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He lost leg in Afghanistan and attempted suicide twice, then became Miami Marathon champ

Lance Corporal Jose Casca, an infantry from the 3rth Battalion 6th Marine, helps Sergeant Alfredo Delossantos, a Civil Affair Specialist from 98th Army Civil Affair Battalion, with his vehicle prior to the start of the ride, Andrews Air Force Base Md., on May 1, 2009. The wounded warriors rode from Andrews to Annapolis, Md., as a part of a four day event to raise awareness of issues that veterans are challenged with when they return wounded from the war and for many, the soldier ride provides an important step in their return to an active lifestyle. (U.S. Air Force photo by: Senior Airman Giang Nguyen)

Alfredo De Los Santos was at his lowest point when Achilles International suggested he attempt a marathon. He had just lost his right leg in Afghanistan about eight months earlier. He tried to commit suicide twice since being hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. De Los Santos thought the pitch was some sort of cruel joke.

“I was like, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ De Los Santos said. ‘Can’t they see I’m missing a leg?’”

Representatives from Achilles showed him the handcycle, though, and De Los Santos decided to give it a shot. He raced for the first time at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington and finished in a little less than three hours. His arms were exhausted and De Los Santos declared he would never race again.

On Sunday, he won his second straight Miami Marathon in the marathon race chairs division, adding to a laundry list of achievements, which also includes a national championship. He cruised through 26.2 miles of Miami, Miami Beach and Coconut Grove in just 1 hour 5 minutes 44 seconds — more than 10 minutes faster than anyone else in his division.

“Every time I come to Miami, I get fired up,” said De Los Santos, 50. “You see that crowd clapping you and cheering you up.”

The rush he gets from the community has been as important as any race result for De Los Santos. Originally from the Dominican Republic, De Los Santos moved to New York as a teenager and enlisted in the United States Army after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. In 2008, he was serving in Afghanistan and had his leg blown off when his Humvee was attacked. He awoke a few weeks later at Walter Reed.

“Sport was what they used to push me, take me out of my comfort zone because it’s pretty easy for somebody missing a leg just to stay in your room, and don’t go out and think negative,” De Los Santos said. “That’s the mentality that I had back then.”

Mayor runs with firefighters for PTSD awareness

The final group to cross the finish line for the half marathon was worth the wait for the Miami Marathon crowd. To close out the race, a group of about 250 firefighters walked across the finish line decked out in full gear and carrying American flag.

The group was organized by Miami Beach firefighter Claudio Navas and goes by the name “Never Walk Alone.” The stunt was organized to raise awareness for the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on first responders and featured firefighters from 10 South Florida fire departments, plus police offers, family members, nurses and even Miami mayor Francis X. Suarez.

“He’s really good with the firefighters and the police department. It’s always good to have someone,” Navas said. “That’s good leadership to have someone at that level doing it.”

They walked the full 13.1 miles in temperatures which got up to 76 degrees by the time they finished shortly before noon.

Suarez, 42, said he walked with the firefighters because of how PTSD has affected his own life. In a pre-race speech outside AmericanAirlines Arena, Suarez shared a story about a friend who suffered from PTSD.

Navas, 39, crossed the finish line in 4:43:05. Suarez crossed in 4:43:03.

Miami football coaches run

Manny Diaz set quite the example for his Miami Hurricanes on Sunday. The coach ran the half marathon at the Miami Marathon for the second time, posting an impressive time of 1:53:29.

Diaz, who is the son of former Miami mayor Manny Diaz, also ran in the Miami Marathon in 2017 when he was still the Hurricanes defensive coordinator. He also ran a half marathon in 2014 when he was the defensive coordinator for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

“It’s important for the mental health of the profession,” Diaz said in 2017 before he ran at the Miami Marathon for the first time. “Running is an exercise of the mind, for sure. You can almost reach sort of a meditative state while you’re running.”

This year, Diaz, 45, had accompaniment from a member of his coaching staff. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph, 40, also ran the half marathon, finishing in 2:34:17.

Barreling barefoot for 13.1 miles

She and her bare feet did it again.

Nilima Pai, 45, who came to Weston from India four years ago and was featured in a Miami Herald profile Tuesday, finished the half marathon barefoot in 2:49:00.

Even better, Pai said, she “met a woman from West Palm Beach also running barefoot. I am very happy. … It’s so much fun to run with another barefoot runner. There is so much to talk about.”

Pai, whose husband Vivek finshed the half (in shoes) in 2:35, said it only hurts on her left foot between her big toe and second toe.

“I’ll go home, clean it and apply coconut oil,’’ she said. “Tomorrow it will burn and then it will be fine.’’

The Coatman runeth

His streak and stunt-running reputation just keeps growing.

Fort Lauderdale’s Dennis Marsella, known as “The Coatman” to marathon runners from coast to coast, once again completed in the Miami Marathon wearing his trademark coat — no easy task given the Florida heat and humidity.

Marsella, who also carried a waiter’s tray with a plastic wine glass and empty pint of milk, will celebrate his 69th birthday Thursday. The coat-garbed Marsella has now completed every marathon held in Miami since 1981 (some years there weren’t marathons), including the Orange Bowl Marathon and the Metro-Dade Miami Marathon. This marathon was his 149th.

“When you look at all the thousands of runners that appear at the Miami Marathon, remember, there is only one person, one person in the world who has finished every Miami Marathon since 1981,’’ Marsella said in a voicemail to the Miami Herald. “And that sets them apart as a news item and their news value from everyone else.’’

This and that

? At least two proposals occurred on the race course Sunday. Felix Reimundo of Miami proposed to Sofia Martinez of Miami at the 24-mile mark of the marathon. Alan Sarfati of Mexico City proposed to Millie Bistre of Mexico City after both crossed the finish line of the marathon.

? More than a dozen participants donned various Kobe Bryant jerseys on the course, including one woman dribbling a basketball while wearing one of Bryant’s United State national team jerseys.

? Michael Neuman, 26, ran the half marathon wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume. The Miami Beach native finished in 2:37:40.

? Two runners competed in the half marathon wearing tennis ball costumes to promote the Miami Open, which kicks off in March in Miami Gardens.

? A group of 1,000 kids ran the final 1.2 miles of the half marathon as part of Kids Run Miami, which has middle school students from across Miami-Dade County run a total of 26.2 miles across 15 weeks, concluding with a final run at the Miami Marathon to account for a full mile.


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