How and Why Amputee Alex Parra Ran the San Francisco Marathon on Crutches | Runner Spotlight Series

Alex Parra, also known on social media as Alex1Leg, is a two-time cancer survivor, an amputee, a disability advocate, and a motivational speaker. Originally from Roseville in California, he now lives in Vancouver, Washington where he moved to be closer to nature. Besides going on hikes, he also loves making videos and bringing awareness to cancer and disabilities. In 2023, he ran the San Francisco Marathon on crutches to bring awareness to the cost of running prosthetics. In this Runner Spotlight Q&A, learn about the How and Why of Alex’s experience.

Alex Parra poses with a "cancer free" golden ticket

Written & edited by Pavlína Marek

Alex Parra the Active Kid

In an interview with NPR, you said you were always an active kid, even training to compete at the high school state swimming championships. Was your relationship with sports always positive? Did you do anything else besides swimming?

My relationship with sports has always been positive. I’ve been an athlete my whole life whether it came to football, swimming, or wheelchair basketball, so I was always doing something to make sure that I stayed active growing up, especially after losing my leg! Being an amputee pushed me to do more.”

In the same interview, you shared that you were able to get a running blade with a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation; did you run in the past? How did you get into running?

“Running was never a priority for me in the past but being able to have a running blade from CAF it felt like I finally had the power to do it more actively.”

Challenged Athletes Foundation

For 30 years, the Challenged Athletes Foundation has been creating opportunities to “live full, healthy, and active lives” for individuals with physical challenges around the world.

Established in 1994, the foundation has supported cancer survivors, first responders, military personnel, and people with visual impairment, spinal cord injuries, limb loss or differences as well as cerebral palsy. They support “athletes at every level and ability” with grants, camps, clinics, and mentorship.

According to their 2022 report, the youngest athlete they supported in that year was only 2 years old; 76 years younger than the oldest one. They awarded 3,256 grants across 83 sports in 29 countries and 50 states plus Puerto Rico in 2022.

CAF impact over 30 years

According to the Challenged Athletes Foundation, “Involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence, and enhances quality of life.” However, most insurance companies simply don’t cover the high costs of adaptive sports equipment for people with physical challenges.

Challenged Athletes Foundation Donate

Cancer, Amputation, and Hard Decisions

Let’s talk about how you ended up with a running blade. I’m sure you’ve already shared this story many times but could you talk a little about your journey with osteosarcoma and, eventually, lung cancer? What was it like, to hear the news that you had three months left to live after you’ve already been through it all once before?

“It was terrifying to be told at 15 that I was going to have a chance to die. Losing my leg was also a scary experience. You battle cancer for so long and are glad to finally be done with it. The first time was already enough so to then hear a year later that I had Stage 4 and limited time to live was even worse. My whole world shattered, all my dreams stopped, and I was not going to see the end of the year. It took a long time to really be content with the thought of dying, look past it, and make my own light in the darkness.”

In an interview with the Independent, you said, “I had no idea what to do so I flipped a coin and it landed on amputation. If it hadn’t, I would be dead.” What did the decision-making process feel like back then? What does that decision feel like now, a few years later? Would you do it the same way if you were to go back?

“I was extremely lost back then. There were so many unknown things and I was so stuck on the decision that was going to determine the rest of my life. I don’t regret my decision at all and to this day, I still use my coin to pick between 50/50 situations. By the time that coin is in the air, you know exactly what you want it to land on.”

Alex Parra at the San Francisco Marathon

According to NPR, you decided to run the San Francisco Marathon on crutches to raise awareness about the cost of athletic prosthetics. (Your quote, “If you want to go on a run, you have to spend $90 on running shoes. But if I want to go on a run I have to spend $35,000,” really put it into perspective for many people.) Do you think you’ve accomplished that goal?

“I think I have. I love shining a light on this very important issue, bringing awareness with my videos, and getting people informed on the topic!”

How was your race experience? Did you enjoy it? (Can you tell me one thing you liked and one that could be improved upon?) Will you continue doing the sport?

“My experience with the race was very interesting. I only trained for 5 days and had 5 miles under my belt so the fact that I even managed 16 miles is insane to think about! I loved the view of SF and next time, I definitely need to improve my training. I’d say a solid 7 days will be better next time!”


Whos gonna carry the boats

♬ original sound – Alex1Leg

Quick Questions with Alex Parra

Do you have a dream race?

“Not necessarily location but Iron Man on crutches is my dream goal!”

Where is your place to train/run?

“Anywhere outdoors!”

Is there anyone you look up to in the world of athletics?

“David Goggins”

What’s the best pre-run/pre-race breakfast?

“Avocado toast!”

Do you have any pets?

“Not yet :)”

Editor’s note: some of Alex Parra’s answers were shortened or edited for clarity.

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