2013 Challenged Athlete of the Year
After Eric McElvenny lost his right leg below the knee after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan on December. 9, 2011, he quickly took stock of his situation and made a commitment.
“I set a goal that when the other three members of my unit returned in mid-April, I’d be there to greet them. Standing,” said the 30-year-old. He did.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” said McElvenny of the emotional reunion. “I had led a small four-man team in war. I wanted to show them that I was the same old me. One week before they arrived, I dropped the cane I’d been using, so that when they arrived at Camp Pendleton, I was standing there. There were a lot of hugs and tears.”
McElvenny said it was just the first in a series of little steps he took that eventually led to him finishing the Ironman Triathlon on Kona this past summer, accomplishing his goal of breaking the 12-hour barrier by finishing in 11:50.
“When I got my prosthesis two months to the day I stepped on the IED, I went to rehab and was amazed,” he said. “Here were all these injured troops and everyone was in different stages of recovering.
“I was a single limb amputee, which compared to others was a like a paper cut. It didn’t matter there if it was Marines or Navy, everyone was encouraging everyone.
“I realized I had to set a good example for others who came after me. ‘If he can do it, I can do,’ became my theme.”
McElvenny’s background as a football-baseball athlete in high school helped him to set realistic but lofty goals.
“The thing that stood out for me was the positive attitude everyone had,” he said “It wasn’t ‘What can I not do because of the injury,’ it was ‘What can I do, what do I want to do’? So I decided to compete in the most difficult of all sports—a triathlon.”
With his wife, Rachel, offering support, he competed in a couple of triathlons in Southern California in 2012 before taking aim at the Ironman, known to humble the most fit with its 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile marathon in humid conditions.
“I was never much of a swimmer or biker but I got so much support I was able to overcome the physical adversity,” he said. “Everyone has adversity in their life;, it just happens mine was physical and that’s one of my strengths. It has helped me grow tremendously.
“With a positive attitude and support from friends, family, the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the San Diego community, I was able to accomplish my goal.”