Todd Philpott, an Australian amputee and inspiration to
many wounded U.S. war veterans, had hoped to beat his own world record en route
to winning his third consecutive handcycling title in the 2006 New York City
Marathon, on his 49th birthday.
But Philpott's goals went awry last Sunday when his handcycle flipped over
just before the Pulaski Bridge in Brooklyn, halfway through the 26.2-mile race.
Ignoring excruciating pain in his right hip, just above where the former
bodybuilding champion's right leg was amputated in 1992, Philpott refused the
urging of police officers to quit.
His motivation? The same as since he lost his leg in a traffic accident in
Sydney, and the same as he tells soldiers who have lost limbs while fighting in
Iraq: "I just try to focus on what I can do with what I got left."
Philpott finished the race in third place with a time of 1 hour, 29
minutes, according to the marathon's Web site, and 12 minutes shy of his
marathon-record time in 2004, the president of the Achilles Track Club said.
Friday, Philpott left a Manhattan hospital in good spirits, three days
after an unusual surgery on his fractured hip that his doctor said was more
challenging because of his amputation.
Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special
Surgery, said he typically extends a patient's ankle and foot to realign a
fractured hip, which allows him to make sure it stays in place before surgery.
Because of Philpott's amputation, however, Westrich compensated by drilling a
traction pin in the residual leg and attaching it to the table.
The surgeon said swelling will keep Philpott from using his prosthesis for
weeks, and it will be another month after that before he can put his full
weight on it without the help of a walker.
"Then he can do everything he wants to do," Westrich said.
Philpott first competed in the marathon in 1999 as a runner. But the stress
on his residual leg that year and the next prompted Dick Traum, founder and
president of the Manhattan-based, Achilles Track Club, to steer him to
Traum, 65, and who lost part of his own leg 41 years ago, said Philpott
finishing the marathon after the accident was amazing.
"Just think of yourself getting into a car accident and getting yourself up
and then racing 15 miles," Traum said.
When it comes to official world records, Traum said there is no official
governing body for handcycling. But he said he knows of no one who has finished
with a better time for 26.2 miles than what Philpott achieved two years ago.
He said Philpott has no equal when it comes to inspiring amputated soldiers
at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The track club runs
its Freedom Team program there, visiting the soldiers often.
"Todd is really the best coach I've ever seen," Traum said. "They light up,
and he makes the sport [handcycling] exciting for them."
Philpott, who spends equal time living in Australia and East Harlem with
his wife, Ali Bergstrom-Philpott, enjoys helping others focus on what they have.
"If [someone] like me can be a world champion, there's hope for all of
them, and that's what I get a kick out of," he said.