By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A 31-year-old Chicago man is being hailed as the hero of Sunday’s Dublin marathon when, despite crippling arthritis, he was the last person to complete the grueling 26-mile, 385-yard course, finishing on crutches in 15 hours and 20 minutes.
The dogged Steve Le Rue proved that winning isn’t everything when he crossed a specially constructed finish line in darkness and driving rain on O’Connell Street.
The marathon winner, Joshua Kipchemboi of Kenya, had taken the title for the third time in a row 13 hours earlier in 2:20, the slowest time in the event’s 18-year history. The women’s winner was Theresa Duffy of Belfast, who completed her first marathon in a respectable 2:39. More than 6,000 runners observed a moment of silence for Noel Carroll, the Irish running legend who’d died the day before, then braved strong headwinds and rain in what was the largest Dublin race field in several years.
Le Rue, who is a member of the American Arthritis Foundation, was taking part in the race with over 800 athletes from the U.S. who were raising funds for the charity Joints in Motion.
His girlfriend had encouraged him to do the marathon in Dublin because, he said, it would "loosen him up" after a lot of surgery recently.
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"At first I thought she was crazy," said Le Rue, who has had arthritis since he was 19. He has had 10 operations, including a hip replacement and one to install an artificial knee.
His shoulders and arms are sore after his efforts but he is elated he finished.
"I didn’t think I had the drive any more, but I guess I did," he said. " Now I think there is no limit to what I can do. Now I am not afraid to do anything."
Le Rue got huge encouragement at the beginning of the marathon but found the going got tougher after everyone else had finished.
Then, after 16 miles, some of those who had finished came back and began to walk with him.
"The next thing I knew was that I had 20 and then 30 people with me," he said. "Holy cow, I couldn’t believe how many people were with me. From then on it was like a breeze was taking me in. I forgot about the pain."
For the last few miles it was hard for him to find where he was going because the route markers had been removed.
"We were just following water bottles on the ground and we stopped and asked people, who said the marathon’s over," he said.
He explained he was still taking part. "They thought I was crazy at first," he said.
By the time he reached O’Connell Street it was specially blocked off for him again and hundreds of people cheered him on.
"It was amazing," Le Rue said. "They made a finishing line for me. It was really nice."
Le Rue had only ever managed to complete 13 miles during training since last June but sponsorship of his Herculean effort raised $9,000.
Overall, the U.S. athletes who traveled to Dublin for the marathon are estimated to have raised over a million dollars.