Running down a dream one kilometer at a time

Disabled Israeli veteran Eitan Hermon hopes to set a word record for a marathon by a single-amputee.

Eitan Hermon (photo credit: Marc Morris)
Eitan Hermon
(photo credit: Marc Morris)
To complete a marathon, Eitan Hermon must endure his prosthetic leg persistently grating and shifting against his residual limb for over 42 kilometers.
In spite of that, the Israeli amputee marches on. He hones in only on the kilometer in front of him, this doggedness having carried Hermon through numerous marathons.
Hermon is currently the secondfastest single-leg amputee marathoner in the world, and is continuing his pursuit to become the fastest by attempting to shatter the world record at the Paris Marathon this April. Hermon’s determined, one-step-at-a-time attitude first supported him through his recovery.
His leg was mangled in the Second Lebanon War. The then-31-year-old Israel Defense Forces reservist was returning from an operation in Western Lebanon when at least one roadside bomb detonated under his armored personal carrier.
Just hours after being rescued, Hermon asserted in a Nahariya hospital that he will finish another marathon.
Lying there, he realized he must regain a normal life, which to him was running.
Hermon was raised running in the Upper Galilee. He is from Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the Hula Valley.
At 12 years old, he was already competing at the middle-distance 2,000-meter race. At 18, he put his running career on hold to serve in the Golani Brigade. He resumed running once he was discharged and completed his first marathon.
In his hospital bed, Hermon could not envision his life without this pursuit. He looked at his maimed leg, and viewed rehabilitating it as only a challenge he would overcome. Hermon’s resoluteness in the Nahariya hospital was obvious to TIKVOT Director Simone Farbstein, who first met him there.
TIKVOT is a non-profit organization that facilitates disabled veterans’ participation in sports to encourage their recovery. Farbstein says that typically it is anything but easy convincing a disabled veteran to step out of a hospital to try a sport.
With Hermon, “it wasn’t a question,” she says. He was already that determined.
Last month, Hermon recalled that this first part of his rehabilitation wasn’t difficult. He ignored the glaring fact that he was now disabled. Instead, he concentrated only on his ambition. He lifted weights and cycled all the while reiterating to himself that the more in shape he became, the better he would eventually run.
Still, a year after his injury, Hermon made less progress than he had imagined. Although the wounds on his leg healed, he couldn’t function on his injured foot. Throughout that year, Hermon consulted with all sorts of doctors.
Ultimately, an American professor visiting Tel Hashomer’s Rehabilitation Center – where Hermon trained – examined Hermon.
He advised Hermon to amputate his foot.
The professor explained that with a prosthetic, Hermon would not only be able to run again, but also not be in discomfort for the rest of his life because of his disability.
Hermon chose to undergo the amputation.
Just four months after his leg was amputated, Hermon went on his first run with a prosthetic. It wasn’t a flex-foot cheetah blade like Olympian double-amputee Oscar Pistorious’s prosthetics. It was just a walking prosthetic.
Nevertheless, Hermon took the first step towards his eventual goal to finish a marathon. After this first accomplishment, Hermon’s recovery moved swiftly. He started competitively running. A 10-kilometer race in Tel Aviv was his first event.
Next, he completed a halfmarathon in Beit She’an. He finally achieved his original aim at Tiberias Marathon in 2009. There, Hermon became the first Israeliamputee to complete a marathon.
Besides being a personal accomplishment for Hermon and an Israeli record, the Tiberias Marathon started Hermon on his current, professional running path.
He finished the Tiberias Marathon in three-and-a-half hours, faster than even most able-bodied runners.
Now, Hermon’s aspiration is to be the best single-leg amputee long-distance runner in the world (which Farbstein implies was likely Hermon’s objective from the get-go even though he humbly won’t admit it).
Hermon is already the fastest 10- kilometer runner in his disability class, having completed the event in 37:42. But, for over four years, Hermon’s main goal has been to be the fastest marathoner.
At the 2010 Berlin Marathon, he was within minutes of realizing that dream. He finished the marathon in 3:02:14. The worldrecord is 2:57:47, set by Canadian Rick Ball in 2009.
Hermon’s persistence that has characterized his recovery now defines his pursuit of this world record.
Each year, Hermon competes in at least two marathons abroad. He has completed the Marathon Rotterdam in the Netherlands twice, a marathon in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the Berlin Marathon a second time.
Just two days after finishing his most recent Berlin Marathon, Hermon hobbled to Farbstein. He declared that he intends to compete in the Paris Marathon this upcoming April 6.
Yair Karni, Hermon’s coach and perhaps Israel’s all-time most accomplished long-distance runner, is convinced Hermon will at least finish the Paris Marathon in under three hours if he doesn’t set a world record. Karni calls Hermon a medal-winner, and says he resembles an Olympian like a Kenyan or Ethiopian marathoner.
To train Hermon, Karni has increased the distance Hermon completes in a single run from 15 kilometers to 38 kilometers.
In a typical week, Hermon will run approximately 120 kilometers.
Each week, he also performs interval training, and stretches and exercises with a team. He also swims once a week, and cycles once a week.
Even if Hermon is ready physically for the upcoming Paris Marathon, his prosthetic is always an obstacle. The longer Hermon runs, the more his prosthetic rubs against his limb. After a marathon, Hermon’s residual limb resembles raw meat, says Farbstein.
Besides that, Hermon’s limb is constantly altering in size. This affects how Hermon fits into his prosthetic, which is especially problematic because Hermon lives in Israel.
Typically, an amputee-runner will have their prosthetic adjusted weekly. Because Hermon’s prosthetic specialist is at Pace Rehabilitation Centre is in London, his is only tuned a few times a year. Currently, there’s no solution, Farbstein says.
No one is Israel has enough expertise in running prosthetics.
However, Hermon’s attitude remains resolute.
Farbstein says that Hermon knows that each marathon he completes, each day he trains, and each stride is an accomplishment.
Hermon’s doggedness is an inspiration, she said.
“After another runner completed his first marathon in Berlin along with Eitan, he said that as each kilometer became more painful, he thought of Eitan. ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’ the runner repeated to himself.”
Karni expects Hermon to inspire more Israelis, especially disabled veterans, because Hermon wishes to remain running in Israel.
“I’m very proud to be an Israeli,” he says. “I’m an amputee because I’m an Israeli.”
What’s the next step for Hermon if he succeeds at the Paris Marathon? He hopes to be an Israeli Olympian. Currently, there are no long-distance running events at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. There might be at a later Games.
Or, maybe Hermon will become a triathlete.
He’s considering everything.
Whatever he decides, it’s almost a certainty he will succeed because, if nothing else, Eitan Hermon knows that nothing in impossible.