Wednesday, 11 July 2007
By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA (ANS)
Eugene Starks Roberts was born December 14, 1945 to Lyle and Margaret Roberts. Eugene was born an identical twin of two boys; his twin is named James. Gene was educated in the Baltimore City School System.
He graduated from Forest Park High School where he excelled in cross country track and wrestling. After high school, Gene entered the Marine Corps. He went through his basic training and was soon sent to Viet Nam. He was in Viet Nam for about a month when he was hit by a land mine and had to have his legs amputated. One leg was amputated above the knee and one below the knee. Gene was an excellent patient and before too long was walking on artificial legs after extensive physical therapy.
In 1967 Gene met his wife, Marian Alicia, and they were married December 15, 1967. They have three girls, Cherie, Lawana, Bonita, and one son, Eugene Jr. They now have 10 grandchildren.
Gene continued his love of sports, that was nourished in high school, by swimming and running. He ran the Boston Marathon on his hands one year and in his wheelchair another year.
As a kid, 14 or 15, the neighborhood boys would play in Baltimore City’s Druid Hill Park. We would sometimes race around the reservoir.
Roberts recalled: "The summer before I went to high school, I spent the summer in DC with my sister and worked in a barber shop cleaning up and shining shoes. On my way to work one day, I saw a body building magazine in a store window. I said to myself that I would like my body to look like that. When I got paid, I bought a set of weights, a bench, and a sit-up board. My sister and her husband allowed me to set up my gym in one of their empty rooms. When I returned home to Baltimore, I built a gym in my basement."
School began in the fall and he attended Forest Park High. "One day my gym teacher instructed us to run around the gym. After observing me run, he recommended that I attend the track and cross country practice. I did and joined the Junior Varsity track team. That winter I also joined the wrestling team. I wrestled in the 138-pound class and successfully out wrestled everyone on the team," said Roberts.
In the junior year of high school, 1964, Roberts won the two-mile track championship for Baltimore City Public Schools. A couple of times that year it was announced over the school PA system when he won a big race. The Sun newspaper featured Roberts in an article, which included a picture of him.
Roberts continued: "I ran all summer, lifted weights, and played basketball at Cloverdale near Druid Hill Park. I recall my mother telling me not to over do it during this period. I certainly didn’t listen, because I simply loved to workout and run. In September, during the cross country season, there was a cross country state championship called the Spike Shoe Meet. I wanted to win that race more than anything; I led all the way right to the tape when three county boys ran passed me.
Shortly after the championship run, Roberts was involved in a fight with some boys in Druid Hill Park. "I sprained my ankle very badly and was forced to use a cane. As a result, I was unable to finish the cross country season. During the wrestling season I was undefeated. I went to a talent show at my twin brother Jim’s school, Carver High. After the show, my brother, his girlfriend and I stood outside talking. Another teenage boy said something to my brother’s girlfriend, I responded, and he pulled out a gun and shot my brother and me. In the hospital they got us mixed up and were going to operate on him, but I was the one who required the operation. They realized the error and I had my appendix removed. I missed the wrestling championship and was unable to run track that season. I trained for two weeks and ran the championship. Surprisingly, I came in 3rd place in the mile with a time of 4:32 and 2nd in the two-mile run with a time of 10:04. That year Wake Forest sent me a letter inviting me to run for their school."
Roberts said that when he graduated from high school he had to make a decision about his future. "I knew I wasn’t the college type, so I decided to enlist in the Marines. I recalled being ten-years old and my oldest brother returned home in his green Marine’s uniform. I was so impressed and vowed to one day be a Marine. My sister’s friend told me that it was not a good idea to go in the Marines because they were fighting in Vietnam. I had never heard of the place before and decided to join despite his warning. I took the necessary test and was sent to Paris Island in the fall of 1965."
Roberts did so well in boot camp that his drill instructor chose him to be one of his Pfcs out of boot camp. "Unfortunately, I came up short on the rifle range, missing the qualifying score by only 4 points. I went Camp LeJuene, N.C., then to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, CA. and finally I was deployed to Vietnam. I carried two Bibles to Viet Nam with me. I recall the Viet Cong shooting at my platoon, suddenly hitting the ground, and the noise from a bullet passing my right ear, so close I could feel its motion; this was my very first day in Vietnam," Roberts said.
One day the Viet Cong hit one of his Companies really hard. "The next day we were sent on a search and destroy mission. We came to a gate and I warned the guys not to bother the gate because it might be booby-trapped. We walked through some trees, there were maybe four or five guys ahead of me, and there was an explosion; I was down. A helicopter arrived to transport me to the field hospital. When I awoke, I was at Clark’s Air Force Base in the Philippines, and was shocked to learn that both of my feet were gone. One of the guys from the mission apologized to me for getting me hurt and I responded, 'Don’t worry about it that is war.'"
Roberts was shipped by plane to California and then to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and on to the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. He would spend the next seven months in Philadelphia. "I went home on crutches, with my left leg still healing after two skin grafts. After about 1 ½ years on crutches, I was able to wear both prostheses without the need for crutches."
On a visit to a friend from high school, Roberts was sitting in her living room and a beautiful young lady appeared on the steps. "I said, 'Wow, who is that?!' She told me that was her cousin and I told her I wanted to meet her. After only three months of dating, we married. Before I met my wife, I was smoking and drinking alcohol. After we were married, I only drank a couple of times," Roberts said.
While Roberts was standing outside of his apartment one beautiful summer day, he thought there had to be an answer to life and death. "I said the Bible is supposed to be God’s word. I later told my wife, Alicia, I wanted to get a Bible so I could see what God had to say. One day, while at work, I was reading my Bible and a lady told me about a couple who could help me with the Bible. We started a Bible study with Tom and Olivia Harriston. They showed us, in the Bible, that we were sinners, Rom. 3:23, and sin brings death Rom 5:12. They also showed us that Christ died for out sins, Rom 5:8, and rose again the third day, Rom 10:9, so we could be saved, forgiven and have eternal life, John 3:16. Now I had the answer to life and death. Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life,' John 11:25. We received the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior and Lord on June 26, 1969."
Roberts than began training to swim the English Channel and nicknamed himself the Black Seal. "The nickname symbolized black pride, but when I accepted the Lord Jesus it was no more black or white, it was Jesus. I never called myself the black seal after that," he said.
"I was watching a basketball game on television in 1998 and a commercial came on with someone running. As the camera zoomed in, I saw that both of the legs were artificial, yet she was able to run. I said then that I would do that. On August 24, 1999, I went to Milford Mill track to run, but my wife advised me to start walking first. I started running and only God knows how I made it around that track, it took me 5 ½ minutes! I made a decision to begin running on the street when I could complete five miles on the track. I began each race with the same inspirational quote, 'Just do it in Jesus' name!'"
In October 2000, Roberts tried to run the Marine Corps Marathon, but after twelve miles, had to stop due to lower back problems. In November he tried the Philadelphia Marathon and experienced the same challenges. "My prosthesist told me I needed to do stretches. I went to the Veterans Administration Hospital in 2001 to receive some adjustments. Then, in 2001, I finished the Baltimore Marathon, 26.2 miles, in 8 hours 41 seconds. It completely drained me, spiritually, mentally and physically, but thanks to my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, I was able to finish."
Roberts has run 5ks, 10ks, and 2 half marathons and in 2004 and ran across Maryland, 300 miles running 10 miles a day. "The Maryland run was really difficult, but extremely rewarding," he said. "As I ran, the word of God was my strength. When I went up those Western Maryland Mountains, I said, 'The power of Christ will get me over this mountain.' Running on prosthetic legs has been most difficult, but a most rewarding experience. Every time I run, it is to be a witness (Acts 1:8) for the one who is the answer to life and death, the Lord Jesus Christ. Even when I am not running physically, the race always continues spiritually," he states.
Now he is "running across America For Jesus."
He adds: "Running on prosthetic legs has been most difficult but a rewarding experience. As I run, the Word of God is my strength. Every time I run, it is to be a witness (Acts 1:8) for the one who is the answer to life and death, the Lord Jesus Christ. Even when I am not running physically, the race always continues spiritually. The God of energy, time and space has saved me by his wonderful grace and put me in this Holy race and one day I will see Jesus' face!" (1 John 3:2) Roberts has been training by running practically every day. He has maintained his physical fitness through exercise and eating a proper diet and has received clearance from his doctors for this run. He has also had his prosthesis changed, upgraded, tested and fine-tuned. He says: "The technological advances have been fantastic."Most of all, Roberts has prepared spiritually for this run by keeping it totally focused on Jesus. He prays and reads the bible constantly and has found many scriptures in the Bible that mention or refer to a race. One of the obstacles he faced initially was with his prosthesis. The ones he had were causing the skin to break down on his stumps and the feet of the previous prosthesis would turn/shift from being straight thus inhibiting his ability to run and causing him to fall. However, the Lord led him to a different company that was able to construct the prosthesis he is using today. Further, all of the changes to his prostheses were done shortly before he left to begin the run. While the problems may have discouraged a non-faithful person, Roberts pushed ahead knowing that the Lord will provide, if it is His will.The route Roberts is taking is outlined on the website www.raafj.com so that people can check the calendar on the website to tract his daily progress. Gene's wife, Alicia has taken a sabbatical from her job as a teacher so she can follow him as he runs.
Roberts expects to run from 10 to 20 miles a day, half in the morning and half in the evening. He will break up the day based upon the weather and terrain. Right now he is in the desert. He will run through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, DC, and Maryland. The total run is estimated to be about 3,500 miles.Roberts has three goals for Running Across America for Jesus. The goals are to share and exemplify the love and power of Jesus throughout the country by Running Across America; to inspire others, especially veterans with amputated limbs, to not be hindered by their physical disabilities; to demonstrate the importance of being and keeping spiritually, mentally, and physically fit; and, to raise awareness and money for the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the underserved in the United States. Roberts was asked how can Christians across America pray for him and how can they get involved?
"Christians and any other persons can pray for Gene's safety and health as he Runs Across America for Jesus. Special notes will be made on the calendar on the web site regarding special prayer requests during the run. People can get involved by telling others about the run and Gene's availability for interviews and speaking engagements during his run," said a spokesperson.
Additionally, you can look at the website to keep up-to-date on his progress and sign the guest book with words of encouragement. Lastly, if you want to contribute to the societal ills that Gene so deeply cares about, they can send a donation to the nonprofit Running Across America for Jesus, PO Box 206, 1498 Reisterstown, MD 21208. The use of all funds donated will be posted on the web site and all donations are tax deductible.Having recently completed a run across Maryland, the Baltimore Marathon, and other runs, Roberts is now running across America – for Jesus!
After a kickoff Sunday church service on July 1, 2007 at Camp Pendleton, located in San Diego, California, the run began from Camp Pendleton Marine Base on July 2, 2007 and proceeds along secondary state roads and highways until concluding in Baltimore, Maryland.
Roberts has the goal of running approximately 20 miles a day and anticipates finishing the run in the spring of 2008.
He has been training for this journey and has received clearance from his physicians. Also, Roberts has specially designed prosthesis that enables him to tolerate the hard and uneven surfaces he will encounter. His wife will follow him in a van throughout the entire run. She has mapped out the route of the run and will update the website as they progress across America.
Gene Roberts is available for interviews and speaking engagements. He is particularly interested in inspiring other veterans, among others.
Roberts asks: "Are you running for Jesus? If not, run to Jesus by faith and then you can run for Jesus by faith! (Heb.12:1-2)."