Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Eric Hammerstrom
On Saturday, June 7, Bernard “Jake” Jackovich, age 65, crossed the finish line of the Run For Life 5k in Marquette, Michigan, raised his arms in triumph and spoke words he’d been waiting to say for more than 47 years: “I’m a runner again.”
In 1966, Jackovich graduated from Calumet High School in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he lettered in track. He enlisted in the Marines immediately following graduation and fought in jungles and rice paddies near Da Nang until his convoy was struck by rocket-propelled grenades in December 1967. An RPG blast took most of his left hand, nearly all of his hearing, and his right leg from the knee down.
In the aftermath, Jackovich looked down at his leg as one of his buddies scrambled to save his life. “When I got hit, I didn’t say, ‘Damn, I’m gonna die,’” Jackovich says. “I said, ‘Damn, I’m never gonna run again.”‘
Then Jackovich met Lynn Vanwelsenaers, a prosthetist at Wright and Fillippis, a home medical supply company in Marquette. Vanwelsenaers has worked with Jackovich for 19 years, creating legs he uses for walking, biking and cross-country skiing.
But the ability to run remained elusive owing to the force running placed on the stump of Jackovich’s tibia. His attempts at running caused him extreme pain.
“There have been challenges,” he says. “Back in spring of 2011, Lynn made a new leg for me. I put it to the test, and I started to do my regular fitness regimen. I started to get terrible numbness in my stump.”
Jackovich underwent surgery to repair damaged nerves and a bone spur.
“After [I spent] 48 days on crutches, Lynn made a new leg with a suction liner system,” Jackovich says. “The liner has ribs and an air valve, along with a sleeve, which gives two methods of locking the leg and stump in place. After surgery with the new leg, I was able to get back into skiing, biking and walking.”
But Vanwelsenaers and Jackovich never gave up on the dream of Jackovich running again.
Last fall, she created a two-part system to secure the leg to Jackovich’s stump using a ribbed suction liner with an air valve and a silicone sleeve, which combine to reduce abrasion and minimize force.
“When I make a limb for a patient, he comes in with a piece of paper from a physician that says he needs a prosthesis,” Vanwelsenaers says. “We cast him and make a model of his limb. From that, we design a socket. Then we fit just the socket. We make sure we have total contact to distribute forces so he can tolerate them. You have to distribute the forces throughout the entire socket.”
Jake took his new leg back to his home in Calumet, where his wife of 42 years, Paula, videotaped him running for the first time since 1967 and sent the video to Vanwelsenaers in Marquette.
“He ran for a good half an hour,” Vanwelsenaers says. “The look on his face was just awesome. It was pure joy.”
The Run for Life 5K was Jake’s 15th run on his new leg, an Ossur Flex-Run with Nike Sole. Jackovich finished in 31:10, which placed him first in the 60-69 age group.
“I felt fantastic,” he says. “I surprised myself. It was my 15th run and the new gel pad kept my stump from abrading. Everything clicked. I think I could have broken 30 minutes, but since it was my first race, I hung back in the pack. In the last K, I was feeling good and kicked it up.
“It was exhilarating,” Jackovich says. “I pinch myself because I can’t believe I’m doing this again.”
Jackovich has already selected his next challenge: the YMCA Teal Lake Triathlon, scheduled for Saturday, July 19 in Negaunee, Michigan.
“For the triathlon, he’ll swim without a prosthesis,” Vanwelsenaers says. “The liner he’ll have on will be the same for both his biking and running leg, with the suction system and the sleeve. When he comes out of the water, he’ll need to dry off very well and make sure there is no sand on his limb. He will use clip-less pedals, so that shoe will already be on his prosthesis. He’ll clip in and go. When the bike is done, he’ll switch out of that leg, into the running leg and run.”
Vanwelsenaers says she hopes she can use Jackovich as an example to help amputee veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Some need encouragement,” she says. “Some have given up, which is unfortunate. Just for them to get out and be active in the community again is a start. Let’s return them to the life they had before; that’s the goal.
“There really is nothing you can’t do as an amputee that you can do as an able-bodied person. That’s what people should take from this. It’s all in the attitude.”