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Off and running again: Donated running blades help Henning amputee get back to a sport he loves

After losing both his legs and his left hand in an ATV accident three years ago, Andy Eckhoff is continuing to get back to doing all the things he's always loved to do. Most recently, thanks to a donation of specialized running blades, the 34-year-old is off and running again, without the weight of heavy prosthetics.

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Andy Eckhoff smiles as he talks about his new running blades, which help him run with the most ease he's experienced since 2019. (Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus)

After losing both his legs and his left hand in an ATV accident three years ago, Henning man Andy Eckhoff is continuing to get back to doing all the things he's always loved to do. Most recently, thanks to a donation of specialized running blades, the 34-year-old is off and running again, without the weight of heavy prosthetics.

Eckhoff was driving his ATV in May 2019 when it flipped and landed on him, trapping him for several hours. He was eventually rescued and, after several months of medical procedures, community prayers and support and a lot of hard work on his part, he recovered and began adapting to his new normal.

Always a sporty person, Eckhoff enjoys not only running but also everything from hunting and fishing to golf and football. During his recovery process, he needed to relearn almost everything physical, even the basics like sitting up and walking.

"I thought, 'Andy, you need to get in shape; you need to get strong again because you can't do things efficiently anymore,'" Eckhoff said. "When you're an amputee, your energy consumption rate is so much higher than the average person. (Able-bodied people) wouldn't even think about getting up and walking, but for me, it's a lot harder just to get up. Each step has to be cautious and a lot more slow."

So, as Eckhoff said, he "got his butt in gear" and went to the gym. He started walking on a treadmill and lifting weights. At first, he couldn't walk more than 20 to 30 steps at a time, but with help from his occupational therapist and physical therapist, he gradually improved.

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"I had to relearn everything that's natural," Eckhoff said. "You get to be an adult, and you get set on how you do things. You find a lifestyle that works for you, and then something like this happens; and it's like I'm a kid again, fumbling around with stuff."

He was eventually able to run again with the help of multi-purpose prosthetic feet — he even ran a 5K — but the prosthetics were incredibly heavy and took a lot of energy to use.

"It was like pulling a plow," Eckhoff recalled. "When you don't have feet and ankles and lower calf muscles to propel you, you need a prosthetic to propel you. The more of that (propulsion) you can get, the more efficient you are and the longer distances you can run."

He desperately wanted some running blades, lighter and athletic prosthetic legs that are specifically designed to mimic a "running on toes" form, which he knew would help him get the needed propulsion for running. But prosthetics are expensive, and insurance would only cover what is necessary for basic living.

"Well, me, running? Is that a necessity?" he said. "To me, it is."

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Andy Eckhoff's new running blade sits on display. (Submitted / Andy Eckhoff)

Recently, Eckhoff's prosthetics doctor at Hanger Clinic in Brainerd contacted Wiggle Your Toes , an organization that helps people who've lost limbs get back to the lives they want. Running is part of the life Eckhoff wants, so his doctor wrote a note to Wiggle Your Toes explaining that. After speaking with the doctor, the organization was convinced. They provided Eckhoff with the blades. Hanger Clinic then donated the sockets needed to attach those blades.

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So, Eckhoff put on the sockets and blades, and off he ran — literally.

"It was phenomenal," Eckhoff laughed, remembering what it was like to run with ease again. "You felt light again. And that's so much to running — having a bounce, being able to keep your stride and your breathing under control…"

While, due to the icy roads and sidewalks, Eckhoff won't be able to test his running blades outside for a while, he'll likely test them out soon on the indoor track in Perham. He spends in days in Perham, working at United Community Bank.

He stressed how grateful he is to everyone, from Wiggle Your Toes to Hanger Clinic to the communities of Frazee, Dent, Ottertail, Henning and Perham.

"Going through something like this makes you realize how important the community around you is," he said. "The support and the prayers and the kind words and the encouragements and so many people going out of their way just to help me — it's amazing."

People Eckhoff didn't even know reached out to him, showed up at his benefit and helped him when he was going through his medical procedures. He finds that absolutely incredible to this day.

"They did it just out of the kindness of their hearts," he said. "For people to do that and to expect nothing in return — it's humbling and overwhelming. It makes you realize why you live where you do. It's irreplaceable."

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