“It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself.” Muhammad Ali
Unlike the typical marathon racer, Bob Wieland does not have legs. And unlike most marathon racers who are missing one or both legs, Bob does not use a wheelchair in his races, nor does he use prosthetic legs. In fact, the only “equipment” he uses is layers of sponge like shoes on his hands to protect them as he walks using his hands and torso to propel him.
Bob lost both of his legs in the Vietnam War in 1969 when he was hit by a mortar round while trying to help a wounded American soldier. After surgery and blood transfusions, he had nine inches remaining on his right leg and five on his left. He later remarked that although he had lost his legs, he never lost his heart.
After the injury, Bob undertook a vigorous rehabilitation program, and his upper body grew increasingly strong. Encouraged by this, he began participating in the sport of powerlifting, and soon became an elite level bench presser.
Bob later decided to add more cardio training to his regimen. At first, he did the standard types of cycle exercises common among people with missing legs. But one day in 1981, he was near a track, and upon the urging of a nearby track coach, Bob decided to try out a lap. He hopped out of his wheelchair and onto the track, and it was there that his obsession began. Despite traveling at a slow pace, Bob began a long distance racing career. He quickly progressed to higher levels, and soon was completing amazingly long distances, albeit at a slow pace.
In his career, Bob has finished numerous races, including the New York Marathon twice, Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, and the Los Angeles Marathon three times, the most recent of which he completed at age 57 in March of 2003. A marathon is 26.2 miles, and moving at Bob’s slow pace using his hands and torso, the races often takes him over 100 hours to complete, with very little sleep in the process.
Amazingly enough, Bob also once completed an amazing three year, eight month journey called “Walk For Hunger Across America” in 1982-1986, where he walked all the way from California to Washington DC. The walk helped raise $350,000 for hunger relief.
Bob currently has a successful career as a motivational speaker. He also wrote an autobiography called “One Step At A Time,” and is a former member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Bob usually gets many strange stares from people observing him walk on his hands and torso. On several occasions, people have actually gone up to him and objected to the sight, sometimes heckling or even threatening him.
For many people, observers like these would be enough of a reason to quit such an endeavor, but not for Bob—for it is not only his arms and torso that propel him, but also his strong will and self-belief.