The irony of Mike Dimas organizing the Happy Feat Foundation relay teams for the Dec. 10 BMW Dallas Marathon is twofold:
First, he doesn't particularly like running. And second, he's only running at all because he had his leg amputated, which is arguably the best excuse for never running.
But life is strange that way. It makes us think we have a clue what path we're on, and then, when we're not looking, shoves a rock smack dab in the middle of it. We trip, we fall, we think we'll be on the ground forever. But we grab onto a tree branch or onto someone's belief in us.
With strength we didn't know we have, we hoist ourselves up, sidestep whatever knocked us to the ground, and by choice or necessity, end up on a different route with brand-new scenery.
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Dimas' boulder was necrotizing fasciitis, more descriptively known as flesh-eating bacteria. Four years and seven months ago, it almost killed him; instead, doctors saved his life by removing his left leg just below the knee.
That led to walking, to running and, eventually, to setting up the foundation. The evolution was slow and not always sure. But Dimas' boulder provided leverage; support from family, friends and medical professionals gave a not-always-gentle push.
An instrumental influence has been Kai Davis, a prosthetist at Texas Vascular Associates. The first time he and Dimas met, two months after Dimas' amputation, Davis explained what the new leg would look like and all it would be able to do. As encouraging as its features sounded, and as supportive as Davis was, Dimas says all he could think about was that he had no money, no job, no insurance. He wondered how he'd pay rent, much less thousands of dollars for a state-of-the-art artificial leg.
Davis' answer to that was simple: "We've got you covered."
Dimas isn't one to cry, but after leaving his appointment, he closed his car door and wept.
"I'd say that is where the seed to start the Happy Feat Foundation was planted," he says.
Incorporated in the summer of 2016, the nonprofit has a Facebook group but no website yet. What it does have, though, are the relay teams, named in memory of Ellen Fernandes, who founded the Dallas Amputee Network and who passed away in June. The amputee team is Ellen's Happy Feat; the team of two-legged runners, Ellen's Other Happy Feat.
For the Dec. 10 marathon, one member from each team will run with a counterpart from the other. The amputees are Dimas; Jen Brigham, an adaptive trainer at REACT neuro-rehabilitation program; Jeff Waldmuller, a prosthetist; Larry Olchak, who works in IT; and Ricardo Mendoza, a general contractor.
Their two-legged partners are Dimas' sister Yolanda, a former Luke's Locker running coach; Jennifer Felts and Dino Pucci, two of Dimas' former co-workers when he worked at Parigi restaurant; Jerry Fernandes, Ellen's widower; and my son, Charlie Garcia, whom Dimas recruited and how I heard about the Happy Feat runners.
"The team shows you can be a competitor and on the same playing field as able-bodied runners," says Dimas, 49. "It's the spirit of it. Yes, we have physical challenges. I appreciate people saying I'm an inspiration, and at the same time, everybody has something. Mine is certainly obvious. When I run, I can't hide it."
He's completed three half-marathons and also participated in a 196-mile relay in Tennessee last March. After finishing the Turkey Trot last year, a woman noticed his prosthesis and said, "It's so great you finished." Dimas thanked her and said, "Everybody has a challenge."
"Oh, yes," she told him. "I just have one lung."
"To me," he says, "she had a much harder challenge than I do. Everybody has something. Everybody has something."
"The amputees on my team, like a lot of amputees, are living lives without limits and pushing themselves to be as active as they can be," he says. "I hope to show a little of that spirit through this Happy Feat project. Long gone is the day when an amputation relegates you to a sedentary lifestyle watching life go by from the sidelines."
For more on the Happy Feat Foundation, contact Mike Dimas at firstname.lastname@example.org.