Our Monday Motivation series on GuinnessWorldRecords.com profiles the inspiring stories of commitment, courage and dedication behind some of our most extraordinary titles. This week we're placing the spotlight on a cancer survivor who lost his leg at a very young age, but still managed to persevere as a prolific, record setting marathon runner.
For each race that runner Larry Chloupek takes on, the focus is his arms.
Most marathoners remain oblivious to this part of their body during preparations. For Larry, they're his greatest strength.
The muscles from his shoulder to his wrist, are the ones that ultimately propel the 56-year-old across the finish line.
Though he stands at the starting line with other marathoners - equally prepared to push himself for the gruelling next few hours – many are not running as single-leg amputees, making Larry’s efforts all the more impressive.
From his quick run times and two Guinness World Records titles, on paper most would never guess Larry has suffered from a disability for most of his life.
Surviving cancer as a child, the innate athlete came to terms with the fact that he was not one to sit on the sidelines.
It was this determination as a youngster that set the tone of how he would live the rest of life: pushing past anything that dared to hold him back.
“At the age of seven, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. This led to the amputation of my left leg. At this time, surgery and radiation were my two options. Chemotherapy was not available in the late 1960s, and doctors said I had a 5% chance of survival.”
Hearing his diagnosis out loud was crushing to Larry and his family. One minute he was keeping up with the neighbourhood kids, the next he was trading a very critical part of his body in order to continue living.
“I was fortunate I was just seven years old and did not understand the full ramifications of cancer at that time, but there were times that I thought I was going to die. If I got sick, the thought of the cancer recurring, would cross my mind each time.”
Larry now had adversities like learning how to walk again using just one leg in tandem with two crutches.
Though this was anything but effortless, the hardest aspect of dealing with the changes to his mobility at this point reluctantly watching friends and classmates participate in activities he could no longer join in with ease.
Larry’s doctors had removed his leg very close to the hip for precautionary measures, and after being fit with a new prosthesis, he found new leg both uncomfortable and awkward to move with.
The whole experince also made trying to fit in with the other children at his school even more challenging, as many were not fully aware of what cancer was or the long-term effects it caused for those who endured it.
“The toughest adjustment was being looked at differently. Even though I wore a prosthesis for many years, I still walked with a pronounced limp. I had a number of kids ask ‘what happened?’ and I would try to explain,” said Larry. “In my early years, kids did not know how to react and said some mean things - but this got much better as I went through school.”
Fortunately, as he grew older Larry was nurtured by a great support system of inclusive friends and patient teachers.
After living without a leg for the first few years of adolescence, he figured out how to adapt sports so he could participate, avoiding complete abandonment of his favorite pastimes.
Throughout middle and high school, Larry was restricted from being on any teams – he was instead only allowed to be a crew manager, which mainly handled equipment and scheduling.
While he appreciated the idea of becoming a part of a team, being that close to the thing he loved most without full incorporation was tormenting, and his gym teachers saw that.
“Many of my physical education teachers were very encouraging of my participation in all sports and reassured me to try each sport. One of them actually got me into running a bit. Another into weightlifting. All of them said ‘you may not be the best athlete out there because of your disability, but at least you are out there participating.’”
That push from his mentors had a long term impression on Larry and his disability, who began to recognize himself as someone who could as opposed to someone who could not.
After being taught by his teachers to run with crutches, Larry took up the exercise regularly in the mid-90s, inspired by his wife and her passion for marathons.
“I would do a lot of 5ks and an occasionally 10k. My wife began training for a full marathon and after she completed one it perked my interest. I told her I wanted to try a half first. I set my sight on a half being held five months later and began training for it.”
Larry later completed that race in a mere 2 hours and 30 minutes on crutches. After getting a taste of what it was like to push his boundaries, he became addicted.
He continued running more half marathons, then full marathons, until his first record attempt in 2013.
Taking part in the Rock and Roll Marathon in his hometown of Washington D.C., Larry was planning to break the record for Fastest marathon on crutches (one leg).
Similar to other runners, Larry needed to run a few times a week for four to five miles each time to get his body in good shape to withstand a 13-mile run, pacing himself up to ten miles using his arms and hands a week prior to the competition.
Unlike most cardio-based athletes, an extended amount of arm weight-training was necessary for Larry’s body to make it such long distances, with particular attention to his palms.
“I am in pretty good shape, so my biggest issue are blisters on my hands. When running with forearm crutches, one distributes the weight fairly evenly throughout the body. The hands however do receive a tough workout. I wear weightlifting gloves and put on Surgeon’s Skin Secret on my palms to minimize the blisters. Every 5 miles I have to reapply.”
Knowing this was no easy feat, Larry braced himself for the challenge that lie ahead, putting himself and his life into perspective.
“I always pray to God to give me the energy and strength to get me through the race and keep me injury free. I also think how fortunate I am to be in this position. There are a lot of people in the world in much worse shape than I am.”
Knowing many runners typically hit peak fatigue levels at the 20 mile mark, Larry was grateful for the overwhelming support and encouragement that came from onlookers and fellow marathoners – the morale helped get him through the final leg of the race.
His wife Jenn had especially contributed, for sparking his interest in marathons initially, but also running by his side for the entire 26.2 miles, regulating his pace, monitoring his state of health, and being a constant companion.
On March 16, Larry achieved a time of five hours and thirty seven minutes, his very first world record.
The honor inspired his second title just a year later in his new home of Arizona, where he obtained the record for Fastest half marathon on crutches in a time of two hours and thirty one minutes.
“I just felt blessed to be able to do it. I also felt this was a victory for the disabled community showing we can also participate and compete with other abled runners.”
Larry had now come a long way from his childhood days in the hospital, enduring the hard work and progression of his abilities, much like the process of a marathon.
That same year Larry performed well enough to earn him a spot in the 2014 Boston Marathon.
Taking on the long, and arduous race as a handicapped runner was a stark inspiration for competitors who ran alongside him, but especially for audience members at the finish line – many of whom were recently disabled racers from the Boston Marathon bombings the year before.
This race was a special one, as he was fortunate enough to achieve his best time.
"I attributed my personal record to the massive enthusiastic crowds as well as my dedication of the race to the survivors of the 2013 bombings specifically the amputees. I wanted to prove to them that despite their most recent loss there is hope ahead that even with a loss of a limb you can still compete in the most iconic marathon in the world whether you use a prosthesis, crutches, wheelchair, or a handcycle."
From that experience, Larry went on participating in the marathon world – more persistent than ever to keep motivating others with his journey.
He bested his previous time for the half marathon record by two minutes the following year in 2015, valiantly completing three record-setting races with just one leg and a pair of crutches.
Larry now has another application in for a 10 K he completed, potentially on the verge of this third world record.
“My hope is other people can use me as an example - that despite a disability you can still have lofty goals and attain them. I want to show other disabled individuals as well as able bodied individuals you can still dream and dream big and achieve your goal. The mind and body are very powerful tools.”