
“I do the dumb stuff—I run,” Roberts said. “My wife does all the brain stuff. I thank God I’ve got a good wife. We’re a good team.”
Alicia said the months-long run is important, because it’s important to her husband.
“It’s his goal,” she said, seated behind the wheel of their van. “And whatever is his goal is my goal.”
Running through Brunswick
Along the way, they have stayed at military bases and met a host of nice people, Roberts said. But he still has to be careful, even in Brunswick County.
“Traffic out there is crazy, man,” he said, noting he almost got hit Sunday as a driver ran off U.S. 17 inches away, tires squealing.
“He might’ve been watching me,” Roberts said. “I got off the highway after that.”
And his C-legs, he said, can be dangerous. He said he’s fallen 43 times in his run, mostly due to suction problems with his prosthetic legs.
Last month, Roberts arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., where he trained more than four decades ago. A lieutenant colonel invited him to run with his men.
Along the Myrtle Beach shore, he encountered a fellow 62-year-old Marine and Vietnam veteran named “Iron Mike,” who greeted Roberts with a hearty Marine “Semper Fi” and a question, “Can I run with you?”
“We had a lot in common,” Roberts said. “He just made my day, man. We hugged each other. That guy’s body was as hard as a rock.”
Roberts’ next stops will be Wilmington and the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune before his trek concludes April 11 in his native Maryland and Washington, D.C.
He said he still has more than 400 miles to go.
He also plans a stop at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with injured soldiers there.
“It’d be great if the president could come,” Roberts said. “He could run with ’em.”
Additional information and photos from Roberts’ run are posted on a Web site, www.raafj.com.