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Two weeks before the event Rice received his Flex-Foot Cheetah racing leg, a sickle-shaped spring that takes considerable experience and strength to control. He was able to train on it only twice.
On the morning of the race Rice woke up wired. Half a mile into the run, Kelly, who was jogging beside him, felt ill. Though she would finish the race, she waved him on. She knew that he didn't dare stop. Running at a sub-11-minute-mile pace, he passed all the leg amps, at least one hand amp and plenty of able-bodies. When he crossed the finish line in two hours, he threw his arms over his head and screamed for joy. "I'm totally flabbergasted," said Army Lt. Col. Barbara Springer, the chief of physical therapy at Walter Reed. "I thought his stump wasn't ready. I will never doubt anybody again."
Rice kept walking for a minute or so, 30 yards past the line, cushioned by adrenaline. "I've been waiting on that finish line for so long," he said. "I had that picture in my head." He began heading toward the Walter Reed tent to pry off the Cheetah when his face suddenly twisted in pain.
"Oh, God," he said softly. "This is the worst pain I've ever felt."
He took a step, gasping. "Oh, my," he said.
He took another. "Oh, man."
The next morning he walked into Reed, sore but sure that he'd passed an important marker. "I ran almost 12 miles yesterday," Rice said. "I'm my own man. I don't need sympathy; I don't need special treatment. I'm whole again."
Two days later Rice rushed down to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina: MAP-7 had come home. He and Mayer and another Marine, Cpl. Jeff Schuller, flopped in a barracks room and drank beer, talking until 4 a.m. Mayer bears traces of that May ambush. His Humvee melted in the bomb blast that killed Graham; he was burned on his face, neck and right arm and took shrapnel in his face and back. "I was worried about him being different," Mayer said of the effect of Rice's injury, "worried about us all being different." But they weren't. Rice didn't sleep much that night, but for the first time in a long time it was because he felt good.
SGT. E-5 TIMOTHY GUSTAFSON