Gary Miracle always has been a runner.
In his younger days, Miracle was a member of Rockledge High School’s state championship 4×800 relay team in the 1999-2000 school year.
Through the years the youth soccer and football coach and father of four had done his best to stay in shape.
But nowadays, he’s just looking to complete a 2-mile run.
“Yeah, you don’t usually see guys without arms and legs (in footraces),” he says.
The lifelong Rockledge resident plans to participate in the Tailgate 2 Miler on Aug. 15 in Viera because he now has the prosthetics that will allow it. They give him a new hope to help him move beyond what has befallen him the last two years.
In late 2019, Miracle developed a blood infection and was airlifted to Advent Health in Orlando on New Year’s Eve.
“Super long story short, I got really sick on New Year’s Day, fell into septic shock and coded … A cardiovascular surgeon happened to be doing her rounds and saw what was happening. She was in my room immediately,” he recalls.
The surgeon took a chance and put Miracle on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, a form of life support that pumps and oxygenates blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
Technologies like ECMO are not entirely without risk, and while Miracle was in a 10-day coma, “basically, it sucked the blood from my extremities,” he says. “My arms and legs went necrotic. But my life was saved.”
Hospitalized for 117 days, both arms were amputated below the elbow, both legs below the knees, and at the mention of it, Miracle lights up again.
“They saved my (joints),” he says triumphantly. “I have elbows and knees.”
A message of hope
While these things happened, Miracle’s family and friends remained steadfast. And Miracle has some prominent friends.
A sales professional, years ago Miracle worked in Texas with the Oklahoma-based contemporary Christian music group MercyMe, and they have remained “lifelong friends.”
The group is known best for its 1999 hit “I Can Only Imagine.”
Being — like the Miracles — devout Christians, the group prayed for him.
Being entertainers, they created a song inspired by him.
“Say I Won’t” (Keep on saying I won’t and I’ll keep proving you wrong) comes with a video of Miracle during his struggles and thereafter, as well as lead singer Bart Millard, like Miracle, mainly in a chair. It is, in large part, responsible for Miracle’s story having been told worldwide.
“From the moment I came home, my wife and I have prayed for purpose,” Mircale said. “I could have lost my (hands and feet), but I could have lost everything. Now I get emails from people across the world, people who want to tell their stories, and the most humbling part is that God has kept me in this position, a position in which I am able to speak and listen.”
He’s also able to continue enjoying his wife, Kelly, and watching his children grow — Johana, 17; Asher, 10; Walter, 8; and Henry 7.
No sympathy, please
Early on, the former athlete learned to do everything he could to stay mobile and functional before prosthetics came along. Hearing how he learned to use computers with his elbows, about his kids hitching rides on his wheelchair, and about learning to feed himself raises smiles and laughter rather than tears and sympathy.
Miracle doesn’t want tears and sympathy. He wants understanding for people in his position. He doesn’t want anyone to say he won’t, or that other people can’t. He has become a sought-after speaker.
“At the end of the day, we all have our struggles,” he says. “Mine are just more visible.”
And so he continues to coach and encourages the children on his teams to inquire about his injuries.
“Everyone has my permission to stare and ask questions,” he says. “If I can show 7- or 8-year-old kids another side of life, to show them that they can overcome all obstacles, I’m happy. You know that scene in ‘Rocky’ where he runs to the top of the steps and raises his arms? I want each of my kids to have that Rocky moment.”
Setting a goal to run
His goal is to be “100 percent out of the wheelchair and out on the field,” he says, and no one is willing to put it past him.
As for footraces, he has “a brand new pair of legs” and praises the people of Prosthetic & Orthotic Associates in Orlando for making them. He ran for the first time, one mile on the AlterG treadmill, June 25, at POA.
His next goal is the fall sports-themed Tailgate 2 Miler, part of the Running Zone Foundation’s Run Brevard Race Series.
His team for the Tailgate 2 Miler, “Say I Won’t,” now has more than 20 people, and Miracle hopes for 100. Kelly and the kids will run with him; who else will be there, he does not say.
“I am trying to fight to learn how to walk, run and get in shape to be ready for Aug. 15,” he told race organizers Don and Denise Piercy. “There are people from all over the country flying in to run with me that know about my story.”
“We are so excited that Gary chose our event as his goal,” Denise Piercy said. “We can’t wait to see him out there.”
On his Facebook page, he wrote, “I need as many people there as possible to potentially carry me if I can’t make it,” and that’s all you see or hear about Miracle needing help from anyone.
“I said I will be ready for my first race,” he adds jovially. “I will.”
Orignally Posted Florida Today: