Four years ago, Roman “Rome” Leykin was on his way to work when he suffered a seizure and fell onto the tracks of Brooklyn’s L train as a subway was approaching. The incident resulted in the loss of both of his legs and a traumatic brain injury.
But with the loss of his legs, Leykin gained a new passion for racing. And on Sunday, Leykin, who now lives in Connecticut, will compete in the New York City Marathon in the hand cycling division.
“I really wanted to get that wind back in my hair, because I really liked going fast,” he told CBS News.
Leykin was never a big runner. Before his accident, he said he wasn’t really that athletic — he would just occasionally play basketball or ultimate frisbee. But that all changed when he was at a rehabilitation facility after the amputation. While there, someone from Achilles International, an organization that provides athletic support to those with disabilities, introduced him to hand cycling.
“I didn’t know what it was, and then the second when I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh, this is great. You don’t even need legs to use this thing, and look at me, I don’t have any. This is perfect,'” he told CBS News. “So, I got on it, I rode and I fell in love with it right away.”
Within a few months, he completed the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, a 40-mile ride through New York City. After that, he said it seemed like a “natural progression” to do his first marathon in 2021. He finished that race in 2 hours and 11 minutes, placing 12th out of 38.
“I knew it was going to be very emotional. And it was, because I was pretty much crying the whole way. … So that first one was much more geared towards me getting a lot out of it,” he said. “…But this year’s marathon, I’m gonna reap the rewards after the fact because my hands are gonna be on the wheel, my eyes are gonna be focused, and I think my time is gonna speak for itself.”
He’s dedicated a significant commitment to training. He hand cycles at least 13.1 miles a couple times a week in marathon preparation and spends a lot of time in the gym. He’s on a mission to “conquer the hand cycling world.”
“I haven’t seen a lot of other double above-the-knee amputees on a hand cycle riding in marathons,” he said, saying that most of those he’s seen are running the marathon, which he also wants to eventually do.
“Now, I’m of the mentality of ‘bring it on.'”
Leykin’s achievements have earned him a spot with the New York Road Runners, the running club that hosts the marathon each year, sponsored by Tata Consulting Services. Leykin’s spot is on the group’s “Team Inspire” — a group of about two dozen New York City Marathon competitors “who represent the magic of running.”
He’s also become a well-loved TikToker, as he highlights his life as double-amputee.
“It means a lot to me, you know, because my accident, before it, I wasn’t into inspiring people. And now I have been given an avenue to do that,” he said.
And he plans to keep pursuing his athletic goals. He wants to complete the Abbott Six — the world’s six largest marathons that, along with New York, include Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin and Chicago. One day, he said, he’ll maybe even make the Paralympics.
For those who might be following his journey, he hopes they will take one primary lesson from his story: “Relentless forward positive momentum.”
“There will be ups and downs … but the trend is what’s important. Focus on the good,” he said. “…And also, take your big problems and split them into small solutions. And then all of a sudden, your many big problems turn into many, many, many small wins.”