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A Walk Across America


BOB WIELAND landed a contract at age 19 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  But in 1969 he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.  As he was trying to save a fallen comrade, he triggered a land mine explosion, was declared dead, and was taken away in a zipped-up body bag.  A half-hour later he woke up, and survived—but with both of his legs gone.


In the hospital, he sank into a deep depression.  His weight dropped to 87 pounds.  Then one morning he woke up and said to himself, ‘It won’t help me to focus on what I can’t do. What can I do?’ 


He began to life weights and then to lift competitively. He went on to set a world record by bench-pressing 500 pounds. 


He also learned to walk on his hands.  On September 8, 1982, he left his California home and set out on a journey—to walk across the United States on his hands.  He got thousands of people to sponsor his trip, with the proceeds going to alleviate hunger in this country and around the world. 


It took him three years, eight months, 6 days and nearly 5 million hand steps to reach his destination of Washington, D. C.   When he got there, he said: “I wanted to show that through faith in God and dedication, there’s nothing a person can’t achieve.” He has since has completed six marathons—all on his hands.  He is the only double amputee to finish the difficult Ironman World Championship triathlon course in Kona, Hawaii without a wheelchair.

On July 4, 2011, 25 years after his Walk Across America, Bob left Los Angeles on his arm-pedaled bicycle—and arrived at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on November 21, 2011.  He wanted to pay tribute to his fallen comrade and to all 58,272 veterans who lost their lives in Vietnam.  He then continued his arm-pedaled bicycle journey back to Los Angeles, CA to his final destination. His journey was featured in The New York Times on November 5, 2011.[i]


[i] Dave Ungrady, “25 Years Later, A Marathon Finish Still Inspires,” The New York Times (November 5, 2011).

Stories of Character (1/7)

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Bob Wieland thought he was going to have a career as a major league baseball player, but the mine explosion changed his life.  Have you ever had to deal with something you couldn’t control that forced you to make a new plan for your life?


  • What was the turning point in Bob Wieland’s recovery from his depression?  Why? When you are feeling discouraged or depressed, what has helped you to overcome it?


  • What qualities of his character do you admire?


  • What, for you, is the most important take-away from his story?

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