Patriots' Day has special meaning to amputee

Patriots' Day has special meaning to amputee

Patriots' Day has special meaning to amputee
BOSTON -- John Masson sat in the partners' box at Fenway Park on Sunday, a day before Patriots' Day. The climate-controlled suite behind him and his own words seemed to belong to a man who could not be luckier.

Masson, a triple amputee, might well not argue that.

"This is beautiful, and the oldest ballpark in baseball and there's so much history here, and to be a part of it and to be a VIP is just amazing," said Masson, a veteran of the U.S. Army special forces and an Indiana native. "It's my first time here."

The Red Sox were playing the Rays on Sunday, a day before the 116th running of the Boston Marathon. In the second inning, the Sox were staging a rally as Masson explained what brought him to Fenway on this day, what brought him to Boston to participate in one of the world's finest races.

"I have no needs or wants in the world. We're set financially," Masson said. "There's always going to be medical care for us. I am walking in certain events. I know how to walk again. And you know, it's just, it's just wonderful ..."

He stopped talking. Cody Ross, the Red Sox's new outfielder, smashed his second home run in as many plate appearances over the Green Monster.

"There we go! No worries, no worries," Masson said. "He hit the [heck] out of that ball, because I couldn't pick it up at all."

Exactly one and a half years ago Monday -- on Oct. 16, 2010 -- Masson was south of Kandahar in Afghanistan on a mission and stepped on an improvised explosive device. The damage was devastating. Today, he has "absolutely nothing" on his right side.

At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., his mobility and his life came back. On Monday, Masson hand-cycled in the Boston Marathon with the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, a group of 14 wounded servicemen and women who are bonded by the same physical challenges and the same military experiences. Justin Gaertner, a Marine corporal, lost both his legs and part of his arm from an IED a month and 10 days after Masson was hurt. He was handcycling as well.

"Achilles International was founded about 30 years ago by a guy that had a motorcycle accident and lost his leg. ... Five or six years ago, different people were talking and said, 'Why don't we do something for the veterans?'" said Maureen Dunn, who grew up in Boston and served as the Achilles Team event coordinator for the race. "They're not raising money [Monday] for anybody. They're not sponsoring anybody. They're running to mainstream back into life, to get confidence, to get esteem."

Next year, for the 117th marathon, there'll be a different group racing; tragically because more will be hurt, thankfully because those who are hurt have an opportunity to do something most folks only dream of.

"Every year it's a different group, because, unfortunately, every year it's different wounded," Dunn continued. "These kids are the most serious we've had. We've got seven doubles with us, three singles and two triples."

The numbers refer to amputations. Four of the wounded veterans in Monday's marathon ran on their prosthetics, and 10 hand-cycled.

Masson, sitting in a wheelchair at Fenway, is able to walk again, despite no femur on his right side.

"But I can," he said. "I just pick and choose what events. Because I have to sit literally like in a bucket, it's carbon fiber, and I lost most of my butt muscles and everything, so that bone is literally right on that carbon fiber, and it hurts like hell."

Masson, a Cubs fan, said Red Sox fans can feel the pain he does in the Cubbies' century-long championship drought. An understanding of the other pain in Masson's life, of course, is reserved for only his marathon and armed forces companions.

Masson was thrilled to be at Fenway, though. He was thrilled to be in the race, truly pleased with the care he has received in the last year and a half.

Said Masson, "America has just answered."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.