It was a bit heavier than he expected. But that did not stop Justin Radcliff from gripping the 550-pound steel rod and thrusting it overhead to win the Johnston County, N.C. Raw Power weightlifting competition.
Neither did the fact that he had just done it with a prosthetic leg.
A family man
Before his amputation, Radcliff did the “typical dad things” with his family back in Maryland: he played competitive baseball with his 10-year-old son, Justin; trained for boxing tournaments with his 14-year-old daughter, Jenna; and won statewide powerlifting competitions with his 17-year-old daughter, Jasmine.
That, while working as a personal trainer during the day, delivering newspapers overnight and being considered as a walk-on for the National Football League’s Baltimore Ravens.
“Everybody told me I had talent,” Radcliff told O&P News. “I knew I did. If I wanted, I could have done everything.”
But then everything changed. In November 1999, Radcliff and a coworker were working a double-shift, installing data cables for a telecommunications company.
Around midnight, en route from their first job in Annapolis, Md. to the second Washington, D.C., Radcliff’s coworker lost control of the vehicle on a highway entrance ramp.
“We were coming around [Route] 95 and it had just started drizzling,” Radcliff said. “[He] down-shifted a little hard and we spun from the slow lane — across five lanes — into the fast lane.
“I can still see it, a Ford F350 hit me in my side and popped the hinges out of my door. I had a seatbelt on, but I flew halfway out of the car and smashed against the guardrail.”
While the rail did not damage Radcliff’s leg, it left his foot nearly severed in half. He was airlifted to George Washington University Hospital where he woke up 2 days later from a medically induced coma.
“That is when the amputation occurred,” he said. Radcliff’s foot had become so infected that doctors had no choice but to remove his lower leg in order to save his life.
Coming to grips
“Your whole world changes. I was an athlete. All my life, all I did was sports. To sit there and see half of my body destroyed, I did not know what to do. I thought I was done,” he said.
But he was not. Just days after the incident, Radcliff began putting the pieces back together. He continued attending the local gym, but started refusing car rides.
“I have to put that on my wife. She really pushed me,” he said. “The gym was two floors. After I got there, she would wheel me to the bottom, and I would meet her at the top.”
Radcliff also attended physical therapy sessions at the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute, as well as their amputee support group.
“We would meet up like once a week,” he said. “Just sitting around, talking. I will never forget — one day a guy came in drenched full of sweat. He was a bilateral below-the-knee amputee and he just gotten finished playing soccer with Baltimore’s professional soccer team.
“I was like ‘holy smokes, there are dudes with two legs that cannot do that.’ It truly lit a fire in me, like ‘come on, let’s do this, man.’”
Then Radcliff met Dennis Haun, BS, PO, of Metro Prosthetics, who gave him the tools he needed. “As far as I am concerned, Dennis is like the Michael Jordan of prosthetics,” he said. “I have gone to trainers who have trained world champions, but never someone who cared as much as him.”
Haun designed a VSP flex foot, reinforced with metal so Radcliff could continue weightlifting. It is the same prosthesis Radcliff uses today. Whether it is for exercise, chores or walking around the house, “it is off the chain no matter what I do,” Radcliff said.
“It was a lot of sweat and pain to get used to,” he added. “Like going to the gym for the first time and having soreness for a month. But you just have to go a month and one day and that is when it gets better.”
Radcliff said Haun helped him achieve that.
“Dennis is the reason why I can do everyday activities with my wife and kids and even aspire to do more. When other people would tell me something was not possible, he was like, ‘man if it is not possible right now, we are going to make it possible.’ And everything that he ever said held true.”
Back to basics
Now, with his customized prosthetic leg, Radcliff has focused on fitness again. He recently had the opportunity to fly to Ohio to meet and train with his hero, powerlifting legend Louie Simmons. The experience not only inspired him to keep training, he said, but to pursue power Olympics full time.
“That is truly my focus right now, just to continue to try to be a better person and do positive things like that,” he said. While the accident has changed Radcliff physically, his mentality has stayed the same.
“Just do not stop, man. Always have a goal mind, even when people tell you it is not possible,” he said. “The fear is going to be there, but just keep pushing, just do not stop.”
And Radcliff has not stopped. He still trains his youngest daughter in boxing, weightlifts with his oldest daughter, coaches his son’s baseball team and works day and night. He wants to become a certified strength coach, deadlift 700 pounds in the upcoming Raw Power weightlifting competition and compete in the Arnold Classic, an annual bodybuilding competition hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Although he lost his leg, he has not lost a step. – by Shawn M. Carter
- Metro Prosthetics Inc. Available at www.metroprosthetics.com. Accessed Aug. 3, 2015.
Disclosures: Radcliff reports no relevant financial disclosures.