Champion Trail Runner Dave Mackey Decides to Amputate Injured Left Leg

Dave Mackey, en route to a 15th-place finish at The North Face 50 in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Dave Mackey

Champion trail runner Dave Mackey posted some dramatic news today on his Facebook page about his long recovery from his well-documented trail running accident in May 2015. After more than 16 months of surgeries, physical therapy and continued complications, the 46-year-old trail runner announced that he’s decided to have his lower left leg amputated below the knee.

During what was expected to be a routine trail run in the mountains that frame the western edge of Boulder, Colo., Mackey fell off a rock and tumbled more than 20 feet, badly breaking his left leg in the process. After seven surgeries during a three-week hospital stay, Mackey returned home with his injured leg intact, albeit with an external bracing system and crutches to help him get around. Although he recovered enough to walk with a significant limp over the next year, he still had mobility issues, internal infections and constant pain.

Several more surgeries—including his most recent procedure about three months ago—helped him walk without a cane. But continued complications with the repaired leg put him in the tough place of opting for more surgeries or permanently amputating his lower left leg. He talked through the scenarios with numerous doctors, as well as family and friends, and decided that he will have the amputation surgery on Nov. 1.

RELATED: Mackey Enduring Long Road to Recovery

Mackey, a Hoka-sponsored runner who works as a physician assistant, has won U.S. trail running championships for 50K, 50 miles and 100K distance and won the Montrail Cup trail running series in 2004 and 2011. He’s a two-time U.S. ultrarunner of the year with a long list of trail running and adventure racing victories, plus a handful of records and fastest known times to his credit. In 2007, he became the first trail runner to run under 7 hours for the famous rim-to-rim-to-rim trail run across the Grand Canyon and back when he ran the 42-mile route in 6:59:56 in 2011.

Although he’s has been able to ride a bike for more than a year, he hasn’t been able to run, let alone walk without a significant limp. He said on Monday that he’s most interested in regaining his health and being pain-free, and believes once he has a prosthetic, he’ll be able to resume life as it was before his accident. If all goes as planned, he will be able to run, ski and walk his kids to school without pain.

“I’m happy, or maybe relieved, to know there will be some finality to it,” Mackey told Competitor.com on Tuesday. “I’ve talked to a lot of people and I think this is the best next step for me.”

Here is Mackey’s post in it’s entirety:

“It’s been a long 16 months since I fell off Bear Peak above my house, sustaining an open tibial/fibula fracture to my left leg. The long rescue followed, 13 surgeries, including skin, muscle and bone grafting, washouts of the open-fracture contaminated surgical sites, being in an external-fixator (think “iron lung”, only on the outside of the leg) for three months, and bone infection (which still resides). I have achieved a degree of success in mobility and some improvement. I went from not walking at all, to walking with a cane until this past July, to walking cane-free now. Running has not been an option in the least just yet. Riding a mountain bike most every day now is almost real freedom. But there is still pain whenever I walk and throbbing at night, and now intramedullary nail (a rod) is wobbling and the bone grafting at the middle if the fracture sight is not dense.

“So I am at a crossroads. Do I continue with more surgeries with very high likelihood of failure? More time in a hellish external fixator? And even then there would always be pain. 

“But there is another solution, the definite, non-reversible one, to be 100 percent to where I was before the accident and almost completely pain-free. There is a way to get here and I’ve decided to go this route. This would mean the freedom, if I choose it, to walk the kids to school without a thought, ski, run in 6-8 weeks, compete in races again, even take down Mike Wardian’s treadmill world record (okay, this will NOT happen). So the big news is that next week I will have my left leg amputated below the left knee here in Boulder.

“I’ve spoken extensively with orthopedic surgeons and other healthcare professionals and co-workers about my options. And there are other surgical options than amputation, but the chances of success are slim, and it feels time to move on. Being below the knee, this is a ‘good’ amputation to have. The technology of prosthetics is incredible these days, and improving, so I will be out in the mountains as before with my family and friends, to completing or competing in events again, having the ability to run any distance.

“There will likely be some sort of party on October 31 (how appropriate!) in Boulder… so come and join if you are around! TBA. Thank you to all those who have supported me through this process, there are 100’s of folks to recognize, and to Hoka One One for sticking by me.”

The trail running community responded to his post with immediate support. Here is just a brief sampling of the comments tied to Mackey’s Facebook post:

“Oh, gosh. I can hardly imagine what Dave Mackey has gone through the past year-plus,” said Joe Uhan, a trail runner from Eugene, Ore.. “He’s a tremendous role model for me—as a runner, medical professional, and man. It pains me through-and-through to think about what he’s gone through—and what he’s about to commit to. Best wishes to him. Let’s all go out and have a hell of a run (albeit a safe one) for Dave today!!”

“Courage. Heartbreak. Resilience and grit. Enlightenment. How does one begin to describe Dave Mackey’s odyssey? I’m in awe of him as a person and athlete, and wish him all the best,” said Sarah Lavender Smith, a trail runner from Piedmont, Calif. “I will run with more gratitude for health and for my two strong legs than ever before. Going on a run right now for Dave.”

“It’s hard not to draw inspiration from Dave,” said Ethan Veneklasen, a trail runner and sports marketing agent from Castro Valley, Calif. “He’s a tough guy, a tenacious competitor, and a super decent human being. While I am sorry that his injuries have left him no better alternative, I am excited about the prospect of seeing him back out at races one day … I’m pretty sure that even with a prosthesis he will kick my ass.”

“Dave is one of the kindest, most humble individuals I have been fortunate to know,” said Victor Ballesteros, a trail runner from San Rafael, Calif. “I’ve watched his running accomplishments in awe and inspiration. After his accident in Boulder his spirit to move forward continues to move me in the same manner. I’m thinking of you Dave, and sending good energy, along with so many others.”

Mackey has earned a reputation as being an incredibly fierce competitor in trail running, adventure racing and rock climbing, but also an athlete who is unspeakably modest and kind-hearted.

“This might mean he can compete in sports again at some point, but it’s as much about him being able to walk his kids to school and be pain free as anything else,” said Bob Africa, a longtime friend and training partner. “It’s been a long road for him, but this will be a great next step for Dave and we’re all here to support him. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will continue to do great things after this.”

 

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