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Amputee Soldier to Compete in Boston Marathon

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2005 – A soldier will compete in the Boston Marathon April 18, a year to the day after an improvised explosive device blast in Baghdad, Iraq, cost him his right leg.

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Army Staff Sgt. Hilbert Caesar takes a breather after taking his hand-crank bicycle for a spin down Manhattans Lexington Avenue the day before using it to compete in the New York City Marathon in November 2004. Photo by Sgt. Lorie Jewell, USA

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Army Staff Sgt. Hilbert Caesar will hand-crank his custom sports wheelchairs in the annual race. A former member of the 4th Battalion, 27th Infantry, from Baumholder, Germany, Caesar was the first soldier to cross the finish line in the New York City Marathon in November. In a field of 83 hand-crank bicyclists, Caesar finished in 17th place, with a time of 1 hour, 53 minutes.

"It was exactly what I thought it would be - challenging," said Caesar. "The toughest part was the Verrazano and 59th Street bridges. I just downshifted and kept going, psyching myself out and asking God to help me."

As Caesar faces the physical challenges in Boston on the city's Patriots Day holiday, soldiers half a world away will be running a special marathon in concert with the Boston event. The Boston Athletic Association, host of the Massachusetts race, and Outdoor Live Network cable television are planning to "salute" soldiers running in Iraq in a special way.

The Iraq/Boston Marathon will take place at Base Camp Adder, the former Tallil Air Base, southwest of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The base is home to many coalition partner forces. Each service branch will be represented in this inaugural run, officials said.

The alignment of the Iraq Marathon's mission with that of the Boston Marathon is clear, organizers emphasized: Patriotism, spirit and drive define the races and remind everyone of the courageous acts of America's patriots.

The 26.2-mile route will be contested near one of Iraq's most famous archeological and religious sites, the Ziggurat of Ur. Dominating the terrain of the area, the ziggurat is a 4,000-year-old, 40-foot temple tower of the ancient city of Ur, one of the great Sumeria cities of Mesopotamia.

An estimated 150 runners will compete in the Iraq race, either individually, or as a team. More than 100 volunteers will staff the event. OLN will televise portions of this first-of-its-kind Iraq/Boston Marathon as part of the network's coverage of the Boston Marathon.

Stateside, Caesar and other disabled soldiers prepare for Boston much as they've prepared for other recent racing events. They're sustained in this effort by the Defense Department's Disabled Soldier Support System and other similar organizations that sponsor tours, events and sports for wounded servicemembers.

"There's a lot out here for us," he said. "There's so many things out there that we can do and so many clubs we can join."

Four 155 mm artillery rounds in a roadside bomb may have taken his leg, but to Caesar it was just part of his job.

"I'm a soldier. That's part of my duty," he said. "If I had to do it again, I'd do it again. When you go over there and you actually see the little kids and the women that live in poverty, helping them makes it all worth it."

For more than a year now, disabled soldiers have received continuous support and encouragement from members of the Achilles Track Club. Achilles is a nonprofit organization made up of athletes with varying challenges and ability levels, and has sponsored soldier involvement in a variety of sporting events, including renowned marathons.

The club now has a chapter at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, headed by Mary Bryant, a cancer survivor and former model.

With the support of Achilles coaches and volunteers, veterans learn to walk, jog, and run again. Their rehabilitation objectives are enhanced through physical activity, goal setting and personal achievement.

With the first goal accomplished, for many the second was taking part in the New York City Marathon. Thirty-two Achilles marathoners from Walter Reed registered, and 16 made it for the event. Everyone completed the 26.2-mile distance with Achilles volunteer guides.

As of March 1, more than 115 servicemembers were on the Achilles of Walter Reed roster. Goals for this year include participation in the Miami Tropical Marathon, the Los Angeles and Boston marathons, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington and a full team again at the New York City Marathon, officials said. Hand-crank sports wheelchairs are sponsored for these athletes by organizations, corporations and individuals through Achilles.

(Compiled from Army News Service articles by Sgt. Lorie Jewell and information provided by the Achilles Track Club and the OLN TV network's public affairs office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Staff Sgt. Hilbert Caesar, left, and Spc. Alex Leonard relax after wheeling hand-crank bicycles for five miles through Central Park in the Achilles Track Clubs annual Hope & Possibility 5 Miler. Both soldiers lost their right legs while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Photo by Sgt. Lorie Jewell, USA  
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