Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Camp Dreamcatcher

Mile Marker 4275:

The hills are steeper, but the kids are just the same.

Camp Dreamcatcher.

It's been years since I've been here, and I have to admit I'm a little nervous.  I'm nervous about spending the day in the heat, sweating out of my leg, and tripping over tree roots.

But I'm also nervous about being back.

I wore sandals today, figuring the kids would get a kick out of my pedicure.  But a few steps down the rocky road to the dining hall, I have a change of heart -- and shoes.  I turn around and hike 20 yards back up the hill to the car to put on my sneakers.

Sneakers were always the rule at camp.  Now I know why.

At the bottom of the hill, a bunch of 7-year-old girls gather around, oohing and ahhing over my "robot leg."  They bombard me with questions.  Then, with equal excitement, they spy the camp's therapy dog Brealey, and race off to play with him.  In a flash, my Genium and I are old news.  (What did you expect?  They're kids!)

So great to see old friends again!!
Camp Dreamcatcher is a therapeutic camp for children and adolescents whose lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS.  For years, I volunteered each summer as a camp counselor and village chief.

It's been a while.

Today, director Patty has invited me back to share my story with the preteen and teen campers, and the 17-year-old "Leaders in Training."

Coincidentally, there's even a
trauma doc in the group --
counselor Benny!
We sit together -- kids and counselors -- on a circle of folding chairs in the wooden lodge.  I spend an hour with each group.  It's informal.  I don't use any notes.  I just describe what happened to me, the abridged version.

Like always, I mention the importance of wearing bike helmets.  I show the kids my Genium and pass around my water leg so they can take a closer look.  We talk about what it's like to be an amputee, the pros and cons of different prostheses, and the steps one takes to learn to walk again.

They ask lots of great questions.  Can you wear high heels?  How do you shower?  Why doesn't it look like a real leg?  What if the battery runs out?

To show them the charging pad, I press the rotator button and flip my leg completely upside down.  They gasp, and then crack up!

In many ways, it's like talking to any group of school kids.

But this group digs deeper.

Were you depressed?  they ask.  How did you get through it?  How long did it take?  Do you still miss your leg?  Do you think about it every day?

Unfortunately, the campers and counselors here understand all too well what grief feels like.  Many camp seasons, there's a Memorial Wall filled with photos and messages to honor a camper who has passed away during the off-season.

This year that wall is dedicated to Amber, whom I still picture as a dark-haired, dark-eyed 10-year-old in my cabin.  She loved getting dressed up, trying on make-up, and being a star.  A natural leader, at 12, she organized a "strike" from her top bunk to protest a long, hot hike to the lake.  Through many summers, I watched her grow.  Her personality was so dynamic, her smile so full of light, it's hard to believe she's gone.

Coming here today, I worried that maybe my loss wasn't significant enough.  That it might not be connected or meaningful enough for the kids to relate to.

But it turns out, loss is loss.

So I answer their questions the best I can.  I tell them what I've learned along this journey, things most of them know already.

"You don't get through loss.  You don't overcome it.  You just learn to live with it."

I tell them how it feels.  Today.  To be back at camp again.  Beyond the physical challenge, I realize there's something else.  I'm thrilled to be here.  But it reminds me of my old life.  It makes me miss who I was before.

They nod.  They get it.

These kids may be experts at loss, but they're also experts at LIVING.

I've brought along a new batch of Thousand Miles wristbands in "glow-in-the dark" green.  With Sharpie markers the kids write their own goals and dreams on the wristbands.  Wearing a reminder on my wrist has helped me work toward my goals, so maybe it'll help them too.

When we finish up, several kids and counselors ask me if I'll come back next year.  Not just as a visitor, but as a counselor or village chief -- like old times.

When I shrug vaguely, they push further, "WHY NOT?"

With this group, it's hard to say no.  I can't really think of a good excuse.  While it's tough to plan in advance, part of me wants to sign up right now.

We all know dreams are fleeting.

You have to catch them when you can.

Thanks to Patty and the rest of the Dreamcatcher team for such a warm welcome!  Hope to see you next year!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bionic Babysitting

Mile Marker 4249:

Maya and Gavin are twins.  They're two months old.  They have two car seats.  And of course, there are two of them.

No matter how you count it, I'm outnumbered.

Today, I'm the bionic babysitter.  Late as always, I rush up Jen's steps and into her house.  Jen waves hello and runs out to her doctor's appointment.

"Don't worry,"  I call after her.  "I know the drill!"

Well technically, I don't know the drill.  But I know where the diapers are.  And I'm hoping that's good enough.

After all, the twins and I have been hanging out together for a long time.  We go way back.

Yes, there are two of them.  But Maya and Gavin are well-behaved babies, and to Jen's credit, they're on a great schedule too.  They eat well.  They snooze in shopping carts and doze during dinners out.

Best of all, they make great weight training partners!

Check out her reply...
When Jen leaves, the twins are sleeping in their bouncers.  Or at least I think they are.  They're so cute I snap a photo and send it to my friend Deb.

She's right.  Let the games begin.

Maya goes back to sleep, but minutes later, Gavin starts to fuss.  I pick him up, rock him in my arms, and walk him around a bit.  This sounds natural enough, but it turns out, hoisting an infant out of a bouncy seat is like a new PT exercise.  I stabilize my prosthetic leg, shift onto my right leg, bend my knee, lean toward the floor -- and scoop!

Once we're up, instinct kicks in.  I sing camp songs like they're lullabies.  My Genium goes into "baby sway" mode.   Each step is careful and calculated, but surprisingly I feel solid and strong.  (Thanks Ottobock!)

When we stop for a diaper change, there's a slight fumble, but it has nothing to do with the babies.   My diapering skills are just a bit rusty.  I tape Gavin's Pamper on backwards, then switch it around.  Ahh, the design goes in the front!  Gavin watches me curiously from the changing pad.  (Is that a smirk, kid?)

I got this.

First selfie??
The two of us settle down on the couch. Gavin's warm little body creases the crook of my arm.

Then Maya lets out a pint-sized grunt from her bouncy seat.  I glance over.  Uh-oh.  She wriggles into a new sleeping position.

At that moment, I'm struck by a jolt of panic.  What if they both wake up at the SAME TIME?

Miraculously, they don't.  At least not until Jen comes home.

When she arrives an hour or so later, Gavin and I have paced off Mile 4,249 together.  And Maya is still asleep.  Whew!   We made it.

On this journey as an amputee, there's a first time for everything.  We'll call this mile my first successful babysitting double date!

So my little friends, it's true.  Between the two of you, you do have four legs.

But until you can walk -- and count -- I'm still ahead of the game!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Book?!

Mile Marker 4240:

I took my first step toward a thousand miles on July 9, 2011.

Today marks 5 years and 1 month of taking tiny steps toward a very large goal -- and telling my story along the way.  It's turned into something pretty cool:  224 blog posts (including this one), readers from 10 countries (according to Blogger stats), and over 140,000 page views!

I always figured friends and family would follow my journey, but I never imagined the story might appeal to others, or take on a life of its own.

That's where Donna comes in.

You may remember her from the
Farmer's Market fiasco!
Donna was the first friend I met because of this blog.  That's right.  Long before we met in person, Donna was a self-proclaimed BLOG FOLLOWER!

Three years ago, we met at a party in our apartment complex.  I was new to the neighborhood, standing around with a paper plate in my hand.  Donna came up, introduced herself, and started talking about one of her favorite activities, running.

"Do you run?" she asked.

It was September.  I was wearing jeans.  Donna had no idea I was an amputee still mastering the art of walking.

So I yanked up my pant leg a bit.  "I wear a prosthesis,"  I said.  "I can't run yet, but I'm hoping to learn--"


As soon as the words slipped out, Donna covered her mouth and began to apologize.  To this day, she tells me how embarrassed she was.

But here's the thing.  I wasn't offended at all.

I was flattered!  My story had preceded me!  Isn't that the dream of every writer?   I told a story that someone remembered, and recognized, and READ!

To make a long story short, Donna and I became great friends.

Blogging has helped me survive and thrive through the twists and turns of this journey.  When funny things happen, I write.  When I'm struggling, I write.  When nothing else soothes, I write.  Within the words, I rediscover comfort, and encouragement, and even hope.  And knowing you're out there reading?  That's like having a built-in support team!

But is it possible that you, the reader, might glean something from it too?

Please say yes.

Because I want to share my next goal:

To write a book.

Ok.  There.  I said it.  It's not done yet.  In fact, I've only taken the first steps, and it already seems like a daunting task.  Case in point:  my Post-It covered coffee table...

I'm not sure where this project will lead.  But then again, are we ever sure where we're going?   Gotta start somewhere.  Five years ago, I wondered if I'd ever reach Mile 1000.

So here's to the story behind the story.  The one that happened to me, but also the one we've constructed together.  Let's keep going.

Got advice?  Experience?  Connections?  Questions?
Parts that pique your interest?
Favorite parts?  Helpful parts?
Parts you wish you knew?

Conversation is good!  Write a comment, send an email (my1000miles@gmail.com), or message me on the FB page.  I'd love your input!

Time to embark on a new chapter.

Come along!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sweat Test

Mile Marker 4200:

Ever feel like your leg is slipping off in the middle of a busy sidewalk?

If you're an amputee, and it's summer, the answer is probably "yes."

I'm talking about SWEAT.

Ask anyone in Philly.  It's been a sweaty summer so far!   As I navigate the bricks and cobblestones of Old City, my leg gets looser and looser.  For amputees, the simple phenomenon of sweating can make or break your prosthetic suspension -- and your day!

Sorry Bri, I'm outta here!
It can be disappointing, like when I only last for 2 innings at the Phillies game.

Or disconcerting, like when I nearly lose my leg at the Farmer's Market!

Luckily, Donna comes to the rescue!

But mostly it's just discouraging.

When the temperature heats up, I have a tough time cooling down.  Think about it.  Amputees have less skin than most people.  That means less surface area to release the heat.  Plus, it's sweaty inside a prosthetic socket!  My leg is encased in a silicone liner.  When I sweat, the moisture creates movement, or sheer, between my skin and the liner.  At best, I'll get a socket rub.  At worst, my whole leg starts to slide off.

It works!!
Now, it's not all bad news.  I've been on a solution streak this summer.  After all, I finally figured out how to style an umbrella bag as a perfectly fitting raincoat for my Genium!  (The trick is cutting a second hole and slipping it on like a leg-warmer.)  Not exactly hi-tech, but progress!

So I am determined to solve this sweat problem too...

I'm conducting a Sweat Test.

A sampling...
I've had limited success with prosthetic products.  So armed with CVS coupons, I load up a shopping cart with "normal" antiperspirants.  I take them home and methodically try them on my leg, one by one.

A waist harness offers
extra protection.
Thank goodness!
The roll-ons and sticks are too slippery.  But Degree's dry spray goes on better.  It absorbs quickly with no greasy residue.  My liner doesn't slip or slide.  It has potential!  But can it take the heat??

Well, almost.

I'm walking up 3rd Street when the familiar slippage begins.  For above-knee amputees, there's no discreet way to fix your leg in public.  So I've learned to seek shelter.  ASAP.

That shelter happens to be Moko Salon.

"You're early," receptionist Melissa says.

She's right.  My haircut with Jackie is not for another hour.

"Actually, I thought I might use your restroom to fix my leg."  I gesture toward my prosthesis which, by now, is dangling like a loose tooth.

Melissa waves me down the stairs.

Ahhhhh....  Re-donned and refreshed, I sit down in Jackie's salon chair.  As she cuts my hair, I tell her about the Sweat Test.

"This may sound crazy," she says, "but what about a dry shampoo?"

I look at her in the mirror.  Go on...

It's TSA size too!
"I have this product," she says.  "It's a powder that takes the oil out of your hair.  Maybe it would keep your leg dry too."  She hands me a small cylindrical container.

It actually makes sense.

"If it works, you'll be a millionaire!"  I tell her.

At home, I shake Jackie's product into the palm of my hand.  It's like lemony-scented downy snow.  I rub a tiny bit onto my leg.   It feels grainy and tacky.  I roll on my liner.  It adheres like glue.

I walk around a bit.  Feels kind of prickly.  Not exactly pleasant but bearable, I guess.  And if it keeps my leg on...

I begin a one-person clinical trial.

For the most part, the results are surprisingly good.

Until I get a red, itchy, blotchy rash.  (Yep, a side effect.)

My dermatologist, Dr. S, is supportive and sympathetic.  She doesn't chide me for experimenting at home.  And she doesn't laugh when I tell her about the off-label use of Jackie's no-sweat hair product.

Instead, she says not to worry.  "The rash isn't life threatening."

She prescribes two more antiperspirants to try, along with some creams to counteract the rash.  Then she leaves me with these encouraging words:  "Summer won't last forever."

The Sweat Test continues.

At Mile 4200, the DNC is about to make history in Philly.  Despite the heat, I get caught up in the excitement.  Friends convince me to walk 6 blocks to Independence Hall where the Today Show is filming live.  It's 7 a.m. and the humidity is already cranked up to "sweltering."   It's hot.  It's crowded.  Yet somehow, my leg stays fastened.

Jackie's powder aces the Sweat Test!

This is newsworthy!!!

On the way home, we cool off with Old City Coffee's newest special...


Only time will tell if we've stumbled onto the next big thing for amputees.  We've still got plenty of summer to sweat through!

(And I'm open to ideas if you've got any!)

Innovation can come from anywhere.  That's what's cool about searching for solutions in a city where history is made.

It's not just perspiring.  It's inspiring too!

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Mile Marker 4172:

Act III, Scene 1:  My friend Jen and I have just returned from dinner when my phone tings with a text from my sister Sam in Vermont.

"Heading to the hospital."

This is it.  Act III.

Sam is in labor with her third child.  When I visited them a few weeks ago for Independence Day, we decided I wouldn't come back when the baby was born.  Instead, I'd return later in the summer, once they were all settled in.

It made perfect sense at the time.  Now it makes no sense at all.

"I should be there,"  I tell Jen.  "I want to be there."  The urgency brings me close to tears.

"So buy an airline ticket,"  she says.

"It's not that simple."

It's hard to explain the burden of traveling as an amputee.  And tonight, that last minute idea seems beyond my capabilities.  Flying to Vermont is ridiculously expensive.  Plus, my leg is already throbbing with its usual evening ache.   I'm running out of energy.  How can I start packing now?  How can I go anywhere on such short notice?

"Call me if you need a ride to the airport," Jen says.

I stand in the hallway of my apartment.  Tired.  Powerless.  Too far away from where I need to be.

That's when I get an inexplicable surge of courage.

We're not in Act II anymore.

Act III, Scene 2:  Flashback.

Act I took place in March 2010 when my niece Riley was born.  Back then, I had two strong legs, no health problems, and no doubts about my own competence.  I fit comfortably into my role of big sister to Sam, bedside helper at the hospital, and of course, aunt to a brand new baby girl named Riley.

The intermission was not kind.  Eight months later, when I was hit by a truck, Sam got in her car and drove 400 miles from Vermont to Philadelphia with baby Riley in the backseat.  For the next 2 years, our lives centered around a very different hospital... and me.

When little Brennan showed up in Act II, it was a relief to celebrate such a happy occasion!  I still wasn't quite myself, but with the help of my parents and a wheelchair, I managed to make a cameo appearance.

(For the backstory on Acts I and II, click here.)

Now, Act III is unfolding -- fast!

Act III, Scene 3:  I hop around my bedroom on crutches.  It's nearly midnight, and I am grabbing t-shirts and shorts, a shrinker and pajamas, a couple of random socks.  I toss them all into my school backpack.

Balanced on one foot, I pull my "leg kit" from the closet.  It's already packed:  Albolene, AdaptSkin, Eucerin, Neosporin, Allen wrench, extra valve, extra socket padding, and alcohol spray.  Looks complete enough.  I'll add my Genium's charger in the morning.

My laptop screen illuminates the dim bedroom.  A plane ticket for the next morning hovers there, on the website for American Airlines.  It's waiting for me to click "continue."

I click it.

It's the most spontaneous thing I've done in 5 years.

Act III, Scene 4:  Four hours later in a Vermont delivery room, my tiny niece lets out a mighty wail.  She surprises everyone -- even the doctors!  It's 4:32 a.m.

Beautiful day for a new baby!
Meanwhile in Philly, I take a shower and push into my prosthesis.  Get dressed.  Fold up my crutches and grab my backpack.   At the airport, I join other sleepy travelers.

It is 7/17.  The baby weighs 7 lbs. 2 oz.  My flight leaves at 7:35 a.m. and I'm in seat 7D.  (That's a lot of sevens!)

Act III is a lucky place to be.

When the plane lands in Burlington, I hustle out and catch a taxi to the hospital.

Already, the improvements since Act II are palpable.  I walk confidently across the hospital lobby on my own two feet, not in a wheelchair pushed by my dad.  I'm back in my element, playing the role of independent, responsible big sister.  And, as an added bonus, it's a "good leg" day!

I ride the elevator to the 7th floor.  (Yes, another seven!)

"Hello?"  I stick my head into the doorway of Sam's room.

She's sitting up in bed, glasses on, hair pulled back, exhausted but so happy.  Her husband Gregg is in the chair next to her.  Both of them look up.  Surprise!  They weren't expecting me.

But there's an even better surprise...

In Gregg's arms is a precious package just 4 hours old.

Dylan Brooke

Her journey?
Much tougher than mine!
Gregg hands the baby to me -- all seven pounds of warmth, and fluttery eyelids, and chubby cheeks, and pouty pink lips.  I peek under her hat at the blonde peach fuzz, still damp and matted from birth.  She lets out a graceful, high-pitched sigh.

I've never felt prouder or more certain.  This moment -- and this little girl -- are worth every mile.

Act III, Scene 5:  Big sibs Riley and Brennan bounce in with my parents a short time later.  They're bubbling with curiosity.

"Today's the baby's birthday!"  Riley says.  "She's zero!"

In Act II, at age 2, Riley was as lost as I was.  Her whole world was shaken.  No one asked her if she was ready to play the part of "big sister."

Now, at 6 years old, she embraces that role with gusto.

"I want to hold the baby!" she proclaims.  We sit her in a chair with a pillow on her lap.  Four-year-old Brennan climbs up next to her, scuffling out a space for himself.  He's not quite sure what's going on, but he thinks he wants a piece of it too.

In Act III, a threesome is born!

Watch out world!

Nurses and doctors come and go.  My mom changes diapers.  My dad brings lunch and dinner.  Sam's friend Paula gives us a swaddling demo.

In the rocking chair, I cuddle "Baby Dyl" as long as I can.

I'm in LOVE -- all over again!

Finally, Gregg drives me back to the airport.  There's a 2 hour flight delay, so I sit in the gate area thinking about all the miles that led me here.  Although it feels kind of full-circle, Act III is really another new beginning.

When I finally line up for boarding, my phone tings again.  It's a photo and message from Sam:

"Heading home!"

Me too.  But I'll be back before you know it.

Turns out, I take the biggest steps for the smallest reasons of all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Independence Day

Mile Marker 4145:

Happy Belated Independence Day!

Remember that first walk to the mailbox?   It was only 2 blocks, but at the time, I'd been wearing my new prosthetic leg for only 2 months.

It happened exactly 5 years ago today!
Mile 7 was HUGE.

For most of us, independence grows naturally.   At age 12, I started babysitting.  At 13, I went to the mall with my friends.  At 16, I learned to drive.  I'm sure you've got your own mile markers.  We cruise forward, more and more independently, as the years fly by.

Until we don't.

You know how it happened for me.  At 41 years old, on an unexpected Tuesday morning, I became DEPENDENT all over again.  On everyone.  For everything.  I literally could not stand alone.

And I'm still rebuilding.

It's July 4th weekend, and I am barreling toward my sister's house in Vermont.  Mile 7 was big.  Mile 4145 is bigger.  It's the first time I've done this drive solo since my accident.

It's a trip I used to take at the drop of a hat.  My sister Sam would call -- "What are you doing this weekend?" she'd say -- and I'd throw clothes into a duffel bag.  Stick in some CDs.  Hop on the NJ Turnpike.  Head for Vermont.  Smooth as maple syrup.

Now, disaster lurks around every corner.  I worry about my car breaking down and being alone.  I worry about suffering a medical emergency.  (Of course, it would happen while my car breaks down and I'm alone!)  I've lost my independence before, and I know it could happen again, and again, and again.  Sometimes doubt gets the best of me.

Not this time.

As I'm driving north on the NJ Turnpike, an enormous wave of anxiety hits.  It feels like I'm hurling myself into outer space.

I knew this would happen, so I planned ahead.  One of my first lessons as a new amputee was how to break down large goals into smaller ones.  (Thank you, PTs!)

If you're in Danbury,
check out Rumors Café.
I did!
So I divided the trip into sections:
(1) To Danbury, Connecticut -- about 2 1/2 hours
(2)  To Brattleboro, Vermont -- about 3 more hours
(3) And finally to Barre, Vermont -- just 2 more hours!

I searched online to find comfortable places to take a break in each town.

That's it, I tell myself.  Just 3 short drives.  You can do that.

I put on an audiobook.  It absorbs my thoughts.  I hit all 3 destinations on schedule.

The plan works.  I'm in Vermont!

It's great to see my faraway family:  brother Steve, sister Sam, and brother-in-law Gregg.  Niece Riley and nephew Brennan are ecstatic.   They chatter over each other.  They want to tell me everything!  They pretend to tickle my "robot leg."  (I laugh once in a while just to throw them off.)   And they love selfies!

This one pretty much says it all!

The fireworks have come and gone, but that's ok.  Sam and I run out for last-minute groceries, and Gregg grills up a feast.

When we get ready to go in the pool, four-year-old Brennan offers up my swim leg, as if I might forget it.

Cutest assistant ever!

The next day Sam has several doctor's appointments so it's my turn to take care of the kids.  Yes, babysitting.  This is BIG.

Never mind that I've been watching kids since I was 12, and have been teaching more than 20 years.  What if I can't keep up with these two?  What if I sweat out of my socket?  What if someone gets hurt?  What if I have to carry somebody?

If independence had a membership fee, it would be paid for in What-Ifs.

Makeovers too!
I plan a thousand activities for Riley and Brennan: Go Fish, watercolor painting, cookie decorating, and lots more.

Gregg leaves 4 bottles of bubbles for us.

The pool and "swim leg" are ready too.

There's something you should know about Riley and Brennan. They don't slow down!

We do it all!

The day is a success.  So successful, in fact, that I don't think twice about the drive home.

Independence breeds more independence, I guess.

Eight hours stretches into 9 1/2.  Finally I reach the NJ Turnpike.  Southbound this time.

For some reason, I start thinking about our country's first Independence Day.  I imagine those colonists and Founding Fathers, and how they must have felt back in the 1770's when they made that decision.  Not the decision to form a democracy, but that crucial choice to go out on their own.  To cut ties with everything they knew.  The courage it took to put distance between their old lives and their new ones.  And the idea that it would somehow set them FREE.

It's a leap to compare that to my little trip, I know.

Still, when I finally pull into the parking lot of my building and drag all my luggage inside, it feels like an accomplishment.

Independence comes in many forms.

It's never too late to celebrate!