Rise Up and Achieve

Dick Traum at 1976 NYC Marathon

When I first met the founder of Achilles International, Dick Traum, he was on crutches.  As he approached me, I could clearly see the nature of his disability—he was missing his right leg.  Resting on the crutches, he extended his hand in friendship.  Having competed in over a hundred marathons and other long distance running events on prostheses, crutches and in hand cycles throughout his life, Dick had one of the strongest grips I had ever experienced.  It was vice-like.  I placed my left hand on his shoulder as an additional sign of friendship, but also as a purely physical reaction to his bone-crushing handshake.  In doing so, I also got a taste of his incredible upper body strength.  His shoulder felt like concrete.   One leg or not, clearly this very able bodied man could kick my ass on the marathon course or anywhere else for that matter.  He had both my attention and respect from the get go.  

As he thanked me for supporting his greatest passion, a club dedicated to providing training and resources to athletes with disabilities, I told him it was an honor and privilege to do so.  Then, with the best poker face I’d ever seen, he asked me if I knew that he was originally a stand up comic.  I shook my head and said, “No, I did not know.”  With an equally fabulous straight face he told me his life as a stand up comedian ended when he lost his leg in a tragic accident some 30 years earlier.  

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Why did you give up comedy?” I asked.

“Well I didn’t give it up entirely,” he replied.  “Now I do sitcom.” 

Dick Traum is a dear friend, and quite possibly the largest repository of the worst jokes ever told.  He is a man who has dedicated practically his entire adult life to turning disability into ability…changing I can’t into I can…and convincing those who had given up to instead rise up and achieve. 

Dick and Achilles have inspired countless disabled and able-bodied people throughout the United States and in more than 20 countries.  He even inspired Terry Fox, the Canadian high school athlete who lost his leg to bone cancer in 1977.  As Leslie Scrivener wrote in her biography, “Terry Fox: His Story”, the young amputee read about Dick in Runners World magazine and soon after decided to run across Canada and raise money to fight the disease that took his leg and shortly later, his life.   Traum inspired Fox, but it was Fox’s bravery and heroic story that would ultimately inspire Dick to form the Achilles Track Club in 1983.

I learned of Achilles when I ran my first marathon in New York City in November 1990.  Aside from crossing the finish line, running alongside Achilles’ members is my fondest memory.  It was an extremely warm day—in the mid to upper 60’s—and I missed my goal of a sub four-hour finish by 27 minutes.  Every part of my body ached and my immediate thought was, “I’m never going to do that again”.  But, as I lingered at the finish and recovery area and watched as runners on crutches and in wheelchairs completed the course, my mindset changed.  

Of all the people in the world who made up excuses for not showing up—I’m too busy.  It’s too difficult.  I’m too tired—in sharp contrast, these folks with disabilities had the absolute best excuses not to participate.  I’m missing a leg.  I’m blind.  I have Cerebral Palsy. I’m diabetic.  Suddenly, my thoughts of never again turned to “let’s do this again, soon.”  A few months later, I ran the LA Marathon and 35 more after that.  I didn’t know Dick Traum in 1990.  I had never even heard of him.  Yet, he was speaking to me at the finish line through his Achilles members.  At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I’d bet he was speaking to thousands of runners that day and of course countless others since.

Elliot Bloom
Achilles International
Board Member Emeritus