Larry Chloupek, who lives in Potomac, Md., a D.C. suburb, is 54 years old. He’s missing his left leg at the hip. He does not run with a prosthetic. He runs with forearm crutches. And he didn’t lose his leg defending his country. He lost his limb when he was 7 years old to a form of bone cancer.
Of his youth, Chloupek says, “I was always trying to prove a point, that I could do it.”
He rode a bike as a kid, pedaling with one leg. He played basketball in the neighborhood, hopping about the driveway on one leg. He played pick-up football, running patterns on his crutches, then dropping them to catch the ball.
“My parents didn’t push me,” says Chloupek. “I made those adjustments on my own.”
Into his 20s, Chloupek wore a prosthetic for everyday life. Then he dropped it, no longer hiding an artificial limb beneath a pair of pants, opting instead for crutches.
“After a while I told myself, ‘This is more of a pain in the ass than anything,’” recalls Chloupek. “I asked myself, ‘Am I wearing this for myself or for cosmetic appearances?’ As a kid, you’re a lot more self-conscious about how you look. You want to fit in. You want to look like everybody else.’”
Chloupek works as the management liaison director for the National Institute of Health in D.C. By his mid-30s he was running 5Ks and 10Ks. His wife, Jenn, followed his lead and began running.
Jenn, though, stretched her distance faster than Larry, running a marathon in March 2010.
“At the end of that race,” recalls Chloupek, “I congratulated her and told her my goal was to run a half marathon.”
Six months later, Chloupek covered 13.1 miles at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach. Two years ago he ran his first marathon, at Rock ‘n’ Roll DC.
“I thought I’d be one and done,” he says of the marathon.
But a friend told him his time might be fast enough to qualify for Boston in the mobility impaired division. It was.
“How do you say no to running in Boston?” says Chloupek.
You don’t. So he ran Boston last year, finished in 5:20, qualifying for a return trip this year. His fastest half marathon is 2:25.
Husband and wife run together often, Jenn jogging on two healthy legs, Larry, with those forearm crutches, propelling himself forward.
“I get doubles stares,” he says.
“Hey brother, we think of you,” one person said at a race. “Keep going. Keep going.”
“You’re an inspiration,” is a frequent refrain he hears.
After the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half one year, a jogger told Chloupek, “I was starting to walk and you passed me. And I said, ‘Forget it. I’m going to keep going.’”
You look at runners and admire their legs, the way the thighs bulge outward slightly. Or their calves, that knot below the back of the knee. The hamstrings boasting a ripple down the middle.
Chloupek, though, is different. His arms are his legs. As you’d expect, they’re ripped. He lifts weights three times a week. For biceps curls, he hoists 45-pound dumbbells off the rack. Serious, serious muscle.
“I’m out there to prove a point to myself that I can do this, regardless of my situation,” says Chloupek. “I also try to prove to others that they can do it, too.”