Five-year-old Jude Hill was already unstoppable, despite losing both feet in a horrific lawnmower accident when he was just a toddler.
Now, thanks to two new carbon fiber blades, and the charitable efforts of a Boston Marathon bombing survivor, he can run like the wind.
“He put them on, and he started bouncing, and then he just took off,” his mother, Jen, told InsideEdition.com Wednesday. “Running blades are typically denied by insurance. It’s hard enough to get everyday feet covered,” the Peoria, Illinois, mom said.
The high-tech limbs, which can cost from $30,000 to $40,000, came courtesy of the Heather Abbott Foundation, run by a Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost part of a leg in the 2013 bombing attacks at the race's finish line.
Working with donors and prosthesis experts, Abbott donates artificial appendages to those have lost their original ones under traumatic circumstances. “I just respect her so much for that,” Hill said. “As a family, we are so thankful.”
Jude Hill on the stairs of his Peoria, Ill., home with his regular prosthetic legs. (Jen Hill)
The mother had written to the foundation, which accepts grant requests from the public, thinking she had nothing to lose. The worst thing that could happen would be a denial, she told herself.
Instead, the answer was yes.
Jude the Dude, as his family calls him, knows full well he is different from other boys. But it doesn’t stop his body or his spirit.
He plays soccer, he jumps and runs all over the house and yard. Sometimes he is just a blur going by.
Two years ago, it seemed those things would never happen.
It was a sunny weekend day and the family was busy doing yard work. Jen’s job was to clean out the garage.
Dad Greg Hill was on a riding lawnmower, cutting the grass. And though the parents had warned their kids, time and again, that the mower was not a toy, little Jude ran up behind his father’s machine.
Greg didn’t know. He missed a spot, and backed up. “He thought he had hit a stick, but then he saw Jude’s foot shoot out from under the lawnmower,” the mother said.
“My husband was so angry at himself, he was so upset,” Jen recalled. It was agony for all of them. She was pregnant with Kate. She blamed herself for not keeping a closer eye on Jude.
The boy lost his right foot and his left leg from the knee down.
And Jude never lost consciousness at the hospital. “I can’t fathom the kind of pain that he must have felt,” she said.
But his parents dug deep, especially his dad. It would take strength to get through this. There was a baby on the way, and somehow they would have to make do.
“I never wanted this to define Jude, or our family,” Jen said. “He is just amazing. It’s amazing how he lives his life.”
Since getting his blades two weeks ago – they’re much the same as those worn by famous Paralympic athletes - Jude wants to wear the sleek legs as much as he can.
“They’re more fun,” his mother explains. “They’re more bouncy.”
But the blades are really made for full-out track-and-field running. The J-shaped limbs aren’t designed for walking, though there is a flat sole made by Nike that fits on the bottom.
Jude has a pair of everyday legs with running shoes attached, his mom said, and they work quite well. But the blades are his new favorite thing.
“He wants to be fast,” his mom said. He's also used them in fraternal self-defense.
“He kicked his brother in the shin with one of them, which felt a lot different than being kicked with a regular foot,” she said.
Jude is one of five kids. He has two brothers, Micah, 9, and Clay, 7, and two younger sisters, Libby, 3, and Kate, 2.
To them, he’s just a normal boy. Even though, “sometimes he kicks the soccer ball and his leg flies off,” his mother said.
It’s just another day in the Hill house.
At 5 years old, he puts on his legs by himself in the morning, gets dressed and comes down “all ready to go,” Hill said. “At 6:30 in the morning.”
'Jude the Dude' playing outside his Illinois house. (Jen Hill)
Jen believes her has survived, with its core untouched, because they didn’t shy from talking about what happened.
Initially, Jude talked about it constantly, going over and over the details, saying “This is what happened, right?”
Jen knew “every time we had to go through that it was like a knife to Greg’s heart,” but the father never stopped his son from talking.
“I think that’s why we’re doing so well,” she said. “We didn’t bottle it up.”
Eventually, Jude will outgrow his running blades, just as he does his regular artificial legs.
She talked about this with Abbott, wondering how Jude would get another pair of blades.
“Heather said not to worry about the future. She said ‘We’ll figure it out. We’ll make it happen.’’’