NORMAN — On Aug. 5, the personal watercraft Patrick Ahearn was piloting during a Florida vacation collided with a boat. Ahearn collided with the boat’s propeller, losing his left leg below the knee.
Today, Ahearn, a Norman High senior, will run the 400 meters at Putnam City.
“Next week I might try running the 800,” he said.
Distance has always been his thing.
A cross country runner by training, Ahearn’s natural track events are the 1,600 and 3,200. But live your life in a wheelchair for a little while, then on crutches and a prosthetic, then on a prosthetic that doesn’t allow for much running; well, even a young athlete who’s always been in great shape must rebuild his stamina “Right now, I’m sort of getting my endurance back and my strength up,” Ahearn said. “I chose the 400 because that’s what I’m running in practice.”
He received his first prosthesis five months ago. That got him walking on two crutches, then one crutch and then no crutches all in the space of a couple of weeks. After a while, he was doing some fast walking and even some running on that same prosthesis, the one he wears every day.
Then, at the urging of his prosthetist at Scott Sabolich Prosthetics, an Oklahoma City firm, a manufacturer came through with a prosthetic made for running, even at no charge.
The manufacturer may have been motivated by the story of a high school senior who wanted to get back on the track with his teammates before his time was done. Also, it didn’t hurt when Ahearn explained he’d be running for public consumption.
“It does have their logo and name on it,” he said.
The new prosthetic only arrived two weeks ago. Immediately, Ahearn was running on it.
Today, he’ll race.
“I’m running a lot sooner than I thought I would be,” he said. “I thought I would be doing my first running over the summer. Because I’m young and I was already a runner, I healed a lot faster.
“I’m kind of amazed myself.”
His coach, Scott Monnard, believes many will drop what they’re doing today at Putnam City Stadium when it’s Ahearn’s turn to run. That could be as early as 4:30 p.m., though track meets have long made for messy schedules.
“I have a feeling everybody’s going to want to watch,” Monnard said.
It won’t bother Ahearn, who knows there’s a reasonable chance he’ll finish last. Turning an old saying on its ear, it’s not really about where he finishes, but that he starts.
“I don’t care about my time,” he said. “It’s my senior year, I only have a couple more chances to run as a Tiger. I get to put on my uniform and I get to compete against other schools and run alongside my teammates.”
Ahearn understands people will see him as inspirational. Many have told him they look forward to seeing him run. The rare teenage role model, he’s all right with it.
“I kind of just see it that I’m continuing with my life,” he said. “It doesn’t really put any pressure on me. Right now, I’m just worried about getting my times down.”
Sounds like a runner.