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Wounded In Afghanistan, But Still Running

AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

On Edward Lychik's 21st birthday, his fellow troops gave him a gift.

The Army combat engineer normally rode in the first truck in his convoy. Lychik's job was to ensure the road his battalion traveled in Afghanistan was bomb-free.

To celebrate Lychik's big day, his comrades let him ride in the rear — the convoy's last truck.

He remembers clearly when his vehicle was hit by a shell. It punched a hole about a foot in diameter in the truck's side and ripped through Lychik's left leg. He says he knew something was wrong, but he couldn't feel any pain. The medic, who was with him in the truck, fashioned a tourniquet around what remained of Lychik's limb.

That was two years ago. Lychik, now 23, wears a high-tech prosthetic that is fastened with a harness around his waist. A Bluetooth device in the knee helps Lychik control the limb. He says it takes a lot of core strength to walk smoothly.

But Lychik doesn't just walk. He runs. Marathons.

This year he completed both the Boston Marathon and the Seattle Rock 'N' Roll Marathon in just over four hours each. That's faster than many participants with two natural limbs.

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Lychik says it was the vision of himself as a runner that kept him going in the weeks after his accident. Lying flat in his bed at a Texas military hospital, Lychik says he felt as if his life was over. Then, one day, he had a vision of himself running in the fog, dressed in a black hoodie. That image gave him hope that life would go on.

Lychik spends most of his days training for the next race. Most recently he completely almost 50 kilometers at 6,000 feet elevation, a mountain trail race. He had to stop, he says, because of prosthetic problems.

The young man smiles a lot. He says he's rarely sad. He works with groups like the Wounded Warriors Project, and Lychik hopes to spend more time giving motivational speeches to veterans' groups, as well as to schools and other organizations.

Some people feel hopeless, or that they can't achieve their dreams.

Lychik figures, if they look at him and what he's done, they might feel more optimistic about their own ambitions.

This post originally aired July 9, 2014.