Tough Mudder Legend Darth Vader is Ready for a Rebirth
Legend and 50x Legionnaire, Darth Vader, will be featured on The CW three-night special, My Last Days, Wednesday, August 17 thru Friday, August 19 (9-10 p.m. ET/PT). Tune in to support and to get a serious dose of #Muddervation. To support Darth's quest for a new leg, visit his Crowdrise page HERE.
Looking to undergo a lower leg amputation to stop the acute and chronic pain he experiences in his ankle area, Vader sees the procedure as a way to start fresh in life and athletics. Post-surgery he hopes to run faster using a prosthetic leg than he does now with a severely injured leg.
“I’ve tried everything to heal the ankle, including lumbar nerve blocks, cortisone shots, TENS units, physical therapy, topical treatments, pain medication, and eight surgeries, “ says Vader. “I’ve exhausted all possibilities so instead of trying to band-aid certain areas, I’m in the process of getting an amputation.”
A former Marine who served in Artillery in 1991-1994, Vader has completed 52 Tough Mudders, four marathons, and 37 half-marathons, including 20 half-marathons in 2016, and competed in the 2014 World’s Toughest Mudder. He’s accomplished these athletic feats with what’s essentially a non-working ankle and calf that stemmed from an injury he sustained playing recreational baseball in 1995. The diagnosis was a multiple fracture of the tibia and dislocation of the ankle.
“One of the surgeries I had was an Achilles tendon lengthening process and this developed a lot of scar tissue from the incisions which made the Achilles tendon dormant and essentially ‘frozen,’ with bone between the talus and the tibia,” says Vader. “I can’t move my ankle much because there is no cartilage between my talus and tibia. Every time I’ve gotten ankle surgery, it was to shave down and cut down my tibia and talus bones to give myself more flexibility and range of motion.”
A joint replacement would result in a “rupturing of the Achilles tendon” and there is major atrophy in the calf and surrounding area, adds Vader. After 21 years of chronic pain, amputation is the last resort for the New York gym owner.
“The amputation will be below the knee, so mid-shin, and I’m hoping to get the first available surgery this summer,” Vader says. “It’s a 30-minute procedure and it’ll take 4-5 months to learn to walk again.”
Vader plans on using two different prosthetics: one for everyday life and the other for athletic events and he’s been looking into the Ottobock brand. Battling a broken ankle was a no-brainer for Darth, and he’s fought cancer with the sample calculated approach. Vader was diagnosed with leukemia in 2002 after blood tests from a kidney stone surgery yielded unexpected results.
“I had post operation bloodwork as a follow up for the kidney stone surgery and they told me there were irregular blood counts and wanted to do further blood testing,” says Vader. “They came back and told me I was diagnosed with leukemia. I got the diagnosis and immediately wanted to find a way to fix it and take care of it. I wasn’t scared or feeling sorry for myself.”
“The support is overwhelming and it shows how much people still care and that they’re willing to support others who have debilitating diseases or physical disability,”
THE Darth Vader is as as strong mentally as he is physically. He played football, wrestling, and lacrosse in high school, joined the Marines, then played semi-pro football after his service. Owner of Allegiant Fitness in Canandaigua, NY, Vader lifts weights every day and runs twice a week, not including events. The hybrid athlete reps out 365 pounds on the bench press, deadlifts 550 pounds and squats 600 pounds.
“My training is aggressive and I do functional cross training using compound barbell movements, bodyweight exercises, slam balls, kettlebells and more,” says Vader. “I like to pride myself on my strength and I have no problem getting over the Berlin Walls and Skidmarked on my own.”
Darth Vader’s willingness to inspire and help others translates onto the course where he assists fellow Mudders. Vader’s endurance event attire includes a gas mask, 60-90 pounds of chains, and an American flag making it hard to miss the 285-pound character. Vader purchases his gas masks online and dons the one he feels like wearing come race day. The Tough Mudder community has been supporting Vader since his first Mudder in 2012.
Watch Darth cross his 50th Tough Mudder finish line in Chicago last month:
“When I first started doing Tough Mudders, I hadn’t done obstacle courses since the Marine Corps so it was a challenge,” says Vader. “As I increased the number of events I did (the first year I did three Tough Mudders, the next year I did seven and last year I did 18), my perspective has changed about Tough Mudder. There is no sense of urgency in Tough Mudder and the more events I put in the more I felt comfortable on the course and knowledgeable about the obstacles. You start seeing the same people at every event and starting building friendships.”
Vader says that the prosthetic leg will enable him to run faster and for longer distances than he does now. He’s received moral encouragement from his 20-year-old daughter, friends and the Tough Mudder community ahead of the life-changing procedure.
“The support is overwhelming and it shows how much people still care and that they’re willing to support others who have debilitating diseases or physical disability,” says Vader. “I’m doing this for my mental and physical well-being and it’s important to give myself a rebirth and put a smile on my face while running.”
The story of Darth Vader is only just beginning as he enters the world of amputee athletics. The Mudder legend looks to continue spreading positive vibes on a course near you soon.
“I’m anxious in a good way to get this procedure so I can hurry up and get back on the course.”
Weight: 285 pounds
Residence: Canandaigua, NY
Number of Tough Mudders Completed: 52
First Tough Mudder Completed: 2012
Favorite Tough Mudder Obstacle: King of Swingers