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Marathon Victory Was in His Hands

Bob Wieland, who lost his legs in the Vietnam War, trails race entrants who finished a week ago, but comes in first in courage.

March 09, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Bob Wieland insists that he is an ordinary guy. But more than 100 people who gathered to cheer him toward 5th and Flower streets Saturday clearly thought otherwise.

As Wieland crashed through a strip of tape and raised his hands in victory, some people in the crowd wept. Wieland had walked the entire Los Angeles Marathon on his hands.

His time: 173 hours, 45 minutes.

Here was a man who lost his legs in Vietnam, who might otherwise have been down and out.

Instead, to Claudia Enriquez, he was an inspiration.

"This is actually breathtaking," said Enriquez, 28, who completed the marathon a week earlier. "You get goose bumps.... It's just amazing -- one of those reality checks you need."

Enriquez heard about Wieland on television. Inspired by his story, she drove from La Puente to witness the end of his weeklong journey.

Others had similar stories. Eddie Cole, 49, said he had been homeless and drunk when Wieland passed him on Crenshaw Boulevard early Monday.

Touched by the kindness of Wieland and his crew and inspired by their story, he decided to join their trek through the city.

"When Bob got talking to me, I wasn't intoxicated any more," Cole said Saturday as the group neared the finish line. "I feel that God sent him to me."

Ten people walked the first few blocks of the race with Wieland on March 1.

More than 50 trailed behind him as he swung his body through the last mile of the course.

Each time Wieland stopped to rest, a group of assistants rubbed his shoulders and hands, fed him pineapple chunks and power drinks, and bowed their heads in prayer.

Like a modern Pied Piper, he seemed encouraged by their presence and buoyed by their enthusiasm.

After finishing the race and answering questions from the media, Wieland received a participation medal from marathon organizers and a commendation sent by Gov. Gray Davis.

Then there was one more acclamation, one that seemed to touch Wieland even more than the rest.

Arturo Sanchez, 59, wearing camouflage that identified him as a Vietnam veteran, a retired 1st sergeant, raised an American flag in the air.

"A job well done," Sanchez said. "A job well done."

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