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Dover cancer survivor to run Gasparilla 5K with prosthetic leg

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:41 AM
BRANDON -

Most folks go to the gym with a workout bag and a change of clothes. Carla Kellum also brings her running leg, which resembles the pair worn by Olympian Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius last summer.

She also brings her A game — A for attitude, and a positive one.

The 22-year-old Dover woman, who lost her right leg to bone cancer when she was just 15, has determined that her bout with the disease will not define her life.

"I want to live without limitations," she said, sitting in the lobby of the Brandon Family YMCA.

When she realized this year's Gasparilla 5K will be on the anniversary of her Feb. 23, 2006 amputation, she chose the road race as her first. Two YMCA staff members teamed up with her to run the race.

"I am so ready for that race," she said after demonstrating here athleticism on the TRX suspension machine, the elliptical bike and the open road.

Kellum had tried running in previous years, but occasionally, her prosthetic leg would fall off, sending her tumbling. When she moved to Florida in June, she found a company in Orlando that promised to make her a running leg that would work for her.

"I like the idea of pushing myself with no limits," said the St. Petersburg College student, who plans to major in orthotics and prosthetics to help other amputees like herself.

She had tried a few gyms but found no connection.

Then she found Brandon Family YMCA, where she immediately felt part of the team. Since September, she has worked out there regularly, running with Aquatics Director Holly Reilly and Wellness Director Jessica Rickenbach.

"I was with her when she hit her first mile, running outside," Rickenbach said. "She was elated."

Now, she's running 3.6 miles.

"I just see this drive and determination in her that sometimes makes me feel guilty for not getting out there and working harder," Rickenbach said. "She will drive from school in St. Pete to meet me and run, then go back to campus, or to work in Tampa."

"She's a trooper," Reilly said.

The first time she ran with Kellum, Reilly said, an old injury in her knee flared back up. Kellum's motivation pushed Reilly not to give up, though, she said. She got a brace and started running again regularly.

"She's very focused and driven. She's my motivation," Reilly said.

"I just get such a high from being with her," Rickenbach said. "She has definitely motivated me to run more. Here she is doing it with one leg and she's so happy. One day, I was having a rough morning until she told me she had been having trouble getting her leg on. No excuses."

Kellum faced a difficult decision as a teen after months of chemotherapy for cancer in her leg. Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland were preparing for knee replacement surgery but first removed a cast on her leg. They found that the cancer, which they hoped had disappeared, was instead growing at a rapid rate. They feared it would spread.

Kellum had two days to decide whether to have her leg amputated.

"I told my parents, 'I'll take amputation over death,' " she recalled, her eyes welling with tears. It was a decision she had not expected to make.

Kellum went through physical therapy at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., the same hospital that treats injured soldiers returning from war. She stayed until she felt like she could return to high school without a cane or crutches.

Today, she is a member of the LiveStrong team at the Y, a team for cancer survivors who motivate each other. And motivation is something Kellum does very well, Rickenbach said.

"She's already talking about longer runs," she said. "She is an unbelievable motivation to anyone she interacts with. I look forward to the days I'm going to run with her."


yhammett@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7127

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