By summer 2020, six months after his surgery, Yerman began experimenting with a specialized prosthetic running blade. Every other day, he tried running around his local track, one lap, and then another and another.
Teaching himself how to run again was “easily one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do,” he says. “It feels like running on your tiptoes. You have to figure out how much weight to put on your leg, how long to stay on it, how to push off.”
By that September, Yerman could do a mile around the track. On his birthday, September 28, he ran three in a row. “I was just in tears,” Yerman says. “That’s when I started to think, maybe there’s other stuff I could do.”
Since then, Yerman has competed in three sprint-distance triathlons, each involving a half-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride, and 3.2-mile run. Yerman has a coach who helps him during race transitions, swapping out his racing prostheses, which include a walking leg fitted with a bike shoe, and his running blade. (He doesn’t need a prosthesis for the swim portion.)
Yerman no longer spends his days clenching his teeth through pain. But his athletic pursuits have tested his grit in new and dramatic ways.
During his second triathlon last summer, in Atlantic City, his running blade snapped, sending him crashing to the ground. With his arms slung around the shoulders of his coach and a fellow competitor, he hopped on one leg through the rest of the race, three-quarters of a mile. “There was no way,” he says, “that I wasn’t getting to that finish line.”
Hearing Yerman recount the story during a follow-up appointment, Dr. Greisberg had to marvel.
“He’s just an exceptional individual,” Dr. Greisberg says. “He’s taken the second chance he’s been given and really taken advantage of it. I am proud to know Gary, and I am so thrilled that I could play some part in his success.”
A second chance he might not have had, Yerman says, if not for the care he received from his surgical team at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Without my surgeon, without the perfect surgery that he performed, I wouldn’t have gotten this chance,” he says. “The doctors, the nurses, the prosthetists, they gave me an opportunity to see how far I could go.”
“I’m not religious, but it’s like being born again,” Yerman says. “You have an opportunity to do things that you never even dreamed about.”
Especially with his kids. Being an example to them, Yerman says, “is all I care about.”
“Whenever I’m finishing a race, I think about my children,” Yerman says. “Hopefully, they’re watching me. I want them to know there’s no quit in us.”