MERRILLVILLE — Chris McClanathan ran on his new legs for the first time last Friday.
"This is fun," he said, slightly winded.
McClanathan, a 31-year-old Army veteran who is missing both legs below the knee, was outfitted with prosthetic running legs at the Merrillville office of Bionic Prosthetics & Orthotics. His goal: run a marathon.
"I'm just getting out there and trying to have fun," he said.
McClanathan, of Merrillville, was on active duty in the military from 2010 to 2013, with a stint in Afghanistan in 2011, and has served in the Indiana National Guard since then.
He didn't want to discuss the July 2016 incident that took his legs, other than to say: "I came back from Afghanistan and had PTSD. I didn't want to get treatment. I didn't think I had a problem. They throw out the stat that there are 22 veterans a day that kill themselves. I was almost one of those."
He got his first set of prosthetic legs from the VA in October 2016. But they didn't allow him to run.
"I've got a 2-1/2-year-old at home. Running with these is like running with a pegleg," he said, holding up his old prosthetics. "I really couldn't run on these. Maybe if a bear was chasing me."
Prosthetic running legs, on the other hand, mimic the position the foot is in when a person runs, on its ball (regular prosthetics are flat).
"It's like a night-and-day difference," he said of his new pair. "Stepping on these is like standing on a trampoline."
McClanathan never really liked to run, though he had to in the military. For him, it's more about the challenge.
"I want to do it to prove to myself that I can," he said.
He was inspired by Rob Jones, a Marine Corps veteran and double amputee who recently ran 31 marathons in 31 days. McClanathan also wants to get in shape for his son, who hopes to play hockey with his dad one day.
McClanathan also does adaptive rock climbing at a gym in Chicago with a group of fellow people with disabilities. In the past year, he has skied in Aspen, hiked an Illinois state park and played sled hockey.
"I'm more active than I was before," he said. "I just get invited to places. At this point, it's like what do I have to lose?"
"He does more than many people with two good legs do," said Sagar Shetty, a prosthetist and orthotist at Bionic. "We are very excited for him. He's a young guy and has a lot ahead of him."
McClanathan gets treated at Bionic through the Veterans Choice program, which allows veterans who can't easily access the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to seek care from local, private health care providers. Otherwise, McClanathan would have had to go to Chicago every time he needed a fitting for his prosthetics.
McClanathan's running legs were the first Bionic has distributed. Private insurance generally doesn't cover them (McClanathan's were paid for by the VA).
Jack Borgan, a patient advocate at Bionic, said: "It's exciting to work with someone who's young and motivated and can take full advantage of the technologies that are out there now."
"I want to show veterans and other disabled folks that you don't have to sit at home and get fat," McClanathan said. "Don't let it hold you back. Get out there and figure it out."