Friday, February 23, 2018

Marathon Man

Geep Schurman, aka Ahab, was born with fibular hemimelia, which is a deformity of the limb’s bone structure and associated muscle and tendons, often defined as congenital absence of the fibula. It is the most common long bone deficiency of the extremities. Geep explained, “I had no fibula, and a deformed right foot with only 3 toes… the entire right leg was shorter than the left. Before my amputation, my orthopedic specialist fitted me with a full-leg brace, which was referred to as an appliance.”

In those days, Geep called his appliance a “contraption” to help with his mobility. The apparatus employed lace-up thigh and calf corsets, a buttocks ring for weight support, knee hinges and steel support rods and a series of leather restraint straps. He wore this apparatus from the time he was 2 years of age until he was 10.

At 10, he had his leg amputated, 7 inches below the knee. Even with the amputation, his first prosthetic limb had metal rods, hinged at the knee, with a thigh corset, a buttocks ring and leather hamstring restraints behind the knee. “The noticeable difference in the new appliance,” Geep said, “was below the knee… since my foot was now gone, the prosthetic technicians fashioned a wooden socket conformed to the shape of the residual limb (stump) with a rubber foot attached to the end.”

Geep’s experience with Powell began in the early 1950s before they were even in business as Powell. “Marvin F. Pollard’s orthotic and prosthetics shop was a block or two east of MCV on Broad Street,” said Geep. “They worked primarily with amputees, but also helped me before my amputation, with adjustments to, and the actual fabrication of my appliances. I remember my dad taking me in that shop many a time for fittings and adjustments. I continued with Pollard until my amputation in 1956… by then Tommy Powell, Sr. had purchased and relocated the business to 414 West Broad Street,” said Geep.

His particular type of prosthesis was a “Patella Tendon Bearing” (PTB), so named because it was designed to bear all his body weight on the strongest part of the residual limb. For a period of roughly 10 years post amputation, Geep had numerous minor surgeries to remove cysts that would form due to pressure changes in the knee area. Every surgery was followed by a recovery period, during which Geep was not able to wear the prosthesis… and each surgery slightly altered the fit of the prosthesis. “I would systematically visit Powell where they would “always” take the time necessary to help me walk comfortably again.”

In 2012, Geep went to Powell with a new request. “I told them I wanted to run,” said Geep. “My wife is a marathon runner… I want to run a marathon too!” He met with Joe Sullivan, one of the Powell partners who is also a BK (below the knee) amputee. Joe was a Paralympic volleyball player, and currently coaches several local teams, so he totally ‘got it’ when Geep said, “I want to run a marathon.”

“Joe takes the time to listen,” continued Geep. “He’s always right there to help me. I told Joe I wanted a leg that I could run on, moreover, that I was interested in distance running.” Geep’s trust in Joe was rewarded. Geep said, “Joe put together a leg for me that allowed me to run the 2014 marathon in Richmond!”

Not only did he finish, but he also did it on a compressed training schedule due to a bout of tongue cancer. “By August 2013, I was ready to run that year’s marathon,” said Geep, “but I was diagnosed with tongue cancer and was in treatment until December that year. After removal of my feeding tube in March of 2014, I was back in training.” He ran the Monument Avenue 10K, the Patrick Henry Half and completed the 2014 Richmond marathon in November.

He didn’t train much from January of 2016 until May of 2017 while his wife, DeeDee, was undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer. “I wanted to spend that time with her and didn’t train,” he reflected.

Subsequently, Geep channeled his emotions into training with Team DD KIWI, the novice marathon training team, that was named in his wife’s honor. “When she passed, I joined the novice team, but my prosthesis wasn’t fitting correctly,” said Geep. “Five years of below the knee atrophy had seriously compromised the fit.”

He went to see Joe at Powell to replace his limb. He told Joe, “I want to upgrade from my current ‘Variflex’ to a ‘Cheetah’ foot,” which is the choice of many distance runners. “But - I want it to be an every day leg too…. not just for running.” Powell answered the challenge. Building a prosthesis with a cheetah foot is more labor-intensive, and time consuming, and between each stage of completion, test-runs are necessary. By the middle of October it was ready. Geep remembers, “The process was challenging, but the results were so worth the time and effort. The ‘Cheetah’ is more comfortable than any of my previous legs.”

Geep hadn’t trained since mid-July. “I started the marathon anyway,” he said. “even though I only made it 22 miles. It wasn’t about winning or losing… only to have fun and to honor my wife. I had the support of the entire marathon training team, the encouragement of my running partners and DeeDee’s indomitable spirit… and thankfully, the dedication of Powell. My plan is to get that medal in 2018 and to enjoy the journey.”

With determination like his – we have no doubt he will.