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King Discusses Becoming First Double Amputee to Finish the Boston Marathon

“After five minutes with Cedric, you feel like you can conquer the world,” Patrick Downes, BC ’10, said. Army Ranger Master Sgt. Cedric King spoke at Boston College on Jan. 21 about his two tours of duty in Afghanistan. The event was sponsored by the Human Resources Department on Institutional Diversity, the Athletics Department, the Veterans’ Affinity Group, and the Undergraduate Government of Boston College (UGBC).

Susan Sheehy, a friend of King, organized the event through the Collegiate Warrior Athlete Initiative, which seeks to bring together veterans and college athletes. Sheehy’s son, John, is currently in the early stages of helping King write a book based on his life.

In his speech, King told the story of how, three years ago, he was given the assignment to bring back evidence that enemy soldiers in his sector were killing Americans. As he and his fellow soldiers entered a booby-trapped house, King put his weight on his right foot, inadvertently triggering an improvised explosive device (IED).

That day was July 25, 2012, which he now celebrates as his “Alive Day”—the day that “death comes knocking on your door and you say, ‘No.’” When the bomb detonated, he was immediately rushed to a field hospital and then flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. After coming out of an eight-day medically-induced coma, doctors informed him that, not only did he suffer internal damage and lose fingers and part of his right arm, but also his injuries were so severe that they would require the amputation of both of his legs.

“If you get bad news, we go to the far extreme of the bad news,” King said. “How can I live life in the same way that I did before?”

He found a way to make life even better, he said. On April 21, 2014, King finished the Boston Marathon while running on prosthetic blades. He became the first double-amputee to complete the race—only 21 months after the operation.

“[You] meant to hurt me. Instead of hurting me, you made me better.”

King told the audience that he sees the ugly things in life “almost like a sparring partner”—not there to hurt you, but to train you. A good trainer, he explained, doesn’t train you in those areas for which you are prepared. Rather, life “trains you for what you’re not ready for,” King said.

In his hospital bed, King realized why he had to continue fighting: “Hey, man, there’s so much good to give.”

King said that when he was running the Boston Marathon, he saw tents along the side of the course for runners who could not complete the race and was strongly tempted to give up.

“As soon as you pull off the road, there is somebody there who will try to make you feel better,” King said.

He paused for a moment as his audience took the statement in—and then he screamed: “But that’s not what you came for.”

King said that his family and his faith allowed him to keep fighting, despite his life-altering injuries. He will not let those injuries define him, he said. King will be running the Boston Marathon again this year.

First Lady Michelle Obama recently narrated a video featuring King’s story. In it, he shares a message for the people who tried to kill him.

“[You] meant to hurt me. Instead of hurting me, you made me better,” he said.

Before answering questions from the audience, King told a final anecdote. He said that while he was still completing his training, he was able to shoot the 50-meter target and the 100-meter target, but he could not shoot the 150-meter target. His instructor told him that he was failing to understand the trajectory and path of the bullet. Looking at a captivated audience, he showed the tale’s poignant metaphor both for his story and for overcoming one’s own pains in life.

“The target is possible to hit,” he said, “but we have to know how to aim.”

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Staff

January 24, 2016