Going on a three-day walk through the desert and averaging 20 miles per day has Sean Harrington concerned about one thing: His back.
It’s almost an afterthought that his legs have been amputated at the knee.
“I’m more worried about my back than my legs,” Harrington told The Montana Standard recently during an interview at his home in Butte.
Harrington has been getting around on prosthetic legs since his legs were both surgically removed below the knee more than a decade ago. He’s also had three surgeries to his back in his life, but the 50-year-old Butte man won’t let these obstacles stop him for participating in a good cause.
He and his wife, Debi, 45, will take part in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk in Phoenix next month. The event is held to raise money in the fight against breast cancer.
The Harringtons will walk and camp the 60-mile loop in the Phoenix area Nov. 9-11. As many as 5,000 people are expected to take part in the event.
Walking 20 miles a day would be difficult for the average person, and not just someone with prosthetic legs. Still, Harrington doesn’t seem to worry about his artificial legs. He recently acquired this new pair, which is more advanced than the prior.
It comes with a titanium heel that can better withstand the constant pounding of walking. The front of the foot is articulated to bend more like a normal foot, which he says will make the 60-mile walk more bearable.
The shin part of the artificial limb was designed by Hanger Prosthetic and Orthotics in Great Falls. The metal rod goes from the foot to the knee.
Harrington has a sense of humor about his prosthetic legs, saying he’s not worried about being bit by snakes while walking in the desert.
“If the snakes come out, none of them will have teeth after that,” he said.
Harrington was born with severely clubbed feet and other deformities to his legs. This required many years of surgeries and, eventually, his legs had to be removed. The left leg was removed about 16 years ago, and surgeons removed the right one a few years later.
Harrington has had many years of practice walking on artificial legs and doesn’t fret about how his latest legs will hold up during the 3-Day Walk.
Debi Harrington certainly doesn’t feel any sympathy toward her husband about this long walk together.
“I don’t know what he’s complaining about. I’ll probably get blisters on my feet and he won’t,” she joked.
The pair has been preparing for the event by walking around Butte as much as possible — sometimes walking as far as 7 miles together. Sean Harrington said he’s lost about 20 pounds, but hopes to drop another 10 pounds by the time of the walk in Arizona.
Though he’s confident on his feet, Harrington says walking on prosthetic legs has its difficulties. Maintaining balance is much different for people with artificial legs than those with real legs.
“Balance is based on my vision,” Harrington explained.
Since he can’t feel the ground through his feet, he can’t judge the topography of the ground like those with regular legs. Harrington is unable to feel if the ground is unlevel or if there is a rock under his foot, which can throw off his balance. He uses his eyesight to judge the levelness of the ground on which he’s walking.
“This something I’ve been doing for a long time, so it’s something I do without even thinking about it,” he said.
As part of the 3-Day Walk, the couple must each raise $2,300 to go to cancer research. Sean Harrington has already raised his part by selling pasties up in Glendive, where one of his sons works. The oil boom as brought many people from the Butte area to Glendive, and the pasties have been a hit.
“There are tons of people from Butte and Southwest Montana who love pasties,” he said.
His wife only needs to raise a few hundred dollars more, but the two are sure she’ll hit the mark in time for the walk. The Harringtons are participating in the walk with a couple from Bozeman. Their team is called “Bucks 4 Boobs,” and people can make donations to that team by going online at www.the3day.org.
Sean and Debi Harrington have been married 25 years and have three children.