Special Report: Unfinished Business

Special Report: Unfinished Business

Most of us remember where we were or what we doing on April 15, 2013.
And that finish line for all three of us is going to mean a lot, and I think it will mean a lot for the people of Arkansas.
By Kevin Kelly

Most of us remember where we were or what we doing on April 15, 2013. I was at work, though at the time, I wish I was doing what nearly 26,000 others were doing that day: running the Boston Marathon. But, I didn’t have the strength or the speed to qualify; so I was at work, watching and cheering for those who did qualify.

And then it happened.

At 1:49 p.m. Central time, the bombs rocked the finish line and our world. I watched in shock, disbelief and horror as people fell to the ground.

Others, unaware of what just happened, sprinted into action, risking their own lives to help those who needed it most.

Three people died, 264 others were injured. Of those, 16 lost limbs either at the scene or later at the hospital. It was horrific and the images were hard to watch or forget.

One of my friends, Jeff Glasbrenner was running the race. In fact, he was about a quarter of a mile away from the finish line when the bombs went off. He had no idea what happened.

But I remember interviewing him the day he got back. I asked him what it was like to be so close to finishing the “Super Bowl” of marathons.

His response hit me like a ton of bricks.

“When the terrorists strike, they are trying to steal our joy," he said. "They’re trying to take our independence and freedom, our goals and dreams. I have some unfinished business. I’m going back to Boston next year to prove to them, they’re not going to steal my joy. I’m going to get to that finish line."

He along with thousands of others, were forced to stop. They never crossed the finish line that day. It’s obvious why. There was a major crime scene ahead of them. 

But Glasbrenner made a vow right then and there that no matter what, he was going to return to claim was taken from him: A finish line that he had trained for his whole life.

“It was a big goal of mine to do Boston,” Glasbrenner said.

The explosion hit close to home for Glasbrenner.  Like many of the victims, he too is an amputee.

“Just being an amputee, I can’t imagine having a race and body parts laying all over the finish line… so that was really hard to understand and for me to take,” Glasbrenner said.

He lost his leg in a farming accident when he was just 8 years old.

You and I might look at that accident as a tragedy. But if you ask him, he calls it his greatest opportunity. 

It took some time, but he eventually embraced it. He quickly became an incredible and talented athlete excelling in wheelchair basketball, triathlons and marathons.

He played professionally in Europe for three years and holds a National Championship, scoring a record of 63 points and 27 rebounds in one game.

He’s a three-time Paralympian and a two-time World Champion. He’s also completed 20 Ironman triathlons.

And when he’s not competing, he’s a motivational speaker, husband and father of two. Simply put, he knows what he’s doing.

In the months following the bombing, Glasbrenner met Andre Slay, who worked at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport for Delta Airlines.  The two had an immediate connection, because like Glasbrenner, Slay was an amputee.

On April 15, 2006, he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen next," Slay said. "It was tough because at the time, I could still wiggle my toes on that bad foot."

The doctors told him the chances of saving the foot were slim and that even if they did, there was still a good chance of getting gangrene, in which they would have to remove his foot anyway. So he made the most difficult decision of his life. 

He agreed to have his leg removed. His days of playing basketball and training to become a pilot flashed before his eyes.

“I didn’t know if I would do any of that again," he said. "I didn’t even know if I’d be able to walk right.”

But he overcame many of those obstacles and eventually got his pilot's license. But running was something he never even considered, until he met Glasbrenner. That was when Glasbrenner convinced Slay to hit the pavement and more importantly to run with him.

“I didn’t take my first steps to running until last June," Slay said.

Glasbrenner didn’t stop there. He eventually received an email from a man named Chris Madison.

Madison was 10 years old when he was in a boating accident. 

“When the accident happened, and I got pulled out of the water, I knew pretty much right then and there that it was gone," Madison said.

He got his inspiration to fight from another young amputee. He told him that the only thing that can stop you, is yourself. Madison remembers that encounter even today.

With a fire in his belly, Madison then set out on an incredible journey to prove to that anything is possible. He wanted to be a Navy pilot, so he took the test and passed it. But when they found out he was an amputee, he was turned away.

So, he became a police officer, attended law school and is now the City Attorney for Bryant. But like Slay, running hadn’t crossed his mind. That changed when the mayor of Bryant challenged all city leaders to participate in a sprint triathlon.

It was after finishing that race that someone told him to contact Jeff Glasbrenner. So he did. Glassbrenner responded immediately.

“He challenged me to do the Boston Marathon and I’m like, 'OK, what do I have to do to do that?'” Madison said.

From that point, Glasbrenner took both Slay and Madison under his wing, coaching them both on the proper techniques of running as an amputee. But there was another problem: Qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Both Slay and Madison only had a matter of months to train for their first ever 26.2 mile marathon, and neither of them had run more than just a few miles.

But giving back is second nature for Glasbrenner.

“I’ve had so many people that believed in me along my athletic performance, and it’s great to be there and believe in them to have them take on challenges that they didn’t even know was possible," he said.

With the clock ticking, both Slay and Madison signed up for their first ever marathon. On Sept. 2, 2013, Slay crossed the finish line of the American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado Springs, Colo. He finished in seven hours and three minutes and qualified as an amputee for the Boston Marathon.

“I think that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life," he recalled.

Madison ended up going to Tupelo, Miss., to run his first marathon. His longest run prior to the 26.2 mile race was only 7 miles. He got to mile 25 before he stopped because of a so-called miscommunication between him and Glasbrenner.

Madison says Glasbrenner told him he had to cross the finish line in under six hours and that if he didn’t the timers would be turned off. When Madison reached mile 25 he says his overall time was around five hours and 45 minutes and that there was no way he could complete the last 1.2 miles in under 15 minutes, so he stopped.

But the timers were never turned off. So, one month later, Madison gave it another shot. This time he signed up for the Mo-Cowbell Marathon in St. Louis, Mo.  Madison knew he had to finish it because the deadline for Boston Marathon amputees to sign up was the next day.

Madison crossed the finish line in five hours 43 minutes.

“It was gratifying. A lot of work went into it," he said.

Glasbrenner couldn’t have been prouder with both Slay and Madison qualifying for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

“Up until last year, they didn’t run," he said. "So it was really cool to have them run for the first time. I just remember the smiles on their face and I’m like, 'Yes! This is what it’s all about.'”

Their journey is far from over though. Right now they are training for the Little Rock Marathon. Then their focus will be squarely set on a much bigger goal: The Boston Marathon.

Although they all share something in common, each one has a different reason for wanting to cross the finish line of the most prestigious marathon race in the United States.

“The days after the bombing, when I found out people were losing limbs, my heart immediately went out to them, because I knew their lives were going to be changed forever," Slay said. "So I’m doing it for the people who can’t go to Boston."

Madison agreed.

“This is one way I can show not only the people that got hurt, but everybody else that your criminal acts, your behavior isn’t going to prevent us from achieving and doing… and being the American people we are," he said.

As for Glasbrenner, he wants what the terrorists took from him.

“I started out on that journey last year, and I didn’t get to the finish line so I definitely have some unfinished business," he said. "And that finish line for all three of us is going to mean a lot, and I think it will mean a lot for the people of Arkansas. We’ll have some good times and some fun times, but we will get to that finish line no matter what.”
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