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!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Why I March

Mile 4760:

I almost didn't march today.

Here's why:  It had been a busy work week.  On top of that, I rock climbed on Wednesday night, celebrated Deb's birthday on Thursday night, and went to a housewarming party on Friday night.  I expected this weekend to be jam-packed as well.

It was too much leg time.  I was exhausted.  Just thinking about the Women's March pushed me over the edge.

"I can't do it all," I told my mom last night.  "I need to skip something, and that's the one event where I won't be missed."

The Women's March would be happening in all 50 states.  I am just one person.  Mathematically, I wouldn't matter a whole lot.

But when morning arrives, I can't explain it.  I just KNOW I should be there.

So I hop on the bus.  Meet Mom at the train.  And then we walk for the next 3 hours!

We stroll down Market Street, through City Hall, and toward the Ben Franklin Parkway.  Stop at Sister Cities Park and then join the crowd at Logan Circle.

It's a cloudy gray day, but Swann Fountain is transformed into a rainbow-colored playground.

This is what HOPE looks like!

And that's just the beginning.  From there, we join the marchers -- a solid MILE of people!

How could you NOT follow this family?!

Thanks for the hats,
Aunt Robin!
We bob along in a sea of Pussyhats.

Chants surround us:
Women's rights are human rights! 
Black lives matter!
This is what democracy looks like! 
...and so many more.

Signs bounce like buoys above our heads!

I don't like crowds, yet I feel safe in this one.  Reinforced.  Protected.  Like everyone might be a friend.

There are some things we all agree on!

Another sign up ahead (too far for a photo) catches my eye.  It says:  If this ship is going down, we might as well have a parade.

Yesterday I watched the inauguration from the rehab gym, and that's exactly what I thought. This ship is going down.  As the Obamas said goodbye, and Trump was sworn in, I turned up the treadmill.  I rowed faster on the rowing machine.  I did abs, and arms, and pull-ups, and push-ups.  A few people asked why I was so intense.  (Usually, I just hang out and chat with everyone!)

"I have to get ready," I said.  "Life as we know it is over."  I was only half-joking.  I felt this urgent need to get stronger, to be able to survive when things go awry.

I imagined the restricted world in The Handmaid's Tale, and the lonely wilderness in Station Eleven, and the insidious suppression in The Nightingale, and the post-apocalyptic darkness in The Bone Clocks.  Ok, maybe I read too much.  Or maybe I catastrophize too much.  But in that hour of TV coverage, I pictured all the things that could go terribly WRONG in the next four years and beyond.

The Women's March pushes those thoughts away.

At Mile 4,760, I don't think this ship is going down at all.  Not here.  Not with all these caring, kind, intelligent, open-minded, and resourceful passengers aboard!

Yes, I'm still worried.  Yes, I still feel the need to be on guard.

And yes, I can see many more marches in my future.  Because along with all the messages today, I can never forget this one:

And I thought my voice wouldn't matter?

One voice matters.  Every voice matters.

And that's why I marched.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On A Good Leg Day

Mile Marker 4709:

On a good leg day, I walk through a metal detector at the Flyers Game.

It beeps, of course.  Dad glances at me; I glance at him.  No one else around seems to notice.  We keep going, and no one stops us.

We show our tickets to the next attendant, step onto an escalator, and finally ascend a flight of stairs.  I suspect there's an elevator nearby, but today it doesn't matter.

It's a good leg day.

For those of you who aren't ruled by the comfort of your extremities, let me clarify.  My friend Ian once said to me, "Some people have good hair days.  You have good leg days!"

That's exactly how it works.  (And when they both fall on the same day, well, watch out world!)

On a good leg day, I walk better.  I feel coordinated.  I have more energy.  It's like someone hit the mute button on the static -- all that nerve noise -- that usually runs through my body.  Of course, there's still sweating, and rubbing, and poking to worry about.  But on the rarest-of-rare days, even these fade to the background.  My Genium and I move in tandem.  We are one.

Our first time in a Club Box
At Mile 4,709, it gets even better.  A good leg day turns into a good leg night!

Dad and I find Club Box 81 at center ice.  The players are already on the rink warming up, but I don't even make it to our seats.  I'm pulled in by the buffet of snacks from Chickie & Pete's.  The counter tops are filled with food.

"Wait," the server tells us, "a huge Lorenzo's pizza will be here soon!"

Yep, it's worth waiting for!

Our seatmates are athletes from Magee's wheelchair basketball and rugby teams.  They're a friendly, welcoming bunch!  I marvel at their ability to maneuver around the tiny space, dodging bar stools and high tables.  As the clock counts down to face-off, they lift themselves out of their wheelchairs -- over armrests and stairs -- into what some would think are "inaccessible" stadium seats.  These guys make it work.  They're strong!!!

I'm in AWE before the game even starts!

Dad and I descend the stairs to the front row.  We cross in front of two other amputees, Jim and Jimmy, to reach the inside seats.

Getting my prosthesis into a stadium row is usually a dizzy, wobbly, precarious adventure.  But tonight, I'm carrying snacks and stepping over people's legs without hesitation.  It all seems like kids' stuff!

On a good leg day, anything's possible...

...which leaves plenty of room for fun!

Let's Go Flyers!
Unfortunately the Flyers are not having a good leg day.  Goalie Steve Mason's legs (and arms, and body) cannot seem to protect the goal.  And right winger Jakub Voracek's legs (and arms, and stick) are working overtime to compensate.

We cheer like crazy, but it's not quite enough.  The Flyers trail the Rangers the entire game.  End score 5-2.

Our seatmate Keith has a huge smile on his face.  He's the Wheelchair Sports Coordinator at Magee, and the one who invited me to the game. "Sorry about your team," he says.  (Spoken like a true Rangers fan!)

That's OK, Keith!  I had an AWESOME time!

As we make our way out, it's nearing 11 p.m.  On a typical night, my leg would be screaming to get out of its socket, and I'd be counting the minutes until I could take it off.  But tonight all is quiet and comfortable.  If everyday were like this, life would be so... normal.

"This is the best leg day I've had in a long time," I say to Dad.  "Maybe EVER!"

Good leg days, like most good things, don't last forever.  I know tomorrow will probably be different.  And when it is, I'll remind myself that walking -- for better or for worse -- is always a privilege.

Any day on my feet is a pretty good day.

Metal and all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy New Year!

Mile Marker 4700:

At 8 a.m. the fire alarm blasts.

It's our first one of the year -- a false alarm, thank goodness!

Still it's jarring, and heart pounding, and blaringly loud.  The siren echoes off the walls of my bedroom.  At least I have my leg on.

No pants yet.  But at least a leg!

I flip my Genium upside down and pop off its shoe.  Ears ringing, hands shaking, I slide on a pair of corduroys, refit the shoe, and lock my knee back into place.  Then I grab my cell phone from the night table.  Pull on a jacket.  Head for the stairs.

Halfway down, I notice my left foot is still wearing its sock from yesterday.

Oh well.  Not bad for an emergency.

It's January 3, 2017.   Does the beginning of the year predict the rest?

It seems like it would, but experience tells me it doesn't work that way.  (And in today's case, that's probably a good thing!)  After all, I've had plenty of great New Year celebrations with not-so-good years to follow.

This week, my Facebook newsfeed was kind enough to share a few reminders of New Years past.  Ironically, one of the best was from January 2010, when I rang in the year with friends, neighbors, and hundreds of Mummers on Philly's famous "2 Street."

Wanna travel back in time?  Here's a clip of the fun:
(To view it on youtube, click here.)


Those were the good old days!  But listen.  Bon Jovi called it.  Life was about to take a dramatic turn.  Who would have guessed I'd be Livin' on a Prayer, literally, by the end of that year??

On January 1, 2011 -- exactly one year, 12 surgeries, and 7 weeks of hospitalization later -- I posted this memory on Facebook:

Shelley even flew in from Chicago!
I spent most of that New Year's Eve doubled over with abdominal pain, so being "home" only lasted a few days.  I never imagined how many obstacles still lay in my path.  Yet it was a new year.  Friends and family gathered.  I was home, and for the moment anyway, it seemed like a step forward.

Another year later, with a 13th surgery under my belt, I reached Mile 267, and finally returned to my home on "2 Street" -- just in time to ring in 2012!

A toast to 2014!
The next few years brought new apartments, new friends, and even a few new leg tricks!

Each year had its share of ups and downs, but there was also much to celebrate.

Fast forward a few thousand miles...

Make way for 2017!

Now, I live two miles north of South Philly, so when the sun rises on New Year's Day, there are no Mummers in sight.  Instead, when I stand on the balcony -- balancing on one foot -- I see the clearest, cleanest, most hopeful sky.

A blank slate.  Full of quiet possibilities...
...and, of course, the occasional fire alarm.

So here's to 2017, and whatever it might bring.  As Bon Jovi says, We'll give it a shot!

Wishing you a healthy and happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Places I've Been

Mile Marker 4450: 

They say you can't go back, but really you can.

It's just not the same.

Take Chicago.  Or more specifically, a bike path in Chicago.

At Mile 4,450, I'm walking down the lakefront bike path with Shelley's mom, and our friends Dawn and Annie.

We're going to visit Shelley's tree.

It's not hard to find.  Take the Barry Street underpass.  Follow the bike path south.  Walk past the Belmont sign and a grove of baby trees.  Count five street lights.

Then there it is.

Shelley's tree.

It's willowy and tall.  Young but sturdy.  Independent and free.  Marked with a pink ribbon from the Chicago Park District, its branches reach upward toward the sky.  Its leaves show the earliest hints of red and gold.

It reminds me of Shelley!

With Shelley gone, Chicago is not the same for me.  It's not quite as comfortable, not quite as familiar. Yet standing here under her tree, I feel a touch of that goodness return.
So I do!

I can feel her.  It's a place where she is.

I can even give her a hug.

Mile Marker 4457:  

A dorm room at Northwestern.

My roommate Keats and I stroll across campus together.  It's a fall wonderland studded with all the stuff we remember.  Paper flyers are still taped to the ground.  The library still sprawls into three towers.

25 years?!
And the students?  They still look a lot like we did, with the exception of their Starbucks cups and cell phones!

On the south side of campus, we come to our old dorm.  There's a kid walking in.  We follow him.

"Hey!  Can you hold the door for us?  We used to live here 25 years ago!"

He turns around.  We're giggling like freshmen.

He smiles and nods, placing his electronic key on the sensor.  His name is Dylan, and he lives on the first floor, but he's nice enough to walk us all the way up to the third.  (You need a key card to enter there too.)

"If you lose your key card, it costs $100," Dylan says.

We tell him that when we lived here, lockouts were $5.00.  And we thought that was outrageous!

The building feels small, like when you go back to visit your elementary school.  If I spread my arms, I can touch both walls of the hallway.  The giant windows are no bigger than dormers.  And the walls we covered in posters don't look large enough to hold them anymore.

We pose in front of Room 308...

Our room!

...and Dylan snaps a photo.

Just then, a boy walks out of the bathroom in a towel.  "Excuse me," he says.  "That's my room."

Right.  It's not our room anymore.

Keats and I laugh all the way down the stairs.  Good thing you don't need a key card to get out!

Mile Marker 4480:  

An intersection in Philadelphia.

What did you expect?  It's November.

I stand on the edge of the sidewalk and stare out at the place where this story began.

If you look close enough, blacktop isn’t just blacktop.  It’s a blur of light and dark like an ocean seen from the sky.  There's nothing black and white about it.  It's all shades of gray. 

For the first time, I notice there's a patch on it, an irregular shape with messy edges.  It reminds me of the skin graft on my leg -- glossy borders, unmatched and paved against the grain.  Nearby, there's a long, deep crack in the surface that looks like an incision.

This street has wounds too.

I stand and watch for a while.  Cars rush by.  Bikers too, well-dressed with backpacks and saddlebags.  Not one is wearing a helmet.

If I stand here long enough (which I do), a garbage truck rumbles past.  Then a tractor trailer.  Its wheels are massive, as high as my shoulders if I stand close enough (which I don't).

I find a fallen leaf in the street at the exact place I fell.  One half is flattened and stuck to the ground, but the other half ripples lightly in the wind.  It's a symbol, I think.  It reminds me of me.

Everything here reminds me of me.

When the traffic clears, I rescue it.  Set it safely on the sidewalk.  Cover it over with seashells.

Life goes on here.  That always surprises me.  In my mind and heart, this corner stays frozen in time.

In a few hours, it will be November 9th, my "Alive Day."

I want to say something significant, share some deep thoughts about what it means to have another year on this earth.  I want to talk about where I'm going.  But I can't stop thinking about these places I've been.

How many times did I bike along the Chicago lakefront with Shelley?


Walk up those dorm stairs with Keats? 

Pedal through that intersection on my Trek mountain bike, ready for the workday ahead?

Why do I keep going back?

Every year on this date, my life gets whittled down to one place -- one moment -- where the rest becomes history.  There's this urgency, this sense that time is running out, and this knowledge that my old life will end when the clock strikes seven tomorrow morning.

I don't know why it keeps happening.  But I do know this,

You can go back to a place time after time, but you can't go back in time.  You just have to go forward.

With any luck, tomorrow will be just a normal Wednesday.  (I know I'm not the only one anticipating November 9th this year!)

So fasten your helmet.  Load up your saddlebags.
We'll need all the strength and hope we can carry.

Here's to Year 6 of the journey... and many more miles ahead!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Impossible Things

"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  "When I was your age, I always did it for a half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

--Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Mile Marker 4403:

My friend Kym believed impossible things.

She believed she would write a hit screenplay.  And she believed Bradley Cooper would play the leading role.  "Why not?"  she told me.  "He's from Philly!"

Growing up, Kym and I shared movie magazines and wrote letters to Hollywood stars.  As high schoolers, we flew to UCLA for a summer media program.  In college, we both studied film.  Then, halfway through my freshman year, something changed.  I decided that dragging around heavy camera equipment was not for me.  It'd be a nice hobby, I thought, but I needed a "real" career.

With feet firmly planted on the ground, I entered adulthood.  I guess you could say I stopped believing impossible things.  Or at least I cut down.

Kym never did.  She continued writing and learned to do voice-overs.  She made small films.  She even landed a role as an extra in the movie Sixth Sense.  She put her ideas, and goals, and dreams out there for all to see.

In our 20's, Kym and I traveled together through Europe.  At every famous sight, she suggested silly poses that made us stand out from the crowd.  I felt goofy and conspicuous, but I went along with it.  (This was long before selfies, so we took turns holding the camera!)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Ok, I admit it was fun!

On our first day in Rome, as we meandered through the Roman Forum, I paused for the thousandth time to look at my guidebook.  Kym stood there restlessly, itching to move on.

"I have an idea," she said, "Let's try to see all of Rome in one day!"

"Why?" I asked.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing?

"Just to say we did it!" she answered.

See, most people --  like me -- would say it was impossible.  But Kym was out to prove them wrong.

Feeling the time crunch, we agreed to explore the city by motor scooter.  Yes, driving ourselves.  On 2 wheels.  Around traffic circles.  In Rome.

At a storefront called I Bike Rome, we saddled up on scooters and signed the waivers.  I dragged Kym over to a display of helmets on the wall.

"No one wears helmets here,"  Kym said, as if I were the crazy one.

"We're not from here!"  I told her.  Even back then, I refused to give in!

It's not in the photo, but I'm pretty sure
I convinced her to wear a helmet!

After a slight fender-bender (a.k.a. Kym's runaway scooter on the sidewalk), we spent the rest of the day touring Roman bars in search of ice for her injuries.  Come to think of it, we probably did see the whole city that way.  Back at the hotel we joked that Kym, covered in bandages, had earned herself a leading role in the Italian media -- as the poster-child for I Bike Rome!

A good enough reason to celebrate!

Fast forward 20 years.

In the summer of 2014, I pass Mile Marker 1900.  And Kym is diagnosed with cancer.

It's impossible to believe.

She eats colorful foods.  She strives to walk a mile each day, even when she's in the hospital.   When she needs to get blood, she makes jokes about vampires.  She fills her Facebook page with artwork and poems.  With all her energy, she sends love into the world.

See it?
Kym finds hearts everywhere: in sunsets, and sidewalks, and bowls of cereal.  And when I see them in my own travels, I take a photo and send them back to her.

Months pass.  Then a year.  Then two.  Kym radiates goodness.  And -- as impossible as it seems -- even good health.

Kym believes she can get through this.  Her plan is to heal completely.  To reclaim her body and surprise her doctors with an unexpected medical miracle.  She is so good at believing it, that for a while, we believe it too.

On a walk one morning, I discover a heart in the alley near my building.  It's nothing special really, just the twist of a wrought iron handrail at someone's doorstep.  But I stop.  Think of Kym.  Take out my phone.  Snap a photo.  Then keep walking.

By the time I reach my apartment and unlock the door, the day has begun.  I make breakfast, answer texts, and send emails.  Wash the dishes, pack my bag, and leave for work.  In the rush, I forget about that heart.  I never send it to Kym.

I regret that one little heart got left behind, that I never took the time to send it.

On the first Friday of October, as I pass Mile 4403, Kym passes away.

Reality seeps through the cracks.  We always think there will be time.  But some things are impossible.

On a much tinier scale, it seems impossible that more than 100 miles have passed without a blogpost.  I'd like to say there hasn't been time, but really it's just a matter of choosing what we spend our time on.

So in honor of Kym, I'm writing again, and putting this message out there:

Do you have an idea or a goal?  A dream or a hope?  Even a heart for someone?

Don't wait.  Launch it.  Send it on its way.

And then, think like Kym.

No matter how impossible it might seem to be...

"Heart on... my Raisin Bran flake!!"
by Kym  /  June 28, 2016