Today's post is about some great t-shirts from our collection, modeled here by Vietnam War veteran and marathon racer, Bob Wieland, in this promo photo, circa 1982. But more importantly, it's the story of this true American Hero.
Unlike the typical marathon racer, Bob Wieland does not have legs. And unlike most marathon racers who are missing one or both legs, Bob does not use a wheelchair in his races, nor does he use prosthetic legs. In fact, the only “equipment” he uses is layers of what he called “energy-absorbing materials” and size 1 Adidas shoes with a leather sole to reduce on his hands to protect them as he walks using his hands and torso to propel him.
Bob lost both of his legs in the Vietnam War in 1969 when he was hit by a mortar round while trying to help a wounded American soldier. After surgery and blood transfusions, he had nine inches remaining on his right leg and five on his left. In a letter to his parents after his accident, he wrote:
Dear Mom and Dad, I'm in the hospital. Everything is going to be O.K. The people here are taking good care of me.
P.S. I think I lost my legs.
Bob likes to say of that day, "My legs went one direction, my life another." After the injury, Bob undertook a vigorous rehabilitation program, and his upper body grew increasingly strong. Encouraged by this, he began participating in the sport of powerlifting, and soon became an elite level bench presser.
Bob later decided to add more cardio training to his regimen. At first, he did the standard types of cycle exercises common among people with missing legs. But one day in 1981, he was near a track, and upon the urging of a nearby track coach, Bob decided to try out a lap. He hopped out of his wheelchair and onto the track, and it was there that his obsession began. Despite traveling at a slow pace, Bob began a long distance racing career. He quickly progressed to higher levels, and soon was completing amazingly long distances, albeit at a slow pace.
In his career, Bob has finished numerous races, including the New York Marathon twice, Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, and the Los Angeles Marathon three times, the most recent of which he completed at age 57 in March of 2003. But Bob's most amazing feat is the three year, eight month and six day journey called “Walk For Hunger Across America” in 1982-1986, where he walked all the way from California to Washington DC and raised $350,000 for hunger relief.
After 18 months of training and rounding up sponsors, Bob began his trek at Knott's Berry Farm, California, on September 8, 1982. Bob powered along across the United States at a rate of about five miles per 8 - 12 hour day. Perhaps the strangest experience of the trip happened during a stop in Rolla, Missouri. Bob met a guy who was in the same division in Vietnam and they began trading stories. The veteran asked how Bob lost his legs and after hearing the story he was shocked. "Oh my God, Doc, you're alive! I carried you to the chopper!"
Being alive is what it's all about to Bob Wieland.