Nick Roumonada lost a leg when he was 13, but the Seattle native never backs down from physical challenges and will run the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on Saturday.
NEW YORK — While walking around Manhattan with the help of his prosthetic left leg, Nick Roumonada is asked to take stock of his life.
He would have been excused if he showed a hint of self-pity, or delivered a woe-is-me monologue. Instead he talked with deep gratitude and emotion about the unpredictable directions his life has taken.
“I feel grateful for everything that has happened in my life,” he says. “I’ve decided that I’m the lucky one, and I want to tell people to not let life’s challenges break you, but to look at them as opportunities.”
He remembers lying in his hospital bed, a frightened 13-year-old, looking at the blackening of the tops of his toes, understanding that those toes would be amputated and hoping with all his competitive soul he would be able to keep his left leg.
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Roumonada, who spent much of his childhood in Seattle and went to Issaquah High School, was suffering from spinal meningitis, a disease that inflames the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
He suffered complications that included gangrene and a skin rash over more than 40 percent of his body that so severely damaged the tissue he had to spend seven weeks in a burn unit undergoing skin grafts.
At 13, Roumonada already was a select-team soccer player, traveling and competing in year-round tournaments. He also was an avid golfer.
But now he was in a hospital bed, sick with the knowledge that his life never would be the same.
“It was definitely a scary time,” he says.
Roumonada underwent surgery to remove part of his foot, keeping the ankle and the heel. But the surgery was unsuccessful and, eventually, his left leg was amputated just below the knee.
After he recovered from the surgeries and the skin grafts he still tried to play sports. By his own admission, Roumonada “badly beat up” his body during middle school and high school. He went to the gym at lunch and shot baskets, putting too much strain on his prosthetic leg. He said he broke his prosthetic foot “about once a month.”
In his senior season, he tried out for Issaquah’s junior-varsity basketball team, and during the first practice, he caught a pass at the top of the key, pushed off his left leg and heard a pop.
“I just kind of went for it,” he says, “and it (prosthesis) shattered and there were carbon fibers scattered everywhere on the floor. I was on the floor and didn’t know how I was going to get up and I freaked out because it was kind of embarrassing. My ego was pretty hurt.”
Roumonada earned a music degree at Washington and became a touring professional trumpet player.
Then, several years ago, he was diagnosed with another illness associated with meningitis — focal dystonia, a symptom of Parkinson’s disease that effectively ended his music career.
“That was a tough, tough pill to swallow,” he says. “To understand that this thing you wanted to do the rest of your life, this passion, you were no longer going to be able to do. I was thinking, ‘You already took away sports, now you’re also taking away my music?’
“When I was diagnosed, I lost it. And while I’m not saying that it was all sex, drugs and rock and roll after that, I can see how I could have easily gone that way. But I just decided I wasn’t going to go dark. I wasn’t going to roll over and let it beat me.”
Instead of quitting, Roumonada, 31, started running. Through the generosity of a charity, Challenged Athletes Foundation, he was able to get a prosthetic long-distance running leg that cost more than $20,000.
He will come home next Saturday and compete in Seattle’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon as part of his training for this fall’s New York City Marathon.
“Running keeps me positive and happy in life,” says Roumonada, who works on Wall Street. “I used to reach people with my music, and now I’m reaching them by coming to these events and meeting people. I love having the chance to inspire other amputees. It keeps me living. It keeps me energized.”
Last August, Roumonada added to his athletic résumé, becoming a rookie member of the New York Rollin’ Knicks wheelchair basketball team, which is sponsored by the NBA team. He wears No. 20 to honor his favorite player.
“The Glove,” he says. “I grew up a Sonics fan, and he was my favorite player. I’ve always been a huge Gary Payton fan.”
I’m pretty sure if Payton met Nick, he’d become a huge Nick Roumonada fan.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org