Eight years ago, Kenny Mayne sat in a doctor's office, across from a battery of doctors specialized in ankle replacement, fusion and amputation.
Within days of each other — it might've even been the same day, he can't remember exactly — Mayne was forced to weigh these medical options stemming from an injury he suffered 30 years prior, on a rainy college football field in Eugene, Oregon.
Mayne was a backup quarterback then, and his UNLV Rebels were moments from a loss. As the clock ran out, he threw up a Hail Mary and absorbed two hits simultaneously: one high and one low.
“It was raining, I kind of slipped, the ball barely got out of my hand, and next thing I knew some guy stuck his helmet on my ankle,” Mayne detailed. “Everybody else was congratulating and shaking hands, and I’m still lying on the field.”
His fibula was broken. His ligaments were minced as if they’d been sent through a food processor. Plates and screws put his ankle back together, and Mayne went on to play football the next season. But as he aged, the pain increased, and walking, let alone running, seemed inconceivable.
“I think when I hit about 50 is when it definitely, something is really a mess here,” Mayne recalled. “I’m having too many bad days, not even wanting to get up.”
It was that pain that led to his visit with his specialized doctors who discussed with Mayne what had once seemed like a drastic option.
“Amputation speaks for itself,” he said. “But that was actually the best appointment strangely. [They told me], ‘You’ve got to imagine what your life can be like. You travel a lot for work. You’re going to be in the hotel and need to go to the restroom at 3:30 in the morning; do you really want to put your leg on and hop across the room?’”
Among those appointments, Mayne was connected to a man named Marmaduke Loke, who would have an unusual solution to Mayne’s problems.
Loke has dedicated himself to creating orthotic braces for soldiers that sustained combat injuries. Loke believed one of his could relieve Mayne of the pain that had plagued him for years.
Opting to give it a go, Mayne quickly felt relief and a 30-year burden was lifted from his shoulders.
Since then, Mayne’s recovery journey has brought him to Ryan Blanck, a prosthetist specialized in similar devices called the ExoSym. For the first time in years, Mayne could run.
Tears of joy streamed down his face, and he knew immediately that he couldn’t be the only one to relish this gift.
“The first day I put it on, [my wife] Gretchen and I said we should do something good with this,” he explained. “We just got quite a blessing, how my life was made better through this thing. So, why don’t we see if we can find a way to raise money and find good people who could use it?”
Nine months later, Run Freely was founded, as a nonprofit charity created and designed to provide support to struggling veterans who are unable to afford various medical expenses.
Since it was founded, Mayne and his charity have been able to supply eight veterans with the ExoSym, and the reactions are priceless.
“It’s just a great feeling to see these people in the same way as I did,” he said. “To have their lives changed for the better in an instant. We had one lady come up from New Mexico in a wheelchair to Seattle and she left walking out on her brace. It’s 100 percent believing the thing, and now it’s just about spreading the word and getting people to see. It’s easy to say you support the troops, or you thank them at the airport, or you do some small thing that resembles some sort of symbolism, but this is a more concrete way to say how we feel about it.”
Still in its early stages, Run Freely has turned heads with its impact. One man whose attention it caught is former Raiders long snapper Jon Condo.
“I follow Kenny on Twitter, on social media, and I saw his Run Freely campaign and I thought it was really cool what he was doing,” Condo said. “I said to myself, ‘I want to help out. I need to figure out a way that I can contribute.’
“I thought of the Raiders and they’ve always been so gracious to me. Even in the last couple years since I haven’t been with them, they’ve been very gracious to me. We said, what the heck and got in touch, and we’ve been talking back and forth. I’ve been running ideas back and forth with him just to raise money.”
"The U.S. Military has always been special to me and in any way, I can help,” the two-time Pro Bowler said. “Whether it’s to help raise funds, or just spreading awareness to the causes, I’ll be of help in any way possible. When Kenny does these videos, when they send him videos, and it’s of them walking without pain for the first time… it’s priceless.”
In addition to Condo’s contribution, Mayne has partnered with several notable athletes, such as former NBA All-Star Gary Payton, Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr and former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., where people can bid for the opportunity to get behind the wheel with Earnhardt at some of Charlotte Key’s racing sites. All proceeds go to providing veterans with the prosthetics needed to give them a new look on life.
The injury Mayne suffered almost 40 years ago caused him immense pain for several years, but through that pain he’s been able to give veterans a fresh start. While the device doesn’t completely heal the injury and restore it to its original state, it’s given Mayne and several veterans more than enough ability to enjoy the simple things in life like walking and running pain free.
Still, challenges remain. For starters, only one in 14 veterans can afford the $10,000 ExoSym device through their insurance provider.
Raider Nation, if you’d like to contribute to Run Freely, you can donate at RunFreely.org or by bidding on Jon Condo’s contribution of two tickets and field passes to a game in 2019 through Kenny Mayne’s Twitter.