Stefan Leroy Won’t Let a Disability Hold Him Back
Stefan Leroy, a veteran who lost both legs serving in Afghanistan, didn’t think he’d run the Boston Marathon this year.
Then, halfway through January, he found himself eager for the challenge, after completing his second half marathon using prosthetic running blades. Immediately after that race, Leroy said he wanted to run Boston. His running guide, David Cordani, told him to think about it.
“I said, ‘No, no, no, no. You don’t make that decision at the finish line,'” Cordani says. “‘You’re at an emotional high right now. Take a few weeks and process it.'”
When Leroy was still determined a few weeks later, the two agreed to lock down a goal and begin training—together.
Cordani, President and CEO of Cigna, works with Achilles International, a Cigna partner organization that gives disabled athletes the support and training know-how necessary to reach their goals. He translates his 25 years of running experience—he’s completed more than 125 triathlons and multiple marathons—into working as a race guide. Last year, he helped train and support Master Sergeant Cedric King during the Boston Marathon, and this year, he’ll run alongside Leroy.
Leroy’s journey to the Boston Marathon wasn’t an immediate one. After he was injured while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, he found himself, at age 21, recuperating from the loss of both of his legs at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center, where he first learned about Achilles International. They encouraged him to begin hand cycling, and from there, he built strength.
“I wasn’t even thinking about running then,” he says. “I was thinking about doing something other than physical therapy in the hospital. It was something I could push myself to do.”
With the non-profit’s help, Leroy began training for races. In 2013, he completed his first Boston Marathon in the hand cycling division, then competed again in 2015. This year, he’ll run the race for the first time.
For the past few months, he’s been training with Cordani virtually, as Leroy lives in Florida and Cordani’s in Connecticut. The two text and plan workouts, mixing long runs with swimming and biking.
On Monday, Achilles International will sponsor 20 veterans—known as the Freedom Team—as they run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. While Achilles International has provided them with the community and support they need, they all have their own reasons for running. Leroy runs to remind himself that he’s still the person he’s always been.
“Even though I don’t have my legs anymore, running kind of puts me in the mindset that, ‘Hey, I’m not changed,'” he says. “The way I do things might be changed, but I’m still going to go run. I’m still going to do these things I did before. It’s still who I am.”