Prosthetic legs don't slow runner

By Airman Elliott Sprehe: 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — Running 2,500 miles across the United States takes ambition, optimism, faith, perseverance, and for one man, two prosthetic legs.

Marine veteran Gene Roberts, a Baltimore native, whose legs were taken from him during the Vietnam conflict, is running from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to Parris Island, S.C., and visited Cannon Air Force Base as part of his historic journey.

He’s been here for a couple weeks, he says with a smile that seems permanently etched to his face, as though nothing could ever take his optimism away.

He volunteered for the Marines in 1965, something that had run through his head from the age of 10 when he saw his older brother come home in his Marine dress greens.

“I happened to be looking out the window, and he was coming home from boot camp. I said, ‘when I get big I’m going to be a Marine,’” he said, with a look of reminiscence.
Not too long after he enlisted, he was deployed to Vietnam, an experience that would, despite the loss of his legs, ultimately prove positive.
“I think when I got medically discharged, it might have been about a year of service,” he said with a laugh.

Though hindered physically, Roberts wasn’t about to let anybody or anything stop him along his journey of faith, and Alicia, his wife of almost 40 years, who has been with him for the majority of the adventure.

An avid track and cross-country runner in high school, Gene reopened his love of distance running in 1999. Beforehand, though, he attempted to swim the English Channel three times.

“I had my mind set to swim the English Channel. In 1999, I had my best attempt. I was right at home in the water,” he said. On his last attempt, the current, notorious for its choppy waters, took him far off-course, but today people still try to convince him to give it another go.

“A few people said, ‘you should give it one more shot,’ and I said, ‘yeah, you’re right, but I’m running now,’” said Roberts, with his room-filling laughter.

When he decided to get back into running, he started one lap of the track at a time.

“They got a track not far from my house. My wife said, ‘you walk.’ It was a high school track and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, just to make it around one time,” he said.

He began doing one lap every day, slowly building up to another lap, then another mile. Eventually he left the track to begin running in the street, doing five miles a day, moving from there continuously up, setting his sights on marathons.

“In 2001, I was able to run the Maryland marathon (in Baltimore). It took me eight hours and 41 seconds,” said Roberts proudly. “Only the power of Christ enabled me to be victorious in my run.”
In 2004 he ran 300 miles across Maryland, running 10 miles a day.
“I ran five (miles) in the morning and five in the afternoon,” he said, and is now on his current quest to conquer the United States, which he began in June of this year at Camp Pendleton.

The toughest portion of his journey to date is, “running through those mountains in California,” and, since beginning, he has run more than 1,000 miles, putting him at almost halfway through his journey of running across America for Jesus.

“People’s greatest need is spiritual,” said Roberts. “He (Jesus) is my greatest motivation.”
He is currently averaging 20 miles a day and is hoping to complete his journey to Paris Island by June of next year.

Gene Roberts has never taken no for an answer, and any donations to his cause go not just to assisting him get across the country, but also to homeless men’s shelters, diabetes associations, school supplies to children, and multitudes of other dedicated organizations.
More information on Gene’s journey or to make a donation, you can visit his personal web site at www.raafj.com.