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Drinking from My Leg: Lessons from a Blistered Optimist

Drinking from My Leg: Lessons from a Blistered Optimist

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Drinking from My Leg: Lessons from a Blistered Optimist

315 pagine
4 ore
Jun 1, 2010


Twenty-five years old, fresh out of college, Paul Martins life took a major turn. In 1992, as a result of a car accident, Martins left leg was amputated five inches below the knee. His future plans hadnt included a prosthetic leg. But after returning to his workout routine, Martin realized he was destined to be a disabled athlete.

In this, his second memoir, Martins story takes up where One Mans Leg left off. He narrates the events of his life on the race course during the eight years and reveals what his life as a competitive triathlete, runner, and cyclist has been like. Drinking from My Leg details a host of accomplishments, including the completion of ten Ironman Triathlons and the raising of the flag after he won the Disabled Cycling World Championships in 2002.

Engaging and written with a sense of humor, Drinking from My Leg serves as an inspiration for others who face challenges. Martin shows that optimism is the key to winning the battle.
Jun 1, 2010

Informazioni sull'autore

Paul Martin was educated at Cambridge University and at Stanford University, California, where he was Harkness Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences. He lectured and researched in Behavioural Biology at Cambridge University, and was a Fellow of Wolfson College, before leaving academia to pursue other interests, including science writing. His previous books include The Sickening Mind and Counting Sheep.

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Drinking from My Leg - Paul Martin

Drinking from my leg

lessons from a blistered optimist


Paul Martin

iUniverse, Inc.
New York Bloomington

Drinking from My Leg

Lessons from a Blistered Optimist

Copyright © 2010 Paul Martin

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

iUniverse books may be ordered through booksellers or by contacting:


1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403

1-800-Authors (1-800-288-4677)

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any Web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1755-2 (pbk)

ISBN: 978-1-4502-1754-5 (ebook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2010905825

Printed in the United States of America

iUniverse rev. date: 5/19/10

Table of Contents



News Flash

Busy, Busy, Busy

Ironman, The Sequel


Flu-Ridden Track Debut

More of the Same

Fourth Fastest Kilo

That’s All Folks!

Silver Strand

Next Stop … Malaysia

I Love This Sport

Boston Marathon

Germany and Then Some

No Rest for the Stoopid

The Double

Adventures in Humility

Ice and Lava

Must Continue

Ironman USA, Lake Placid

2002 Disabled Cycling World Championships

IM, TV, and XT

Tales from the Road

Helsinki to Alcatraz

Eight Races in Eight Weeks

European Cycling Championships


Skating Prague & Running Boston


The Fastest Half

A Great Day

Back from Athens

First Loser

Two Companies, One Award




How the Race Was Won



AWADs in Honolulu

It’s Only Natural

Bad Luck or Stupidity?

Wild Turkey

2006 Disabled Cycling World Championships

A Cool Marathon

How Cigarettes Saved My Race

The Stumpie Blues

How Stumpie Got His Groove Back

Good Race … Bad Race … Good Race

The Beginning of the End

Squirrels, Railroad Tracks, and Cellulitis

Good Grief

Signing Off

This book is dedicated to my wife, Dr. Sharon Wetherall, who led me to true happiness and continues to mend my wounds in every way imaginable.


My life path took a major turn—to the right or to the left can be debated—in 1992, when a car accident resulted in the amputation of my left leg, five inches below the knee. I was twenty-five years old, fresh out of college, eagerly looking forward to what the future had in store. The future I had dreamt about didn’t include a prosthetic leg.

Seven days after the crash—and five operations later—the doctors requested my signature to amputate. As I lay there in immense physical and emotional pain, I wasn’t thinking about why this happened to me—I knew damn well why; I’d had a few beers at dinner and fallen asleep while driving home—I was thinking about what challenges would await me over the next fifty years living the life of Uniped.

I wholly expected to be far less active and, to some degree, less happy. Within the first few months, those perceptions had quickly shifted. I learned I could still strap on the skates and hack my way through a pick-up game of ice hockey. I could still bomb downhill on two skis. I could still slice a golf ball with the best of them. Those perceptions were smashed to pieces three years later when I ran the New York City Marathon and cried my eyes dry with sheer joy!

The finish line of that 26.2-mile run provided a solid platform constructed of a renewed self-confidence along with finely tuned muscles and cardiovascular fitness I hadn’t known in years. I knew when I crossed that line in Central Park that I was meant for this: I was destined to be a disabled athlete. No joke.

I moved to Colorado a month later, in December 1995, to begin an earnest pursuit of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, later renamed the U.S. Adaptive Ski Team. The goal was to be at the top of the hill at the Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan, three years later. As it was, that goal never materialized, without one ounce of regret, I might add. It just wasn’t in the cards.

(The Paralympics, as some of you may already know, could be best described as the Olympics for the physically challenged, occurring at the same venues as the Olympics, held two weeks later. These Paralymics are actually the second largest attended and televised sporting event in the world, second only to their big brother. Unfortunately, this is not so in the United States. Write your congressperson.)

Without giving away the whole story, I shelved my ski-racing career and embraced the endurance sport of triathlon: swimming, cycling, and running. I also truly began to enjoy writing about my experiences on the road and on the course. These writings were mostly self-glorification crossed with self-degradation. These race reports traveled through cyberspace and landed in e-mail in-boxes across the country and around the globe. Many of my experiences resulted in pain, some of them in victory, most in some sort of comedy (primarily of the Stooges subgenre). The following pages reveal just what my life as an athlete has been like. All of which, I am proud to say, has been performance-enhancement-drug free.

Early in the race-report-via-e-mail days—sometime in 1997, I believe—I had no intention whatsoever of building any type of dedicated readership. They were sent out to keep family, friends, and sponsors abreast of my glories and failures—to let them know that my time away from a job was not spent in front of the tube. I wrote several, detailing my ups and downs as a ski racer. These were sent, forgotten about, and presumably lost forever.

In June 1998, I made my bike-racing debut at the national disabled cycling championships. A couple of weeks later, after my second bike race, I sent out an e-mail entitled Bike Racing Can Be Dangerous. Then I forgot about it, never to be seen again. Therein, I entertained a budding e-mail list with the horrors of a particular criterium bike race in which I crashed … twice … going twenty-five miles per hour … wearing Lycra … in the first two laps … in the first mile. Think skin removal, blood, headache, etc.

A month later, in the midst of training for the Hawaiian Ironman, I sent the following e-mail.


September 1998

Bike racing is not dangerous. I am dangerous.

I picked up on this Saturday as I picked myself, my broken helmet, and my broken sunglasses off a downhill stretch of pavement early in the day’s training ride. (The road’s shoulder narrowed by about twelve inches without my noticing …) I brushed myself off, examined the raw skin on my right hip and shoulder, and kept on riding. A few miles down the road, I stopped at the local convenience store to grab some Neosporine and Advil. Here, my body sat me down to have a few words. Moments later, I made it to the toilet and was on my knees. My body had become itchy all over, I was sweaty and cold, I couldn’t feel my lips or my fingertips, and I had a god-awful taste in my mouth, one I’d never had before.

Body said, You know something—I’m not one of those sponsored pieces of equipment you don’t seem to have any respect for!

But …

Shut up or I’ll make you puke! I almost did …

(At this point, I’m on the concrete basement floor with a towel on my forehead.)

From now on, Body said, "every time you abuse me, I’m gonna retaliate. How do you like the no-feeling-in-your-lips deal? Okay. I have your attention. I thought the loss-of-leg thing would have smartened you up a bit, but nooooooo! You gotta go and break me, skiing and jumping off bicycles at high speed. Well, enough is enough! Cut the crap or next time I’ll make life a little more miserable. Good day!"

That being said, I started to feel a whole lot better (T plus 1.5 hours). To my good fortune, Susan Latshaw, a new friend and training partner, as well as 1997 Ironman Europe champion, was comforting me throughout the whole ordeal.

I got myself together, bid farewell to Susan, mounted the bike, and started my ride home, thinking the day’s training was shot. However, with all the distractions in the form of traveling I’ve had during my Ironman training, I didn’t want to lose any more quality riding time, so I turned up the road and put in another sixty miles, followed by a four-mile run.

I returned to the house and immediately jumped in the shower in an effort not only to freshen up but to clean the wounds. With the hot water stinging all over, Body had only one thing to say: "Idiot!"

Yes, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I am far from graceful. However, I do like to dance—in an unstructured manner, of course. Over the years, I’ve fallen off ladders, hung precariously forty feet in the air from steel joists as an ironworker, been stitched up on many occasions, and have crashed more cars than most people own in a lifetime. Ten years after competing for the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, the former coach told me I remained the best crasher he’d ever seen. My bike handling skills were on par.

A week after the e-mail above, I sent another one.

News Flash

September 1998

This just in: Legendary bonehead cyclist Paul Martin is at it again. Just days after his notorious body retaliates crash, Martin eats it on his road bike for an unprecedented seventh time in a single season.

Our reporter on the scene, Heebee Bummin, has the report:

It appears that Mr. Martin was the last in a line of three riders descending a hill on a sharp right-hand turn when they came upon a large dog and its owner walking up the inside lane of the blind corner. The first two riders, startled by the sheer mass of the large snarling animal, veered to safety, but Martin, his options lessened by the others, had no choice but to go down. And down he went on the shady gravel-strewn corner.

The homeowner, whose driveway gravel was in the road and later embedded in Martin’s hip, commented, You know it’s a bad crash when the guy’s leg pops off!

We understand Martin holds no grudge since the homeowner did supply the necessary first-aid kit. Dr. Susan Latshaw, attending physician, lent these words: There are two kinds of people in this world. Paul’s the type that likes to dance with gravity. She made no reference to the second type.

Paul’s Body was unavailable for comment, apparently on a much-needed long weekend.

As the group was preparing to finish the one-hundred-mile ride, Martin was overheard in a display of sick, masochistic humor: Let’s hit the road!

Thank you, Heebee.

Martin was admitted to a local clinic for a tetanus shot and gravel removal. We are told the pea-size hole in his hip should close up in a few days.

In a related story, a recent poll suggests that America’s fear of amputees is at an all-time high.

This report generated a frenzy of replies, with folks poking fun at my inability to keep the rubber side down, and many offering appreciation for a brief comedic respite in an otherwise uneventful day in front of the monitor. Some suggested I might try to do something with my writing, to try to get it published in some type of media. I considered their recommendations lightly.

My impending mission was solely athletic. I wanted to be branded an Ironman. I was preparing to undertake the ultimate triathlon distance, with eyes on breaking the twelve-hour mark. I felt confident that this goal was within reach; perhaps I could even go a little faster. I have since witnessed this trait in nearly every Ironman rookie–big eyes and big goals rarely realized on race day. Part of the learning curve, I suppose.

At the time, I was also a newbie member of the U.S. Disabled Cycling Team, having enlisted with the team after winning both races at the national championships I mentioned earlier.

I approached those nationals with an unusual block of training: the Transcontinental Triathlon for Life—the Tri4Life. A male quadriplegic who rode a handcycle and a racing wheelchair, a deaf/blind woman on a tandem bike (with a sighted pilot), a man with full-blown AIDS and I swam, biked, and ran from Los Angeles to New York City to raise money and awareness for disabled youth. A rewarding experience, indeed.

The personal impetus for this undertaking was the fact that I didn’t qualify for the trip to Nagano to ski with Team USA, and I had time and energy to burn, so I threw myself into training for a self-propelled cross-country adventure.

Those 3,100 miles in the saddle over a two-month span provided the legs needed to win both the time trial and road race—results far above my expectations. I had no idea that I could possibly be the best one-legged cyclist in America. I’m still wondering if there was a faster guy out there somewhere who didn’t show up.

It just so happened that in September, a mere two months later, the disabled cycling world championships were held in Colorado Springs, down the highway a spell from my new home in Boulder. The U.S. team coach and the manager were both thrilled to have a strong new addition to the team. I still knew next to nothing about bike racing, nor was I all that excited about making the cut. My mind was already in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii, preparing for October’s Ironman World Championships.

I let them know that I already had some major training plans ahead of me, which included lots of swimming and running, and that I couldn’t commit to focused bike training. They understood, to some degree, and gave me some friendly ribbing for not being able to pick a sport.

After proudly accepting their invitation, on my terms, I stayed focused on triathlon training and approached the world championships—just three weeks prior to Ironman—as part of my training, my last big effort before I began my taper. (To taper refers to gradually decreased training, and hence more rest, before an endurance event.)

I took a bronze in the road race and a fourth in the time trial. Everyone was happy with that, although that fourth place took a few days for me to truly appreciate—I had naively expected to win.

A couple of weeks later, I boarded a plane headed to Kona for the toughest event of my life—the toughest athletic event, that is. I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman in eleven hours, fifty-five minutes, and thirty-seven seconds. Then I took off my leg, held it over my head, and declared quite proudly and loudly, "I …am … Ironman!" That race report is also among the missing.

That was quite a significant moment in my life. The change of course my life took afterward was a direct result of what I had just accomplished. You see, I had quit my well-paying job and budding career as a sales engineer to earn a spot on the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, and I was awarded that spot a few months earlier, shortly after the closing of the Nagano Games. Upon my return from Kona, I attended an on-snow training camp. (I had attended a two-week dryland camp with the team in July, which happened to be the weeks both preceding and following my weekend crash-filled criterium bike race described in the preceding pages. So, yes, the second week of training was a bit uncomfortable for me with two skinless hips, one skinless elbow, and an overall body ache.)

Immediately upon my introduction to the ski team’s expectations and dynamics, I was let down by a lack of anticipated energy. I had just finished an Ironman; I was all about work ethic and athleticism. Triathlon provided something that was missing from the ski-racing scene. As I struggled with morale though my rookie season, my performances suffered. I injured my left hip in a downhill training crash, which drastically added to my poor form. To top it off, I had little respect for the head coach—and my feelings were reciprocated.

I quit the team before the season ended. I wanted to be a triathlete.

Furthermore, I couldn’t wait to write a book. My first volume, my too-young-for-a-memoir memoir, was published under the title One Man’s Leg in October 2002. And wouldn’t you know it—this comes with an interesting little story.

In the winter of 1998 I was arrested for driving with a suspended license—suspended for a paid but past-due traffic ticket. As it turned out, driving in the state of Colorado with a suspended license is a mandatory five days in the county jail. After a year in the courts I was sentenced to do the time at the end of the ski season. The judge was respectful of my national team membership and allowed me time to compete.

With a shortened ski season by my own resolve, a burning desire to put my life on paper, and 120 hours looming ahead of me with not a whole lot to do, there was only one option. I called the jail superintendent three weeks prior to my scheduled arrival and asked to be put behind bars. I wanted to start writing.

In that book, beyond detailing childhood experiences and life with two feet, I wrote about the races in Colorado Springs and Kona, which I touched on above. I had sent out e-mails reliving these marvelous experiences when they occurred, but sadly, without intention ever to make further use of them, they are among those lost in cyberspace. Maybe the FBI ……

With the incarceration behind me, I set out to continue my quest in triathlon. I also discovered that bike racing wasn’t so bad. More directly, I realized that I possessed plenty of potential to compete as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team headed to Sydney in 2000. With that as a motivator, I spent significant energy preparing for team qualification—more detailed than just winning a national championship. I raced primarily triathlon that season but hit a few bike races as well. Part of the latter process was attending the national championships in Arkansas. (I flew into Tulsa, Oklahoma—this stop in the Sooner State completed my fifty states visited quest—and drove from there to the race in Fort Smith, Arkansas.)

The team later traveled to France to compete in the European disabled cycling championships, open to the USA and a couple of other invitees. I’d been to Europe for the first time the previous winter, skiing for the national team. My second trip to Europe in one calendar year was detailed in the following e-mail.

Busy, Busy, Busy

August 1999

I was in Paris recently to witness Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service Professional Cycling Team win the Tour de France. From a tree branch high over the heads of hundreds of thousands of crazy cycling enthusiasts, I saw one of the most popular sporting events in the history of the world. Very cool.

However, I hadn’t traveled all the way to France to witness a bike race. I was there to win one, or at least try to! It was the European disabled cycling championships in Blois, France.

I was fortunate to take third in the time trial—and not so fortunate to get dropped in the road race the day before. Chalk that one up to lack of experience. I didn’t get up and go when I should have, and I missed the opportunity to hang with the lead pack. Half a dozen other riders and myself were off the back for the rest of the race.

Before jetting off to France, I jetted to Fort Smith, Arkansas, for the national disabled cycling champs. The road race result was nearly parallel to that of last year; I won due to a fellow competitor’s mishap. Poor Gary—with thirteen miles left in the thirty-four-mile race, he crashed into another fallen rider. (He crashed just seconds away from the finish line last year, which secured my win.) As I did a year ago, I saw the opportunity and took off like a man possessed. I managed to hold the lead and eventually won the race by a couple of minutes.

The day before was the time trial in which Gary beat me by seventeen seconds. A couple of days later was the inaugural criterium race at nationals. I got third. I thought there was still a lap to go. Oops.

A week prior, I was home in Massachusetts, racing in the Fitchburg Longsgo Classic. This event, in its fortieth year on the Fourth of July weekend, was a four-day stage race (combined time of four days of racing determines the winner). Fitchburg, Massachusetts, is crazy hilly, and I was dropped on the road race on the final day on the final climb. I was forced to miss the crit on the final day of racing to head to nationals in Arkansas, but after three days of racing, I was in ninety-fifth place out of 150 category 4 riders. Happy. (As I edit this piece nine years later, that result seems so poor. Oh, how our perspectives shift in time.)

And a week prior to these races, I competed in the Greater Hartford Triathlon. This race was two days after a fraternity brother’s wedding, which was four days after my birthday, which was two days after another fraternity brother’s wedding. I went into this race thinking it was a short sprint race (750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run) that I would be able to clamor through without much difficulty after the weeklong celebration. Errrrnnnntt, wrong. It was an Olympic distance race (1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike, 10-kilometer run) with a difficult trail run that kicked my butt and had my guts wrenching. The challenging run put me on my face four times tripping over roots. It took me an hour and fifteen minutes to do that 10-kilometer run. I was bummin’.

And before that, I raced at the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day. There were forty-three thousand people participating in this 10k classic. (Not all at the same time. Runners go off in waves of about five hundred.) I crossed the finish line inside the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field in 43:29. Then I drank the free beer they gave me.

When I returned from France, I competed in the Boulder Peak Triathlon (1.5k swim, 42k bike, 10k run) on August 1 and had a decent day. Sparing some details, the valve on my run leg broke off before the race but unbeknownst to me until I started running; this causes the leg to lose proper suspension and get all sloppy. I was forced to MacGyver something to plug the hole. I yelled out for help from spectators: Anyone got any chewing gum!? Chewing gum!? Anybody!?

A man came running up next to me and offered a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint, fresh in the wrapper. I quickly chewed it into a gummy consistency and patched it up. That worked great for about a mile, until the growing bubble popped. The gum began

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