Veteran Dan McKnight running through adversity after 2018 amputation

Ran first-ever marathon this fall, 2 years after leg amputation

It’s rare to find 50-year-old Dan McKnight of Sparta standing still. Since childhood he’s always been active. As a soldier, he was a part of Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and he served four tours in Iraq following 9/11.

But it was one incident nine years ago in Colorado that put his life on a different path.

“I bought a bike and was going down a rock trail, and the brakes came off, and the rock trail won,” McKnight said.

“They operated on it between 2011 when I broke it and 2018, there were four reconstructive surgeries. They would fix it and put it back together, and it would get to 70 percent, and I’d start going back to–or try to be–normal, and then it would just break out of nowhere, it would just shatter again.”

Dan moved from Colorado to Sparta, where doctors at Gundersen diagnosed what remained of his lower leg as a critical fracture, and told him to consider amputation.

“Which was hard to hear, but we had been talking about it after a few surgeries,” he said. “I had no quality of life. I sat on the couch. I didn’t do anything.

“I was fitted for a wheelchair. I was told you’re never going to run again, never going to walk long distances again, and not in a negative way, it’s just facts of life. You have to hear the hard truth sometimes, but that wasn’t okay for me.”

So since February of 2019, Dan has worked with the Hanger Clinic in La Crosse to be fitted for different kinds of a prosthetic leg. Earlier this year Dan told his clinician Mike Schmitt that he had a very specific birthday present he wanted to give himself.

“He told me, hey, I want to run a marathon,” Schmitt said.

This is video from Dan’s first use of a carbon fiber running leg in April. No ginger stepping, no hesitation. A natural, and an inspiration for Schmitt.

“Different active patients first going out will start with either a walker, crutches, a cane, something like that to get going. Danny never did that,” Schmitt said. “To be able to just take to it like a duck to water was pretty impressive.”

Dan’s been running 200 miles a month to train for the virtual New York City Marathon, with a goal of finishing in under five hours.

“An amputation or anything you consider a handicap is not the end of the world,” he said. “If you believe you can do something, you probably can.

“Don’t let anybody tell you what’s possible for you to do.”

Dan’s official marathon time was four hours, 11 minutes and 16 seconds, fulfilling his goal and then some.