They were strangers brought together by the race and by circumstance. Both are 32 years old. Both served with the Marines in war. Both had been wounded. King lost his left leg in Iraq in 2004. Evans lost both legs and his left hand in Afghanistan last year.
Between them, they had one leg and three full arms.
The men, part of a team supported by the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, a nonprofit organization, were among dozens of wounded warriors competing. About 130 racers, including Evans and King, used handcycles. Others crossed the finish line on prosthetic legs, where a growing throng cheered.
Evans wanted his family — his wife and two daughters, 1 and 5 years old — to see him finish the race. After all the pain and suffering, he wanted them to see him in a moment of triumph.
But the first few miles were much harder than he had anticipated. The cold caused his shoulder muscles to cramp. The early hills sapped more energy than he thought they should. His prosthetic arm kept slipping out of place. Doubts started creeping in.
“Don’t give up,” King implored. “Keep going.”
On May 16 last year, Evans, a Marine Corps sergeant, was leading a patrol in Helmand province in Afghanistan. He had been to Iraq three times, and he had come home safe and sound each time. On this day, his good fortune ran out and he stepped on a hidden bomb that ripped through his body.
The dark moments didn’t come until he moved out of the hospital to an apartment. “At the hospital there was so much support,” he said. Lots of other wounded warriors. Nurses and doctors who tended to him. Visitors who gave him attention. At home, though, reality sank in.
“I lost it,” Evans said. “I cried and I cried. I thought I wasn’t going to make it.”
By mile eight on Sunday, the sun started to warm Evans’s shoulders. The pain subsided. He pushed through Georgetown, then past the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial.
“I got my rhythm,” he said.
People cheered him, and he found himself completely in the moment, focusing only on his body, the course, the race. He felt “very independent and free.”
By mile 13, the halfway point, King, who lives in Germantown, told Evans to pace himself. There was still a long way to go.
Finishing was the main goal, and King, who has completed 13 marathons, was going to see to it that Evans would, even if it meant a slower time for himself. He knew that if Evans could finish, it would “boost his confidence more than just about anything he could do at this point in his recovery right now.”
King, who was medically retired in 2006 and now works security at the Navy Yard, knows just how long that recovery can be. After he was hit by a bomb while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq, he was in a coma for 31
2 weeks. In the early months of recovery, normal life didn’t seem possible — let alone something as daunting as a marathon.
“When you’re more recently wounded, the distance alone can be intimidating,” King said.
It’s better to not have to face that alone.
Evans was a Marine and had always had been fit. So when he saw his fellow patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center training for marathons, he decided he would, too. But he felt nervous about joining the gym near his Gaithersburg apartment.
“To tell you the truth, I was afraid to go to a gym outside of Walter Reed,” Evans said. “I didn’t know what the reception was going to be.”
Yes, there were stares and people who turned away. But there was also a lot of support from a physical trainer, who helped get him ready for races. He did a half-marathon in January. Then the Army Ten-Miler.
Evans got his confidence back, and thanks to his faith and family, he began to accept his wounds. “I got a second chance for life,” he said. “I feel like I’m standing high and have a better view of the world now. So I don’t regret it.”
In mile 22, Evans hit the wall. He shoulders felt leaden; his abs ached. King encouraged him, making small talk: “Anything to keep his mind off the race.”
They trekked past National Airport, then doubled back past the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery toward the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial. When Evans slowed, King slowed. They had started off as strangers but were now buddies joined in a long, hard slog. “We’re Marines; that’s enough,” King said.
Three hours and 41 minutes after they began, they crossed the finish line together. Volunteers draped medals over their heads. Applause surrounded them. They bumped fists and steered their way through the crowd.
At one point they came to a curb and Evans hesitated, unsure he could negotiate his handcycle safely over it.
“You need a hand?” King said.
King popped up out of his handcycle, hopped over on his leg and helped guide Evans down.
“Yeah,” Evans said. “Thanks.”
Then they went off to find their families. Evans had a new medal he wanted to show his daughters.