As It Happens

'You know what? I got this,' says double-amputee who ran NYC Marathon

A runner who lost both of his feet to frostbite while mourning the death of his beloved cousin seven years ago has completed his first-ever marathon.

Marko Cheseto, who lost his cousin and then his feet 7 years ago, became a U.S. citizen last week

Marko Cheseto, who lost both his feet to frostbite, ran the New York City Marathon last week and became a U.S. citizen 2 days later. (New York City Marathon)

A runner who lost both of his feet to frostbite while mourning the death of his cousin seven years ago has completed his first-ever marathon.

Marko Cheseto, 35, finished the New York City marathon last week in two hours, 52 minutes and 33 seconds — about 10 minutes off the world record for a double-leg amputee.

Two days later, the Kenyan-born runner became a U.S. citizen. 

Cheseto spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about his struggles with depression and how his devastating injury changed the way he looks at the world. 

Here is part of their conversation.

So what was it like? Were there times during the course of the run when you just had doubts whether you could finish it? Were there some rough spots?

Going through the bridges was kind of challenging because there's a deep incline.

Even though it didn't look like it, you know I was going up a hill, but running on two prosthetics is challenging when the terrain just changes all of a sudden.

After losing my cousin and then my feet, I think it helped me know how to cope with the situation — realizing that sometimes in life there's so many things that you cannot control, but you can do so much with what you can control.- Marko Cheseto, runner

You were going to university in Alaska on a scholarship and you ended up getting serious frostbite on your feet back in 2011. What happened?

In February of 2011, my cousin who had who came from Kenya committed suicide.

He had called me one Friday afternoon wanting to talk, but I was doing some schoolwork and I was not able to get to the house to go and talk with him.

And I got home that evening and he had hanged himself.

I was depressed for almost a year, blaming myself for what I could have done to save his life, and I was on antidepressants for almost that whole year.

In November of 2011, I took some antidepressants and went for a run and I passed out out.

In this May 31, 2013 photo, Cheseto crosses the finish line on his new carbon-fiber running blades at the Skinny Mini 6K race in Anchorage, Alaska. (The Associated Press)

Out in the cold.

Out in the cold, yeah. I didn't have anything. You know, I just had a jacket and sneakers. I didn't have any gloves, nor hat. I was just going for a run. It was not so cold when I left.

But [after] 56 hours in the cold, I woke up in the middle of the night and it was very — you know, the moon was shining really, really well and I just realized: Where am I?

I just tried to get up, which took some time.

I was in a wooded area, so I used the trees to get myself up and walked and luckily I just stumbled onto a groomed ski trail and I just followed it and ended up in a hotel lobby that was close by the university.

That's when somebody at the lobby commented that: "Where have you been for three days?"

That is when I realized how long I had been out. 

Cheseto finished the New York City Marathon within striking distance of a world record. (New York City Marathon )

I'm so sorry about your cousin and I'm so sorry about what happened to you. You were in bad shape at that point.

I don't remember how I got to the hospital because I passed out, and then I couldn't feel my feet.

At the end of the day they tried to get blood flow to my lower extremities and my feet didn't show any sign of blood flow. And at that point the doctor ... told me, "There is a 100 per cent chance that we might amputate your feet." 

How difficult was the recovery? How difficult was it to get back to where you were able to run that marathon?

It was a challenge.

It took some time before I could really acknowledge that I had lost my feet, but I was in a severe depression. Major, major depression.

But surprisingly, after they amputated my feet, I kind of started feeling better after two weeks of amputation. 

It just shows you have just a tremendous spirit, Marko, because you were recovering from so much, weren't you?

That incident, in a way, taught me. It opened my eyes in different ways — in a lot of ways.

After losing my cousin and then my feet, I think it helped me know how to cope with the situation — realizing that sometimes in life there's so many things that you cannot control, but you can do so much with what you can control.

And I just realized I have control of what I could do. From that point going forward, I'm said, you know, I am an amputee and I'm going to be like this for the rest of my life. I can either choose to sit down and feel sorry for myself, or just stand up and say: You know what? I got this. I'm going to use this to my advantage. I'm going to run again I'm going to use my story to inspire other people.

And that's what I've been doing.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Nathan Swinn. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 

In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention


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