- Rome Leykin had a seizure, fell onto to the subway tracks, and lost both legs in 2018.
- He can now walk on prosthetics, and said recovering from a traumatic brain injury has been harder.
- Leykin, 36, is hand-cycling in the New York City marathon Sunday and hopes to qualify for Boston.
When Rome Leykin woke up in a Brooklyn hospital bed with no legs, one of his first thoughts was to turn back time like Dr. Strange in the Avengers.
If Leykin could find a way to rewind the clock, he thought, he wouldn’t be the guy who’d had a seizure on a subway platform, gotten run over by a train, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and had his legs amputated.
He’d still be a 31-year-old web developer living “a great life” in New York City.
So when Leykin — hopped up on serious painkillers — spotted the doorknob in his hospital room, he thought, “Yes! This thing!”
“I sat there turning it back and forth for a while, and it took me a while to say, ‘OK, yeah, nothing’s happening. Time’s not going to go back,'” he told Tausi Insider. “All right. Now it’s time to regroup.”
Less than five years later, Leykin has done more than regroup. He’s evolved into an athlete who’s competed in marathons and obstacle-course races, and has become an inspiration to his nearly 200,000 followers on TikTok. He goes by “Mr. L Train,” a quip about the subway line where he was run over in 2018.
Leykin’s next stop: His second New York City marathon on November 6, where he hopes to hand-cycle his way to a Boston Marathon-qualifying time of less than two hours.
“Last year I was pumping one of my fists up in the air, looking right back at the crowd, tears streaming down my eyes,” Leykin said. While this year he’ll be thinking of the crowd, he said, “my hands are gonna be on the wheel, and my eyes straight.”
Leykin said his mental and emotional recovery has been more challenging than the physical
Leykin was diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager. But the seizure that hit while waiting for the train in February 2018 was the first he’d had in years.
Leykin doesn’t remember falling into the tracks or getting hit. He just remembers going about his commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan like any other day.
A New York Post report from the time says Leykin was waiting on the platform at about 9:30am when he “collapsed and tumbled onto the tracks just as the train was approaching the station.” Emergency services helped get him out from under the train and took him to a Brooklyn hospital, where he was “in critical condition,” according to the Post.
When Leykin woke up in the hospital, he said, “I didn’t need the doctor to come in and tell me ‘You don’t have any legs,'” he said. “I knew right away.”
Leykin spent about a year in inpatient rehab, and used a wheelchair until 2021. He then committed to walking with short prostheses, the Stamford Advocate reported. At first, he “fell immediately,” Leykin told the outlet.
“I got right back up. And I fell. And I got right back up. And I fell. And within 15 minutes or 20 minutes, I was walking and not holding on to a single thing. Yes, I was shorter, but the freedom of movement gave me freedom of life.”
Leykin told Tausi Insider that recovery from his traumatic brain injury has been more difficult, and taken longer, than learning to live as a double amputee.
The injury to his frontal cortex, which is involved in emotion regulation, shortened his fuse. “I was very much blowing up at the closest people around me,” he said. Medication to balance out hormones like dopamine and serotonin has helped.
“Now I feel unstoppable,” Leykin said.
He said it also took him about a year to relearn to read and write, and he still can’t code like he used to.
“I’ve gotta pivot,” said Leykin, who now lives in Stamford, Connecticut, where his family is, and is on-long term disability. He hopes to go into motivational speaking, and is already on the path by sharing his story on social media.
“I may not be here 50 years from now, 100 years from now, but the type of inspiration I can provide, that can be my lasting legacy,” he said.
Leykin is embracing his athletic potential post-accident
In addition to his short prostheses, Leykin now also walks with longer prosthetics and uses a wheelchair when playing some sports, like basketball. For the marathon, he’ll be hand-cycling, like he did in last year’s race. Hand-cycles are typically three-wheeled bikes powered by the arms, making them accessible to people with limited or no use of their legs.
Before his accident, Leykin said he’d occasionally go to the gym, go for a run, or play basketball with a work league, but “not at this level.”
Now, Leykin is sponsored by Achilles International, an organization that supports and connects athletes with disabilities. Through it, Leykin hand-cycles 20 to 30 miles twice-weekly in places like Central Park, and has participated in other events like the Donut Ride, a three-borough bike tour that includes stops at doughnut shops.
Training, he said, “is fantastic” thanks to his training partners in the adaptive athlete community. “And, on top of that, when riding by myself, I get that rush of speed again. I love speed.”
Leykin said he eventually wants to become a Six Star finisher, a designation for people who’ve competed in all six of the major marathons worldwide, including New York, London, and Tokyo. And for some of the others, he may not be on a bike.
“Pretty soon I’ll be running,” he said. “That’s going to be a great journey to follow.”