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Running With His Legs, Not Without His Arm

The fastest member of the River Hill High School cross country team, Marshall Demaree, who has only one arm, follows in his sister’s record-setting footsteps.

“It was an unfortunate accident but he doesn’t dwell on it,” said Earl Lauer, coach of the River Hill cross country team, regarding his star athlete, Marshall Demaree.

Demaree lost an arm six years ago.

“I think he has accepted it. It hasn’t hampered him at all psychologically.”

Apparently it hasn’t hampered him too much physically, either.

Demaree, 14, a sophomore, bested the other 51 boys on his team during time trials held the first week of practice when he ran a mile-and-a-half in 7 minutes, 48 seconds.

“I think I could get it down to 7:30 flat,” said Demaree, who admits to liking “competition, getting better times each race, and meeting my goals.”

When Demaree was 8, he was in a car accident while on vacation in Florida. His left arm was pinned under a vehicle and badly injured. Doctors had no choice but to amputate.

“Not having a second arm to pump makes me go a little slower,” said Demaree in a matter-of-fact tone. “My body was twisting, but I got rid of most of that and it’s not an issue anymore.”

Demaree wears a prosthetic arm most of the time to keep his spine straight, but not when he runs because it affects his weight.

A soft-spoken, unassuming, handsome teen with blue eyes, Demaree says he prefers to read and write when he’s not running.

“He comes from a running family,” said Lauer. “I had the pleasure of coaching his older sister, Anna, who set the Maryland high school record for the girls’ mile last year.”

Anna graduated from River Hill last May and will attend Yale University this fall.

“I haven't decided yet,” said Anna, shyly, when asked if she would run at Yale.

While clearly proud and supportive of their four children, Marshall’s mother and father, Marsha and Roger, both Howard County teachers, seem to keep a rational perspective about running.

“Running is an individual sport. It’s all about improving your time,” said Marsha Demaree.

It’s also about running as a team, according Lauer, 62, a retired Army colonel who is in his 41st year of coaching. 

“I use my military background as part of my coaching. It’s about everybody pulling; many hands make light work. I tell the kids all the time, it’s not about you, it’s about the team,” said Lauer, who retired in 1998 as brigade commander of Maryland National Guard’s 29th Division.

Marshall Demaree agrees. “It’s a lot harder to run by yourself and set your own pace. Therefore, it’s important to run with teammates who help pace you. Terry Tossman [a fellow sophomore] and I run together a lot and we have had a friendly rivalry going since last year. We motivate each other to run harder.”

“Over the summer, I didn’t know that I was going to be the fastest, but once Scott Heydrick graduated, we all saw that the number one spot was open and we all trained hard to get there,” said Demaree.

Demaree admits that he is also training to keep pace with older sister Anna’s legacy.

“It will be hard to have her gone. I’ll miss her, but my brother, Grant, went to West Point two years ago, so it’s not new to have an older sibling leave,” said Demaree.

Marshall’s younger brother, Mark Demaree, a freshman, is also on River Hill’s cross country team.

“About 50 percent of a runner’s ability is genetic; the other half is attitude, effort and practice. It is just as important to be driven to excellence,” said Lauer.

“Coaches can’t do anything about DNA – that comes from parents and God – but we can help foster competence and confidence. Training is the key. If you can get 100 percent of that other 50 percent, then you’ll have pretty good high school runners.”

“He cares a lot about our team,” said Demaree of Lauer. “He motivates us to be the best team we can be. He truly believes that anyone can do it if they put in the work. This support motivates us to train hard.”

Clearly many other students and parents share Demaree’s high opinion of their coach, whose combined boys and girls cross country teams boast an impressive 155 athletes this year.

“Kids look for people that set the bar high. They try to get there and when they do, you have to pat them on the back,” said Lauer. “I tell them all the time, if I stop hollering at you that means that I’ve given up.”

Demaree gets at least some of his motivation from within, which he admits partly comes from the way running makes him feel.

“I definitely feel endorphins when I run. You forget about everything else and you focus on the run. Sometimes it gets easier to run, your breathing gets easier and my whole body feels lighter – sort of gliding,” said Demaree.

Glide he does.

As Demaree streaked through a gauntlet of spectators near the finish line at a scrimmage against Anne Arundel’s Severna Park High held at River Hill on August 20, the mother one of his teammates looked on with admiration.

“You know,” she said,  “It’s more about him running with his legs than running without his arm.”

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