Published on: April 29, 2014by Michael Sansolo
It’s been said that every one of us has no more than three degrees of separation from someone who runs in the Boston Marathon. On that basis alone, it’s no big deal that our family friend, Larry Chloupek, competed and finished this year. Lots of us know people who competed.
Except that Larry was the only competitor of his kind and his story is one you need to know. Larry, who lost a leg to childhood cancer, was the only participant to finish all 26.2 miles on crutches.
Our family came to know Larry about a decade ago when our son was lucky enough to have Larry coach his junior varsity baseball team in high school. Larry was great at teaching skills, sportsmanship, discipline and teamwork. But again, that’s not what makes him special.
In fact, what makes Larry special is that for his entire life he has tried to never be special.
When he was seven-years-old, Larry lost his left leg up to his hip due to bone cancer. Larry’s parents emphasized that he was just another kid. So even though his amputation is so severe he can’t use a prosthetic, Larry is the most capable person you’ll ever meet.
Powering by on his crutches and incredibly strong arms, Larry runs, coached baseball and basketball, and plays golf. He played in the 1996 Paralympics, has completed a bunch of half marathons and, minus the crutches, finds a way to ride a bicycle.
My son says the most impressive thing he saw his coach do was effortlessly avoid or block foul balls hit his way while coaching third base. I’d argue that it was watching him balance a tray of food and drink in a quick serve restaurant, and scoot between crowded tables without losing a drop.
I have a feeling many wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war vets at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington would offer different thoughts. Larry works out with them regularly (he works at the National Institutes of Health) to help with the healing process.
As I said, he’s the most capable person you could ever meet.
Larry’s appearance at this year’s Boston Marathon was significant for two reasons. First, it’s an achievement to qualify for and complete the race. (Larry’s wife, Jenn, deserves a special shout out for running with him and completing the course too. It’s something many of us cannot and will not do.)
But Larry recognized that this year’s race was different, it being the first since the terror bombing in 2013.
As he told the Washington Post, Larry wanted his appearance to give some of those who lost limbs in last year’s blast a message. “I wanted to give them some strength. They’re new amputees. I wanted to prove a point to them, that despite what happened last year, they can overcome it."
Larry did all that and more in 5 hours and 20 minutes. Although he admitted to one problem: the near constant ovations he received along the course touched him deeply, leaving him in tears repeatedly as he went.
Ordinarily, at this point in any column I do my best mental gymnastics to connect whatever story I’m telling to a business lesson. When it comes to Larry, there’s really no effort needed.
As we were told repeatedly in the movie Forrest Gump, “stupid is as stupid does.” In other words, you are how you act.
My friend Larry is simply the most able person I could ever know because that’s how he acts. In a world where so many people are famous for doing nothing, Larry Chloupek is now famous for what he did on an April day in Boston to help others through his own example.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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