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Eric's Heroes: 'The walking man' and his journey forward, one step at a time

Eric Johnson tells the story of one man's will to continue to get up, even when he was told to stay down.(KOMO News)

It is possible to walk toward something, and away from something at the same time.

The walking man walks.

He trudges along 185th Avenue with traffic blowing by.

The sun is out and he listens to Michael Jackson.

"I put music in and I tune everything out," Thomas Lamont said. " But I am aware of my surroundings 24/7."

You can tell a lot by the way a person walks.

This man's walk is labored.

The left foot is pigeon-toed, the right foot drags along the concrete with each step.

The body swings to pull that right foot along.

"One Saturday I got really bored and I walked up and down here 26 and a half times," Thomas said.

It looks like it might be painful, but Thomas walks nonetheless, with a steady gaze and a sense of a purpose.

"Every day that I'm able to use my legs, is a day I'm able to appreciate," he said. "I guess it stems from me not being able to walk...fully..for 17 years. Like on and off I've had numerous surgeries and stuff like that put me down. So I'm just trying to make up time, you know?"

For many years, the "walking man" was known as the "running man."

He could be seen running on the same roads, dragging the same foot, every day. As much as 84 miles a week, which was amazing because he was never supposed to take a single step.

"When I was 18 months old, I got hit by a car," Thomas said. "I was told I would never walk again. I had jumped out of my car seat, ran in between two cars, a lady hit me going I don't know how fast."

He had a fractured skull, a broken neck, a shattered pelvis, broken legs, broken arms and a fractured jaw.

They thought he'd be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

"It got to the point when I was 14 or 15 years old, I revolted. I said, 'You don't know my body. You're not living in this situation, you're not living this way.'"

"So I started walking. And then when I was 17, I started walking without the walker," Thomas said. "I started speed walking. I moved here and I started running, and I've been running ever since."

From the beginning, pain has been a constant companion on his journeys.

"Basically, I deal with pain on a daily basis," Thomas said. "It's a part of me now. I use it as adrenaline...it's my drug of choice."

Last May, the femur in his left leg, the good one, finally gave out and collapsed.

So now he walks and when he can, he tells his story.

"So I couldn't walk, couldn't walk at all," Thomas said. "But, I do have a nice piece of titanium in here now, so every time I walk through the airport it beeps."

He tries to help young people understand that the human spirit is an immense, limitless thing.

"It's all you. It's all in your hands," he said. "You just need to feed into it, and know that you have people backing you and you can do it. Dreams are attainable if you believe."

Thomas works at a real estate firm as a clerk.

And when he's done, he embarks on his daily journey. Every day at the halfway point of his walk, he crosses a bridge and arrives at Richmond beach.

He admires the scene for a moment, the sun and the water.

But only for a moment.

"I mean yes, this is beautiful, but hey, I got to get going before my legs decide to say, 'hey, why are we stopped?'"

And then the walking man turns around and walks again...toward the future. Toward life on his own terms.

Away from an accident and a wheelchair, and pain and fear.

Because it is possible to walk toward something and away from something at the same time.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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