When Dick Traum was only 24 years old he was hit by a car and his right leg had to be amputated. Although Traum had always been an athlete and even wrestled while in college, he did not let this injury interrupt his life. As Traum remembers, “Somehow, I wasn’t upset. When you lose a leg, there’s no ambiguity…You get an artificial leg and keep going.” This determination and grit led Traum to become the first amputee to run the New York City Marathon in 1976. This was, “probably the best day of my life,” he says, “I thought, this joy can be shared with others too.”
By achieving his goal of running the Marathon and constantly challenging his limits, Traum became an inspiration for others to do the same. With Traum’s achievement in mind, Terry Fox, a 21-year-old Canadian who, due to cancer also had lost a leg, embarked on his Marathon of Hope in 1980. Fox ran more than 3,300 miles across Canada, averaging about 26 miles each day, to fundraise for cancer research. Fox passed away in 1981 but not before he raised millions of dollars and worldwide awareness for finding a cure for cancer. After competing in a race in Fox’s memory, Traum decided to start a non-profit, dubbed Achilles International, “to bring hope, inspiration, and the joys of achievement to people with disabilities.”
Achilles International has grown into a worldwide organization represented in 70 countries and has helped over 10,000 disabled athletes compete. At weekly gatherings, the organization pairs able-bodied volunteers with disabled runners, including many who use hand-crank wheelchairs. Together, they set goals and, supported by the Achilles community, train to achieve them. While the ultimate goal may be running a marathon or a 5K, the road to the finish line often starts more modestly. For one of Achilles’ runners, Andre De Mello, her first goal was walk from one of Central Park’s lampposts to another. A stroke that she suffered at age 10 made walking this distance nearly an impossible feat. However, through her hard work and encouragement from Traum and Achilles, she walked six lampposts, then eight, and, one year after she began, she completed the NYC Marathon. De Mello is one of Achilles’ many stories of success and has finished 20 marathons to date.
As Traum sums up Achilles’ mission, “We’re giving people an opportunity to achieve. When one achieves it sets off the ‘Well, if I can do this, I can probably do that too’ response. It improves the level of aspiration. When people come together it creates a cohesive group and makes everything a little better.” Traum is the definition of a Hero of Hope and he is truly an inspiration to us all.
For more about Dick Traum or Achilles International, check out the below articles that were used in writing this bio or follow the link to Achilles International’s website. Also, don’t forget to check out the video of Traum in his feature as a CNN Hero.
Kathleen Toner, CNN: “Amputee pushes disabled athletes to aspire for more.”
Kia Makarechi, Huffington Post: “HuffPost Greatest Person of the Day: Dr. Dick Trau Inspires Disabled, Veterans, Athletes.”
New Public Health, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “Faces of Public Health: Richard Traum”