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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy Tom Davis, 41, of Fremont, is participating in his fifth Boston Marathon on Monday to compete in the handcycle event. He has won it the last two years. Davis, a U.S. Army veteran, lost his left leg in Iraq in 2006.

Sunday, April 14, 2019 1:00 am

Boston part of journey

Veteran finds purpose, gold medals on handcycle

CHARLOTTE STEFANSKI | The Journal Gazette

Race day

What: 122nd Boston Marathon

Where: From Hopkinton, Mass., to Copley Square in Boston (26.2 miles)

When: Race begins at 10 a.m. Monday with earlier starts for the mobility impaired (8:40 a.m.), wheelchair (9:02 a.m.), handcycle (9:25 a.m.), and elite women (9:32 a.m.). There will be four waves releasing the rest of the field, at 10 a.m., 10:25 a.m., 10:50 a.m., and 11:15 a.m.

Who: Organizers set the field numbers at 32,500 and the race will be run at capacity

Money: Two top finishers (male, female) each get $150,000

2018 race: Of the 29,978 runners who entered the race, 26,948 actually ran, and 25,746 finished

Sergeant Tom Davis was riding shotgun in a Humvee as he and his unit made their nighttime patrol through Ramadi, Iraq.

It was 2006, and Ramadi was considered one of the most dangerous cities at the time.

The last thing Davis remembered before his Humvee hit the roadside bomb was turning the corner.

The blast shot the vehicle two stories into the air. It flipped backward and landed on its roof.

“The next thing I know, I woke up upside down in the vehicle,” Davis said.

The Humvee hit a buried device in the ground, which was either remotely detonated by someone waiting for the Humvee to pass at the right moment or the buried device was wired with a pressure plate, with the weight of the Humvee setting off the explosion.

His injuries included a fracture in his right knee and leg, a fractured left femur, both arms were broken, as were some back bones. He suffered a fracture to the skull and lost a large amount of blood.

“I broke one of my toes, too. I remember seeing that in the medical report,” Davis said. “I always thought that was kind of funny. Out of all of that, one broken toe.”

Despite a laundry list of serious injuries, he made it out.

The biggest injury was to his left leg, with his knee pretty much blown away.

Doctors presented him with two options. Davis could amputate or have his leg fused together, which would prevent him from even bending his knee.

“I just didn't want that,” Davis said. “I was in extreme pain all the time, so I was like, 'I want to be done with this, get it over with.' I amputated it, and never looked back.”

Almost 13 years later, the 41-year-old, who now lives in Fremont, is participating in his fifth Boston Marathon on Monday to compete in the handcycle event.

Davis was first introduced to cycling while in physical therapy after his injury. He enjoyed long distance running in high school and college, so his therapist approached him with the idea of a bike.

During one of his sessions, Davis took the bike outside for about 20 minutes, and was instantly hooked.

“It was awesome, I loved it,” Davis said. “I was like, 'I gotta get me one of these!'”

After leaving the hospital, Davis didn't retire from the Army. Instead, the military bought his first bike for him, and he went to Fort Benning, Georgia, to be an instructor.

However, after he retired from the military in 2009, the bike went into his shed for about two years.

In 2011, Davis found himself praying while lifting weights at the gym one day.

“I just felt like God was telling me to go get that bike out of the shed, ride it and race it, and do it to glorify him. And I did,” Davis said. “I did one more set, walked out of the gym, got my bike out, and I've been racing it and riding it ever since.”

It took a few years for the veteran to start making racing events with Team USA, and in 2014, he qualified for his first world championship.

In 2016, he made it to the Rio Paralympics. In the following years, he started racking up medals from World Cup races.

In a month, he'll be competing in World Cup races in Belgium and Italy.

When not racing internationally, Davis races with Achilles Freedom Team for Wounded Veterans, part of Achilles International, an organization that helps and encourages people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics.

“We go out, do the race and we push ourselves,” Davis said. “Just the camaraderie and getting back out there with other veterans, it's pretty awesome.”

Davis uses marathons as a way of training for his international races, and the Boston Marathon is no different. He's won the handcycling event on four different occasions, including the last two years.

“I'm basically looking for a last fitness test, just to see how good my fitness is right before I go to Europe,” Davis said. “I'm hoping to go out and have a good race, be safe, not have any problems, and as always, do the very best that I can.”

When Davis first began racing at Boston, only 10 to 12 handcycles were allowed at a time. Now, the field is open to more than 50.

On the day of the Boston Marathon, Davis will start his day at 4 a.m., with a bus ride to Hopkinton, where the race will start around 9.

He'll be checking over his bike, getting a warmup in and getting in the right mindset. Thirty minutes before the race, he'll line up with the other competitors and wait for the gun to go off.

“God has blessed with me so much. There are so many people that come out and support me, and I try to do everything the best that I can,” Davis said. “My goal every day is to say, 'Did I do everything I could today to make myself better?'”

Whether he's competing in the United States or internationally, Davis' biggest hope is for somebody to see him and become inspired.

“There's a lot of people like me who feel kind of dejected and depressed if they have something going on,” Davis said. “Sometimes I get people who say, 'I saw you out there doing this, and it got me inspired to go do something.'”