Military Feature: Running on faith

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Running a stretch of road between St. Vrain and Cannon Air Force Base on Friday, Gene Roberts of Baltimore is on a cross-country quest. The former Marine said he wants to share his love for Jesus with others.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

An explosion in Vietnam robbed a young Marine of his legs, but not his faith and perseverance.

Gene Roberts is on a mission to show how God helps people overcome challenges.

The Maryland native is running across the United States on prosthetic limbs designed for athletics.

“It is challenging, but once you get used to it, it’s just like anything else,” said Roberts, who runs up to 20 miles a day as he works his way back to the East coast.

Donations go to a homeless shelter for men in Baltimore, but Roberts said it is a personal and spiritual journey he is on.

“Everybody has challenges. Life is a challenge,” said Roberts, who is using Clovis as a base while he works his way through eastern New Mexico. “If you have a perfectly good body, you still have challenges. I’m blessed.”

He set out from Camp Pendleton, Calif., in June, on his way to Paris Island, S.C., which he hopes to reach next June. Roberts did his basic training at Paris Island and was sent to Vietnam from Camp Pendleton.

His journey has been complicated by issues with his artificial limbs, which limited his running to five miles some days.

“I haven’t taken off one day because I was tired. I know there are going to be other challenges along the way, but whatever it is, I’m ready,” he said.

An avid runner in high school, the 61-year-old began using his prosthetics for running eight years ago.

Alicia Roberts, his wife of almost 40 years, took a sabbatical from her teaching job in Baltimore so she could accompany her husband on his latest quest. She accompanies him on the route in a vehicle.

“We know that there is a reason for everything that happened to us and there was a reason for Gene losing his legs. There’s not bitterness there because he could have been dead,” she said. “We thank God that he’s alive.”

They met after he returned from the war and she said her husband has been a constant source of inspiration to her.

“If he can do it, then I can get up and do it,” she said, laughing when she admitted her husband is more active than she.

Whether swimming the English Channel, which her husband has attempted three times, or running marathons and now a cross-country journey, Alicia Roberts said she has been there cheering him on.

“Whatever he wanted to do, I was behind him. I was going to support him,” she said.

“I’m his support team — a support team of one. And of course, we have Christ with us.”

Gene Roberts will speak at 11 a.m. Sunday during Protestant services at the Cannon Air Force Base Chapel.