Amputee just keeps on running
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
Abdi Dhuhulow clocked up impressive times running on his walking leg
Abdi Dhuhulow can run a marathon in just over three hours – an impressive feat by most standards.
But what makes the 28-year-old’s achievement even more special is that he has only one leg.
The Somali refugee had to have his other leg amputated below the knee after being shot in the civil war.
“In 1991 I was fleeing the city when I got a gunshot wound in the ankle and fell off the lorry on which I was travelling,” he said.
“The lorry ran over my foot – crushing every bone.”
Abdi needed surgery, but health care was poor in Somalia, so it was not until he came to the UK seven years later that he was able to seek treatment.
“I desperately needed an operation to adjust my broken bones,” said Abdi.
When my leg was amputated I was determined not to let disability define who I had become
But his left leg was useless – his broken thigh bone and foot bone had not healed properly and his injured leg was now significantly shorter than the other. Walking was very difficult and painful.
“For 13 years after my injury, I struggled to walk,” he said.
On arrival in the UK he had four operations, but the damage was too great and in 2004 his limb had to be amputated at Charing Cross hospital.
Abdi considers this to be a turning point in his life.
“Before this I could not even walk without crutches, but by losing my leg I felt I got my freedom back.
“Now with one leg I can run marathons.”
Initially doctors gave Abdi a basic walking leg, which he found heavy and uncomfortable, but recently he progressed to a lighter leg designed especially for the track.
“At first using the leg was very difficult because the remaining part of my limb had not been used for so long that the muscles were weak,” he said.
Abdi started running simply as a means of building his strength, but soon his talents became clear and he joined his local running club.
Initially he told only the coach about his disability and competed against able-bodied fellow runners.
Ian Hodge of the Serpentine running club, where Abdi trains, said that by any standards he is considered good.
“Abdi would be considered by most of the general public as a pretty good runner even if he were fully able,” he said.
“His achievements as a disabled runner are very good indeed. He can match the times of many decent club runners, such as 19 minutes for a 5km, 40 minutes for a 10k, 1:30 for a half marathon and a little over three hours for a marathon.”
But Abdi explained that learning to run had not been easy.
Abdi now has a track running leg
“When my leg was amputated I was determined not to let disability define who I had become,” he said.
“I tried everything to adapt and the physiotherapist at my local hospital encouraged me into running.
“I had daily physio. It was difficult in the beginning because I used to put all my weight on one leg.
“But I was walking sooner than expected and only four months after my operation, I was attempting to run!
“I began to run around the perimeter of my local park and – after overcoming the initial stiffness and muscular pains – my style, speed and stamina improved dramatically. Eight months after my operation I was able to run a mile in seven minutes.
“And after improving the stamina I joined the running club and discovered I had a talent.
“When I started at the club I ran wearing a tracksuit so all the coaches knew I had one leg but the other runners did not know that I was an amputee.
“Before I joined I did not think I could compete with a normal athlete, but afterwards I discovered I was faster than some normal athletes.
“In 2007 I ran in the British Open Championships for people with disabilities in the hope of joining the British Paralympics in Beijing, but after winning the 5km run and 800m gold I was told I could not compete at these events because the furthest distance amputees run is 400m.”
To prove that he could do it Abdi ran the London marathon in three hours 14 minutes.
The ability of someone to run that sort of distance with an amputation is absolutely amazing
Dr Fergus Jepson, Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre
But the toll on his body was severe.
“I had to run to run on a leg that was not designed for a long distance and sustained blisters,” he said.
Dr Fergus Jepson, a consultant at Preston’s Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre (SMRC) said the pain barriers that a runner like Abdi has to endure should not be underestimated.
“Those of my patients who do run have quite significant problems with their amputation stump,” he said.
“It can be a very sore and painful thing to be training for any sort of long distance, be it a 10k or a half-marathon.
“And the ability of someone to run that sort of distance with an amputation is absolutely amazing.
“When it comes to patients running with an amputation I think it is very much dependent on the drive of the individual.
“Amputee rehabilitation is all about helping patients gain back their independence and their activity levels that they had prior to their amputation.”
Abdi, who is planning to run the Three2go London Trail marathon, is now hoping to get a specialised distance-running leg, which he believes will improve his times make running more comfortable.
“I am hoping for financial sponsorship to get a running leg,” he said.
“I can not afford to buy one as I am student and a running leg costs £12,000.”