Jupiter double amputee veteran now an Invictus Games and Warrior Games competitor
The Palm Beach Post | November 9, 2021 | Link to Article
As his prosthetic limbs pounded into the asphalt, absorbing his power, Stefan LeRoy heard the muffled cheers from the Boston crowd waiting at the finish line.Sweat poured down his face. His breath came in gasps. Pain shot up from the metal appendages.It was 2019 – his fourth time running the world’s oldest annual marathon – and in his head, he went over the same mantra that got him through 2016, 2017, and 2018.
“Just run until you’re done,” said LeRoy, of Jupiter. “Don’t count the miles. It’s a big mental game to finish a marathon.” Like running Boston’s biggest race, much of LeRoy’s life is a matter of putting one limb in front of the other. Something at the forefront of his mind every Veteran’s Day.Army Sgt. Stefan LeRoy had been deployed in Afghanistan in 2012 and was carrying a stretcher that held a friend when he stepped on an explosive device. He lost both his legs instantly, was medivacked from the scene and eventually moved to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, for surgeries and rehabilitation.His recovery at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center lasted nearly three years, during which doctors stabilized both legs and performed a series of additional procedures.A collapsed lung, traumatic brain injury, broken left arm, and broken bones in his face also needed to heal.Through it all, there was the Semper Fi & America’s Fund (the Fund for short), started in 2003 by a military spouse, which provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to combat-wounded, critically ill, and service members and military families.As his recovery progressed, LeRoy found that athletics was where he wanted to direct his energies. He returned to his normal level of activity through adaptive training on equipment provided by the Fund.”Semper Fi jumped in as soon as I was injured,” LeRoy said. “They asked how they could help to get me back physically to where I wanted to be.”As soon as LeRoy was well enough, the Fund got him into hand cycling. After years of being stuck in a hospital, LeRoy was thrilled to be physically active and “go fast again.”
LeRoy, now 30, is an avid cyclist, runner, swimmer, and skier. He’s competed in both the Invictus Games and the Warrior Games, and he and his wife, Katie, have run two Boston Marathons together. Their 2-year-old daughter, Finnleigh, accompanies them wearing her life vest when Stefan goes wake surfing – his newest love.”People didn’t have to support us and do the things they’ve done for us, but many people have shown up and that means a lot to us,” Katie LeRoy said.
Stefan LeRoy grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif. He attended college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and enrolled in their ROTC program. In 2010, he left school to enlist in the Army.In 2012, when he was deployed to Afghanistan, he thought there would be two outcomes for his future: either he would return home, or would not come back home. He never thought he would come home without his legs.”I had no plan for what happened,” he said. “When you have a disability, if you don’t have people to help you, it’s a huge burden.”LeRoy said the Semper Fi & America’s Fund helped bridge many of the gaps, both in his recovery and his athletic pursuits. He spent two years learning to adapt to his prosthetics, drawing strength from his friends and from other amputees at the hospital.”The Fund’s been there all along the way,” he said. “If there’s a need, they fill it.”The Fund not only helped with his training, but also provided strength and skill coaches. Sixteen months after his last surgery in September 2014, LeRoy ran the Boston Marathon.
More recently, The Fund worked with the Gary Sinise Foundation to help build the LeRoys a specially adapted smart home in Jupiter. Katie recounts how exciting it was when the layout of the new bathroom allowed Stefan to bathe Finnleigh for the first time. Finnleigh likes to tell her dad to “hop down” from his wheelchair so that he can scoot around the floor with her. In the water, she asks dad to “do the turtle” so she can lie on his belly. But Finnleigh’s favorite thing is to ride on Stefan’s lap in his wheelchair.” Finnleigh was born after I had no legs, so she’s used to me without my legs,” Stefan said. “It’s great to be a dad and watch her explore the world.”
The family of three enjoys being in the boat for the wake surfing trips. Just this past summer, LeRoy won the adaptive sitting National Wake Surfing competition. He was also a Wake Surfing Master’s champion.Outside of sports, he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies through remote learning at University of Central Florida.He hasn’t run a Boston Marathon since 2019 because of a skin issue, but he underwent surgery Nov. 2 to address that and reach the finish line once again.