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One-leg, no problem for Chicago man training for triathlon

July 31, 2013|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

The man who walks around with a bottle opener bolted to his prosthetic leg was never much of a serious athlete before he lost his real leg in a motorcycle accident four years ago.

“For about a month before I got injured four years ago, I ran for a month, and I was like ‘Cool, I’m a runner now,’” said Lakeview resident Levi Kane. “I didn’t run for three years.”

It’s an opportunity born from a conversation between him and his prosthetist. Kane, a gregarious soul in person, needed some prodding to get him his moment in the sun.

“My prosthetist here in Chicago, Jason Wening from Scheck and Siress Prosthetics and Orthotics, he said ‘Hey, I have a spare running leg if you wanna try it out,’ ” Kane said. “I said ‘Hell yeah.’ I tried it out for a week and a half, and after that ran my first 5k I’ve ever ran in my life.”

The sense of accomplishment after finishing that first race gave him a new lease on life.

“I’ve never ran that far ever,” he said. “I finished it in 35 minutes, and I was like ‘All right, I can do it. Now I want to get faster.’ ”

And broaden his horizons.

Kane cites a chance encounter with Iraq war veteran and fellow amputee Melissa Stockwell at a race as his primary inspiration for becoming a triathlete in his life’s second act.

“Basically I was like ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’ ” he said. “I could beat her (running) easily. I know I can if I tried. So I tried and tried and tried and finally on December 1, I beat her by about two or three minutes. The next day, she asked me ‘How’s your swimming and biking? I think you’d make a hell of a triathlete.’ ”

Kane, a server at Tommy Knuckles in Lincoln Park, said he’s training more or less whenever he’s not working.

“My rent is really expensive, I have to work a lot,” he said. “I train as much as I can. If you call me and you get my answer machine, it says I’m out working or I’m working out.”

His short-term goal is a strong showing at the Paratriathlon World Championships in London in September. Long term, he’s got his sights set on a spot on the men’s Paralympic team in Rio in 2016, the happy ending to a journey that started off four years earlier with one major mistake.

“Who the hell doesn’t wanna compete in the Olympics,” he said. “It would be a dream come true.”

Paratriathletes Face Unique Challenges

So what’s the difference between running on two legs versus one and a prostheses?

Kane said it’s all about your form.

“Especially an above-the-knee amputee, you don’t run straight like a ‘normal’ person, you have to swing your bad leg around so you have to run in a circular motion,” he said. “You run normal with one leg and the other one you just kind of swing around and land on the spring, go forward, swing it around, land on the tip of the spring.”

Attempting to run like he did in a past life he said could have dire consequences.

“If you were running ‘normal,’ then you would swing your foot forward, you would catch the toe and then you would eat (poop) and die,” he said laughing.

But running isn’t the only thing that’s different when it comes to competing for a paratriathlete.

Kane said he uses two different legs throughout a race, one for biking and one for running, and doesn’t use one for the swimming portion. During races, athletes have some help.

“You have an assistant,” he said. “Basically you get out of the water and you put your arm around them and you run over to your transition station, they help you change your legs. It takes you in all to change out a leg maybe 30 seconds if you’re going as fast as you can. It should take you less, really.”

You can follow along with Kane’s adventures as they’re happening on his website, www.oneleggedlevi.com.

Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.

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