Friday, August 14, 2015

Book review: Marathon Journey, An Achilles Story


Disclaimer: I was approached by Stephen Balsamo, the author of Marathon Journey, An Achilles Story, to read and consider his book for our book club. This one sounded inspiring, and I agreed to add it to the club. I was given a copy of the book to read and review. All the opinions and thoughts expressed below are mine.


The Walking of the Many Painting by David Kumcieng, aged 15, Sudanese, Kakuma refugee camp.

"We wanted to run, but we had to walk because we were tired and so hot and hungry. In my picture the people are wearing clothes, but of course we didn't have any clothes. We saw people dying, it was always the young ones, the hungry ones, and the old ones." 

Credit: One Day We Had to Run!: Refugee Children tell Their Stories in Words and Paintings (pbs.org)

In the early 1990s, government troops and rebels of the Southern Sudan attacked villagers, leaving many orphans in their wake. Nicknamed "the Lost Boys of Sudan", many of these boys were placed with families in the US. The main character of Balsamo's book, Adamu, was one of those boys. He was placed with a couple in Oregon. Eventually, Adamu and William find a mutual love for running. Together they decide to run the New York City Marathon. William approaches his former college cross country coach to prepare the two of them for this task.

Dick Traum
source: newsroom.blogs.cnn.com
Balsamo weaves the Achilles running club into the story, when the 2 fictional characters meet Dick Traum, the founder of Achilles International, at the marathon expo. Traum, himself an amputee, was the first amputee to run the New York City marathon in 1976. Achilles International is an international organization that helps disabled runners achieve their goals. The coach in the story also talks about the myth of Achilles and how the term Achilles heel has come to be known as an "indication of vulnerability". He also sums up the purpose of the organization:
"The Achilles team reminds me of an ancient Chinese saying I learned a long time ago, Perseverance in weakness will lead to strength."
Adamu adopts this saying as his mantra for the marathon.

He also adopts a mantra from the Frank Sinatra song, New York, New York, saying "if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere."

I won't spoil the rest of the book for you except to say that for me, the ending was somewhat improbable. With the mix of real life events in the story, I actually thought it was a true story, and was somewhat disappointed to discover at the end that it was a work of fiction. What a great story this would have been if it were true! Regardless, it is a good story full of inspiration and really helped me learn more about this wonderful organization.

The book is organized into 26 chapters (get it? mile markers!), which was clever on the author's part, but I wonder if that limited how he was able to organize the story. The book really doesn't gain momentum until the main characters head to New York City, and then it's hard to put down. Still, it was a quick, fun, and inspiring read.

I was glad to learn about Achilles International. Before I read this book, I never had heard of this organization. Last year when I ran Chicago, I ran alongside a visually impaired runner and his guide. I never really thought about disabled runners until then, except for the wheelchair athletes at the start of the race. I wonder now if that runner was a part of Achilles International. The author did a nice job incorporating the organization into the book, even having the character Adamu join the group as an ambassador and helping his brothers who were left behind in Sudan.

An Achilles athlete crossing the finish line of NYCM with the help of volunteers.
Photo courtesy of achillesinternational.org
I wonder what has happened to the Lost Boys of Sudan. According to Wikipedia, many of them are returning to Sudan to help rebuild their country and provide support to those left behind.

If you want to learn more about Achilles International and/or Dick Traum, here's some links to chase:
http://www.achillesinternational.org/
http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/rw-hero-of-running-dick-traum
http://www.minutesformemories.org/heroes-of-hope/2015/1/3/oh4pqm14xxw1kvjmt71rvgt5nfldpl
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/03/dick-traum-disabled-veterans-athletes_n_917202.html


Have you ever heard of Achilles International? Would you consider leading a disabled runner through a marathon? What's your mantra?


Be sure to link up your review below! And if you don't have a blog, feel free to post your review in the comments. If you do link up, you know the rules: link back to this post and be sure to read everyone else's posts! Sharing is caring. Thanks so much for participating!

And join us for next month's book:



You might not be an ultra runner, but there's plenty of inspiration in this one! The author has agreed to participating too, so please let me know if you have anything you want to ask her! Thanks again for playing along!


41 comments :

  1. This is really awesome! I might have to check out this book... actually I think I will gift it to my mom too- she is a long distance runner and loves to give back to the running community. Awesome!

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  2. Wow how amazing! I've never heard this story or heard of the organization. I would love to help anyone through any race that would be so rewarding. Nice post today. Have a great weekend!

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    1. Thank you! I was glad to learn about this amazing organization as well.

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  3. I have heard of Achilles International. It, along with the Challenged Athlete Foundation are responsible for changing the way we look at disabilities and sports. The book sounds inspiring too. I actually like when fiction and real events are woven together.

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  4. Duh! Totally missed that this was fiction; I sort of assumed, from the interview, that this was a non-fiction book. What a great way to highlight their story, though!

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    1. Oh, me too! Until the end, I finally realized it wasn't a true story! LOL!

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  5. This looks like a nice read and super cool that they approached you! Looking forward to seeing the next pick!

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    1. It was a nice easy read and I loved learning about Achilles!

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  6. Thanks for the book review! I'll definitely add this to my TBR list...seems perfect for being in marathon training too. I'd love to guide a runner one day but I'm very slow...hoping for a six hour finish for my first marathon in the fall. Maybe when I get some speed and experience in, I could do it. It is incredibly inspiring to see. I ran the Army 10 Miler last year and was very moved by the Wounded Warriors athletes that participated.

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    1. I think there would be someone to guide no matter what your pace!

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  7. Sounds like an amazing organization! I am always on the lookout for new running-themed books to read, so I am adding this to my list. I would love to guide a runner but I think it would require a lot of experience!

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    1. I think it would be a lot of responsibility! i'd be nervous.

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  8. I've never thought of running-themed books to add to my collection! but running does take up a huge chunk of my life so I can definitely relate. Might have to check this one out!

    Thanks for posting!

    I'm blogging over at getfitlikethat.com, check it out!

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    1. I started the book club because I read a lot of running books! This has been fun. The next book is amazing.

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  9. So I haven't read this book...but I have heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan... and I read your interview with the author. I was disappointed when he said in the interview that he hadn't talked to any of the boys. I don't know how hard it would be to contact one of them, but I feel like surely it's not that hard to find a couple and speak to them. Maybe I shouldn't give my 2 cents on a book I haven't read and on contacting people when I haven't attempted to do it.... I AM always happy to learn more about organizations that I don't know of, so I'm glad he brings light to that. And one day when I am more confident in my own running, I think helping a disabled running would be great.

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    1. I thought about that same thing...which is why I asked the question!

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  10. I haven't read this book or heard of it. I do like running themed books though.

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    1. The author approached me about reviewing his book. It sounded different from what we've read and I loved the charity awareness.

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  11. I heard about Achilles International at the WDW Marathon. Lots of AI athletes ran it. Great organization! I'll have to check out the book!

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    1. I would imagine that a Disney themed race would be popular!

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  12. Achilles International is a great organization. I'm always so proud of disabled athletes when I see them participating at events.

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    1. I never really had thought much about disabled runners before--I've seem them and I thought it was great, but I never knew about the charities that support them. Can you imagine running a marathon if you couldn't see?

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  13. Sounds like an amazing organization and an interesting read. I am always so inspired by disabled athletes. They don't let their disability hold them back, which makes them true athletes.

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    1. This really made me stop and think...my complaints are so trivial compared to theirs.

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  14. Achilles International continues to do work that matters, and whenever I read about their efforts and the press they get, I am inspired. The book sounds like a good read and I love the idea of 26 marathon mile style chapters...

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  15. This is very cool. I liked your interview with the author the other day. I had never heard of this organization!! I would love to help a disabled runner through a marathon, absolutely!

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    1. I'm thrilled with the author participation--I think the interviews really give a different perspective on the books.

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  16. I think running a marathon with a disabled runner would be an incredible experience!! That is definitely on my bucket list.
    I have never heard of Achilles International, but it sounds like a wonderful organization. Great post!!

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    1. I would be nervous--the responsibility would be overwhelming! but I can only imagine how amazing it would feel to get that person across the finish line!

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  17. So much inspiration! Aiding a disabled runner through any race would be a wonderful experience, however the responsibility would be so nerve racking! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I would be nervous! So much responsibility. If anything went wrong...

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  18. I'm finally back to reading for pleasure! Woohoo! The Daughters of Distance sounds like my kind of book.

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    1. You will love it! I'm almost finished and it's just great.

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  19. I've never thought about disabled runners either. That must have been intriguing and inspiring when when you came along side the visually impaired runner.

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    1. I had never thought about a visually impaired runner until I saw him. It did give me pause! Pretty inspiring.

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  20. Love your review of this book! This sounds like an inspirational read. I did not know much about the Lost Boys of Sudan. I will have to check this out!

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