The 46th annual San Francisco Marathon is coming up on July 23, 2023, and there’s one racer you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for. Above-knee amputee Alex Parra is about to take on an inconceivable challenge: running the SF Marathon on crutches with only a month of training.
22-year-old Alex Parra is a disability advocate and motivational speaker from Roseville, CA whom you may know from Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. After losing his leg to cancer in 2016, Parra grew a sizable social media following through his engaging videos documenting different types of prosthetics, crossing items off his “Cancer Bucket List,” and simply spreading positivity through the powerful thrill of living life.
Parra’s latest endeavor to run the SF Marathon on crutches is a reaction to the outrageous cost of running blades, a special type of prosthetic that allows leg amputees to run more comfortably and ergonomically, but is not covered by insurance companies.
“I wanted to do this marathon to bring awareness to how expensive prosthetics are,” Parra told us, “and I wanted to see if I could push myself mentally to finish 26 miles with essentially the bare minimum of training.”
“Insurance companies only cover the needs in your life, not your wants,” says Parra in a recent video. “So if I want to go on a run they’re not gonna cover it. They’re gonna say you have to spend $35,000, which is stupid.”
Mind over matter
Parra told us that his goal on race day is to simply finish the course no matter how long it takes. “The cut off time for the Marathon is 6 hours [but] in reality it’s most likely going to take 8. By the time I finish the race the stuff for the Marathon will be put away. But I’m [not] going to let that discourage [me] from finishing 26 miles!”
We asked Parra how he’s gone about training for the marathon with just a month’s preparation. “My training regimen has been honestly all over the place,” he admitted.
“…the hardest part about it was getting my hands adjusted to long distances, when I did 5 miles my body felt completely fine. It was my hands that gave out first, so the one thing I’ve been researching are different crutches, thick pairs of gloves and comfortable shoes (or should I say shoe) for the race!”
Despite the limited training time, Parra is as determined as ever. “If there is anything that cancer has taught me it’s that mindset is everything,” he says.
About the Challenged Athletes Foundation
So, how can physically disabled people manage to afford running prosthetics without resorting to crutches?
Parra lauds the Challenged Athletes Foundation as a saving grace for countless disabled athletes seeking adaptive sports equipment. The San Diego-based nonprofit has had a tremendous impact since it first began in 1994, raising over $159M and funding over 44,000 grant requests in 70 countries around the world. In addition to running prosthetics, CAF funds access to racing wheelchairs, custom sport wheelchairs, and specialized training regimens, among other things.
“My connection with the Challenged Athletes Foundation goes way back,” Parra says. “I originally met them when I was going through bone cancer treatment. At the time I wanted to look forward to being active again once chemotherapy was over. So when I met CAF they became this light of hope for me because they were the reason why I wanted to start being active after losing my leg.”
Parra is currently raising money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation via Instagram. You can donate here.
Alex’s cancer story
Alex Parra grew up swimming competitively in Roseville and enjoying a normal active lifestyle until the age of 15, when he began to notice pain and a suspicious lump in his knee. He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and quickly began chemotherapy, but the treatments didn’t work and he was confronted with a gut-wrenching decision: leg amputation or knee replacement.
After being inundated with an overwhelming amount of information on both fronts, Parra flipped a coin to help him decide. It landed on knee replacement, but his dissatisfaction with that answer led him to choose the alternative. Parra went in for leg amputation in December 2016.
If you’re ever stuck between a 50/50 situation, flip a coin, because by the time it’s in the air you know exactly what you want it to land on,” says Parra.
Devastatingly, only a few months after being declared “cancer free,” Parra’s routine lung scan came back with cancerous results. A waiting game ensued through his senior year of high school, culminating in a new cancer diagnosis the day after graduation: stage four lung cancer, a 10% chance of survival, and 3 months to live.
Parra’s last hope was to do a clinical trial in New York. In order to be accepted he went in for another surgery to remove the tumor in his lung and began monthly cross-country flights for immunotherapy treatments. Following 6 months of treatment, Parra beat cancer again on January 11, 2019.
The lung cancer diagnosis prompted Parra to create a “Cancer Bucket List,” which he features often on his social media channels. Bucket list items include local CA escapes like visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, exploring Point Reyes and Mount Tamalpais, and having a picnic beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
Make sure to cheer on Alex Parra at the San Francisco Marathon on July 23!