The amazing race Two runners who overcame physical challenges to complete Firecracker

By on July 11, 2012

By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor, Staff Writer

Some times, it’s not about winning at all.

No, some times it’s about the feeling of being out there, doing something many, yourself included, never thought you’d be able to do.

That was the story for nine-year-old Sammy Altdoerffer and 46-year-old Troy Roland, who were two of the unlikeliest of the 760-some runners to cross the finish line last Wednesday at the Ephrata Firecracker Run.

Altdoerffer suffers from Cerebral Palsy while Roland lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident a little more than two years ago. Both were able to overcome their tough challenges and indeed succeed in the July 4 race.

Altdoerffer’s journey to the finish line began when Akron-area physical therapist George Rudisill, an avid runner, began working with IU-13 students.

"With my job I get to work with kids who have a lot of these physical challenges," Rudisill explained. "I’ve known Sammy for a few years now. He has CP and has a lot of difficulty walking. He needs a lot of assistance but he’s been slowly improving."

During one of their therapy sessions, Rudisill, who has run the Firecracker many times, made his young friend an offer and challenge he could not pass up.

"Sammy loves being a part of big groups of people doing exciting things," Rudisill said. "I told him, ‘I’ll push you in the Firecracker but you have to walk across the finish line.’ And he just got this big grin."

There was one more caveat to Rudisill’s offer, however.

"I have an Elvis suit sitting in my closet," Rudisill said. "I thought it’s the 35th year of the Firecracker, and it’s been 35 years since Elvis left us…"

The rest is history. Rudisill was going to wear the Elvis suit, honoring the King, while pushing Sammy through town.

Sammy didn’t mind.

"I had a little boom box and was playing Elvis music as we went. I just got a great response from some of the older people. They really appreciated it, some other runners, not so much," Rudisill said.

And despite the hot temperatures, Rudisill got Sammy to the final stretch, where it was now time to do his part.

"It was great at the end," Rudisill said. "I got Sammy out in his walker, and helped him get across the finish. That was probably the toughest part of the race for me because the sweat was just pouring off me. But it was great. Sammy just loved it and it just turned out great. It was a real privilege to help him do that. He was just thrilled to walk part of this race. It made him feel great, and it made me feel even better."

While Altdoerrfer has had his challenges his entire life, Roland’s life changed with his motorcycle accident which occurred June 11, 2010. It’s been a long road to recovery for the Ephrata resident, and one of his biggest challenges was to learn to walk with a prosthesis, which he was fitted for in September of 2010.

"I was probably on crutches or using a cane until the following January," he said. "(At that time) I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run. I didn’t know how to, really."

That didn’t stop him from resuming his other passion, playing street hockey three days a week at the Ephrata Rec Center. He said he actually played his first street hockey game just two months after getting his prosthesis.

"I wasn’t running," he said. "I was very slow, but I was out there."

He finally got steady enough to run in May of 2011, and the idea of participating in this year’s Firecracker came to him as he watched last year’s race.

"The race goes right by my house, and every year I’ve sat out and watched it," Roland said. "This past July 4, I just said, ‘next year I’m doing that.’ I made it public so I had to do it."

Roland began training, running about 10-12 miles per week. He actually ran three different 5K races, the first being the Jingle Bell Run this past Christmas.

That set the stage for July 4, where his biggest goal was to finish the five-mile course.

"I basically just wanted to finish," he said. "I’d run the five mile course a few times. I knew I’d be about an hour and 10 minutes so I just wanted to do what I normally do. I wasn’t setting any speed records, that’s for sure."

Roland finished with a time of one hour, 11 minutes and 36 seconds.

Mission accomplished.

"It was just a great feeling," he said of crossing the finish line. "I came into the gate to War Memorial Field and saw an older guy turning the corner up ahead of me. I thought, ‘you know what, I’m going to catch him.’ I never did, but I was able to pour it on at the end. I still had some energy left. It felt good. It just felt right."

Roland said he’d like to be an inspiration to others who are faced with similar challenges.

"I would, absolutely," he said. "It’s mental. If you put your mind to something, you are going to be able to do it. I know there are physical limitations out there, and I absolutely have them. But, I feel like if you really want to do something you can do it, and I hope to help people in that manner."

With the Firecracker now checked off his list, Roland said he plans to run a 10K race in September. More AMAZING, page B-3

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