For retired Capt. Chad Fleming, failure was not an option. The last few miles of the New York City Marathon loomed ahead Nov. 1, as Fleming stopped again to readjust his prosthetic leg.
“It’s kind of like having a shoe that’s too big and you keep putting socks on to make it fit,” said the former Ranger with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. “The smallest alteration in the way your leg fits changes everything.”
But Fleming wouldn’t quit, he said, because he knew his friend and fellow amputee, Sgt. 1st Class Joe Kapacziewski, was waiting for him at the finish line.
“We’d agreed to split the distance, so he ran the first 16 miles, and I ran the last 11,” Fleming said.
The two were wounded in the same grenade attack in northern Iraq in 2005, and spent the majority of their recovery together, first in Landstuhl, Germany, and later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, before returning to Fort Bennin, Ga.
“We made the journey together,” said Fleming, who medically retired Friday.
“I lost my right leg, he lost his left, so we share a pair of shoes on occasion,” joked Kapacziewski, who just returned from an Afghanistan deployment with the 3rd Bn. “We have a bond no one can replicate,” Fleming said.
Fleming, Kapacziewski and 22 other charity runners ran the marathon to raise awareness of the Lead the Way Fund, a program to help ease the financial burdens of the families of Rangers killed or wounded in action. The annual marathon, which treks through the five boroughs of New York City, drew about 42,000 runners.
Jim Regan created the fund in honor of his son, Sgt. James Regan, who was killed in Iraq while serving with the 3rd Battalion in 2007.
The charity runners raised about $100,000 for the organization, Regan said.
Fleming and Kapacziewski finished the race in 5 hours, 1 minute and 52 seconds. Master Sgt. Scott Stetson, the force modernization NCO with 75th Ranger Regt., was another runner with the Lead the Way pack.
Stetson said he’s completed five marathons and one ultramarathon in the last two years, but this was the first where he pushed himself to run as fast as he could.
“I wanted to leave it all out there for Jim,” said Stetson, who finished in 3:38:21. Stetson said strenuous physical activity such as running relieves back pain associated with an injury he suffered while deployed to Mosul in 2005. Stetson fell off a 20-foot wall and fractured his back.
Stetson said organizations like Lead the Way bring Soldiers and families together.
“The legacy isn’t gone when the Ranger, or Soldier, dies,” Stetson said. “It lives on through men and women that Soldier touched with their lives, and lives on through their families. We have to come together to make sure we honor them the best we can.”
Fleming said now that he’s completed the marathon, he’s looking forward to a 450-mile bike ride from Jacksonville, Fla., to Tampa with Ride to Recovery in December.
“I’ve got nine or 10 legs, from swim legs to bicycle legs to mountain-climbing legs,” said Fleming, who used his “Cheetah” leg for the race. “I’ve got a leg for just about everything you want to do, and some things you may not want to.”