Dick Traum, 83, died; Marathon runners are champions of athletes with disabilities

Dick Traum, believed to be the first person to run a marathon on a prosthetic leg, completed the New York race in 1976, and went on to found the Achilles Track Club to encourage other disabled athletes in an era when they faced barriers to participation in sports, died Jan. 23 in Manhattan. He was 83 years old.

His death, in a rehabilitation facility after a heart attack, was confirmed by his wife, Elizabeth Traum.

Mr. Traum participated in the New York Marathon the first year the race expanded in all five municipalities, in the early boom of jogging in the 1970s. There were about 2,000 runners, and Mr Traum, whose right leg was amputated above the knee, was one of only two disabled runners. With a four-hour lead, he was passed at mile 18 by the eventual winner, Bill Rodgers, who yelled, “Attaboy, Dick!”

Mr. Traum went on to race more than 70 marathons, first on his artificial leg and later by spinning a hand bike, a low three-wheeled bicycle powered by his arms. In 1993, using crutches for his forearms, he jogged with President Bill Clinton in Washington.

Achilles Track Club, which he founded in 1983 and ran for 36 years, has expanded to 18 countries, providing free training advice and psychological support. Now appointed Achilles International, the organization says 150,000 people have participated in its programs. In November, nearly 500 disabled athletes and guides raced in the latest New York City Marathon, many wearing the club’s neon yellow T-shirts.

“When someone passes an able-bodied runner on one leg, it changes their perception of what disabled people can do,” said Mr. Traum told CNN in 2012. “It’s also changing the way disabled athletes perceive themselves.”

A member of the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame, Mr. Traum convinced its founder, Fred Lebow – who created the New York City Marathon – to sponsor the Achilles Track Club. They initially tried to attract participants by contacting runners in the medical profession who might have patients with disabilities. Almost no one answered.

Then Mr. Traum tried to button up people on the street. “I’d see someone with a disability and say, ‘Hey, how about joining Achilles?'” he told the New York Times in 1985. GOOD IDEA.'”

In 1984, he told the Times, all 13 Achilles members who ran the New York City Marathon finished the race. A decade later, 260 athletes with disabilities entered the competition, including blind runners and those with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, heart transplants and autism. The organization cites Mr Trauma as the first person to run a marathon on a prosthetic leg.

The program has been expanded to include Achilles Kidswhich helps children with disabilities, and Freedom Teamwhich trains wounded veterans, including some at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Trisha Meiliwho became known as the Central Park Jogger after the brutal attack in 1989, began running with Achilles during her recovery and later teamed up with Mr. Trauma in order to organize A race of hope and opportunitya five-mile run-walk in Central Park.

“We share an unfortunate relationship,” Ms. Meili said of the 2005 race participants. But “we’re pushing forward and saying, ‘Look what we can do.'”

Richard George Traum was born on November 18, 1940 in Manhattan. His father, Aaron Traum, helped run the family business, the David Traum Company, which sold zippers and other items on East 26th Street. His mother, Lilly (Korn) Traum, was employed in business before she married. Richard graduated from Horace Mann School in the Bronx in 1958.

In 1965, while standing behind his car at a gas station on the New Jersey Turnpike, Mr. Trauma was crushed by another driver. Both of his legs were broken at the upper thigh, resulting in amputation. He was doing his Ph.D. program in industrial psychology at the time at New York University’s Sloan School of Business, where he previously earned his BS and MBA degrees. He received his doctorate in 1973.

A former collegiate wrestler, Mr. Traum became sedentary and out of shape after an accident while running the human resources consulting firm he founded. When a friend died of a heart attack, Mr. Traum decided to get back in shape. He joined a fitness program at the West Side YMCA, where, like other participants, he had to run for 10 minutes. At first he was hopping, running with difficulty on his artificial leg. It was three months before he could run for 10 minutes.

“I’d ask my coach how I compared to other amputees, and he’d say, ‘About the same,'” he later recalled. “The joke was that there weren’t any other amputee runners.”

After a year, Mr. Traum ran a five-mile race in Central Park, and on October 26, 1976, he ran the city’s 26.2-mile marathon, finishing in 7 hours and 51 minutes. He was hooked.

Next to his wife, he is survived by his son, Josip; granddaughter; and a sister, Joanne Raffel. He lived in Manhattan.

At 78, Mr. Traum was the oldest New Yorker in the 2019 Boston Marathon, his 74th marathon, which he participated in using a handcycle. He switched to cycling after knee replacement surgery on his left leg in the early 2000s.

Paradoxically, Mr. Traum opposed wheelchair runners when they first tried to enter the New York City Marathon in 1977. The Road Runners Club turned away the participants on the grounds that they posed a threat to the runners. At the time, Mr. Traum called the wheelchair a “lethal instrument” that could reach speeds of 30 miles per hour rolling off the ramp of the 59th Street Bridge.

But after the wheelchair runner took his case to the New York State Supreme Court, the Road Runners reached a settlement and accepted it. Wheelchairs—both push-rim models and manual bicycles—eventually became commonplace.

After Mr. Traum retired as president of Achilles International in 2019, he became president of the United States Wheelchair Sports Foundation, where he was working at the time of his death.

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