Georgia accident survivor finds new life as amputee athlete
ATLANTA - The outdoors is John Pulliam's happy place.
"I like to be alone, just hear the sound of the pavement, the wind, the squirrels, the birds," the 51-year old Carrollton, Georgia, contractor, and father say.
Still, this is not a path Pulliam imagined he would take, sweating it out in his racing wheelchair, training for his next road race.
"If you had told me 5 years ago that I would actually pay someone else to let me run a race, I would have called you crazy," Pulliam laughs.
But, in January of 2013, a motorcycle wreck with a hit-and-run driver left Pulliam with one leg amputated, and no roadmap for what lay ahead.
"I was alive, but my life had totally changed," Pulliam remembers. "I lost my business, I lost my home, I almost lost my mind in the process."
He says he had no idea how to move forward.
"What I could do," he says. "I didn't know how I'd take care of my children. Whether or not my wife would still love me, now that I'm no longer the man I once was."
But as Pulliam healed, and was being fitted for a prosthetic leg, he began hearing about amputees who have become athletes, some competing at the top of their game. And, he says something inside him clicked.
"Along the process of learning how to stand up and walk again, I decided to sign up for a 5K (road race) on the anniversary of the wreck," Pulliam says.
He trained for that first race on a running blade, using a cane to keep himself from falling. A year to the day after his accident, he was ready to go.
"I got halfway to Atlanta race morning, and realized I'd left my cane sitting beside the door," Pulliam says. "So, I had to make a choice. Do I give up and go back home, and not go to the start line, or do I figure out how to get it done?"
He made it, 3.2 miles, with no cane.
"The first time I crossed the finish line, I literally fell down crying, because I was overcome with emotion," Pulliam says. "It's the most amazing feeling there is."
There have been many finish lines since that first 5K. He's competed in 3 Peachtree Road Races, 2 marathons, and an Ironman triathlon in Florida. And when bone spurs made running with a blade painful, John Pulliam switched to a racing chair. That's what this experience has taught him, you change course, and you push on.
"We all face challenges, we all have struggles we have to overcome," Pulliam says. "Hopefully, I can encourage someone else to get up, and get out and to keep moving forward."