For participants in the 10K race at Saturday’s Air Force Marathon, it was a bit like a trip through the apocalypse.
Their 6:30 a.m. start meant they began their effort in the dark. Soon after, the skies opened up with a downpour and then came the lightning that delayed the start of the full and half marathons.
The 10K folks, meanwhile, were stuck out on the course at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. And when the threatening weather moved on, it was replaced by some fog and mist and, for the last of the finishers, the mid-morning heat.
But Marine Corporal Matthew Bradford (Ret.) called it a walk in the park:
“It was a fun walk. I was honored to be a part of the Air Force Marathon.”
But for him, it was a tough walk, too.
He has no legs. He’s blind. He completed Saturday’s 10K on two prosthetic legs while using a cane and often holding onto the shoulder or forearm of his race guide and friend, Anthony Allen.
The black T-shirt he wore bore his motto. On the front it said, “JUST WALK” and on the back: “No Legs, No Vision, No Problem.”
In January of 2007, Bradford was on a foot patrol along the Euphrates River in Haditha, Iraq, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). The blast sent shrapnel into both of his eyes, blew off his left leg, severely mangled his right, damaged his left arm and right hand, caused severe internal injuries and left him comatose,
Three days later he was back in the U.S. – at Walter Reed Hospital – and when he woke up three weeks later, he learned the extent of his injuries.
“I was pretty messed up,” he said. “I’d lost a body’s worth of blood.”
He received a Purple Heart on Valentine’s Day and five months after the explosion – ‘it took me a while to get my mind right,” he said he stood for the first time on his prosthetic legs..
Before the year was up, then-President George Bush spotted him in at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. At the time, Braford happened to be scaling a 35-foot wall as part of his rehab.
“Good man, isn’t he,” Bush said proudly to the reporters with him.
»PHOTOS: Scenes from the Air Force Marathon
And since then Bradford has only gotten better and better and better.
In April of 2010, he became the first blind, double amputee in history to reenlist in the Marine Corps.
And though he retired two years later, he now works in a congressional office in Kentucky helping other veterans who have major issues in their lives.
Bradford and his wife, Amanda, were invited to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address in 2018. Country singer Toby Keith has had him on stage and a few years ago he was honored by the University of Kentucky – he’s a lifelong Wildcats’ basketball fan — at a game at Rupp Arena.
UK, though, didn’t just honor him for his heroics as a Marine, but for what he’s done since that fateful day in Iraq.
After retiring from the USMC, he enrolled at the University of Kentucky and two years ago he graduated with degrees in communications and history.
Along with his job, he and Amanda are raising three children. He’s completed seven marathons – he’s doing the Marine Corps Marathon again next month – as a wheelchair racer, and done numerous other half marathons and shorter races, too.
This summer he climbed much of Mr. Rainier, biked 407 miles across the state of Kentucky and also cycled from Seattle to Portland. He’s gone skydiving and deer hunting and he plays golf.
As he once explained his motivation:
“I don’t do this for publicity, but just to prove to myself that no matter the injury or the circumstance, this visually-impaired, double amputee can do it all.”
‘I have lived out my dream’
“I was a high school freshman in (Winchester) Kentucky when 9/11 happened,” Bradford said Saturday. “Right then I knew I wanted to defend our country.”
As a junior he moved to Petersburg, Virginia where he became a three-sport standout at Dinwiddie High. He played football, baseball and was the school’s No. 1 singles tennis player, but senor year he enlisted in the Marines under a wait-until-you-graduate plan.
Four months after deploying to Al Anbar Province in Iraq, he was severely injured. And yet he considers himself lucky.
“I lost 23 Marines – 23 friends –when I deployed,” he said quietly. “That’s why I do a lot of my races wearing Kevlar. It’s my way of paying respect to those who didn’t make it home.”
Saturday he was reminded more than once of that point.
Out on the course, photos of servicemen men and women killed in action lined a section of the race course. And as he labored through his race, he told of how he was joined by a colonel who had lost his son in Afghanistan
Moments like that underscore the message he delivers when he speaks at high schools around the country. Such was the case in Rhode Island two years ago when – according to the Cranston Herald – he told students:
“I have lived out my dream. I have done what I wanted to do, I have defended the freedoms that you will all grow up with, that my children will all grow up with. Every day I am reminded of that when I put my legs on. These things were lost for freedom. And that’s worth it in the end.”
Anthony Allen is a veteran affairs aide to U.S. congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky. Saturday, as he has done before, he also was the race guide for Bradford, who works with him.
“I don’t know if I have the words to tell you just how inspiring he is,” Allen said. “He’s involved in a lot of PTS clinics back home and I’ve seen him inspire other veterans who have lost all hope. They meet him and he shows them a different aspect of life. He gives back some hope.”
Saturday, Bradford reiterated one of his guiding beliefs: “Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I don’t have vison. I believe God kept me alive for a reason and that’s to tell my story.”
At the Air Force Marathon he did just that, slowly working his way down the final stretch of the 10K on his cane and two prosthetic legs
And when the crowd saw him coming, everyone stood and cheered.
When he crossed the finish line – some three hours after he had started – he turned toward those cheers, smiled and waved and then he went back to living that motto on his shirt.
He just walked.
And when he got his race medal draped around over neck, he headed away from the course, leaving the crowd with that message on his back:
“No Legs, No Vision, No Problem.”
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