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, September 1, 2017

Mountain Time

Mile Marker 5400:

Halfway between Woodstock and Thornton is a place that runs on mountain time.

When the sun rises, I'm awakened by real birds, not the artificial "birdsong" of my iPhone alarm.  And instead of walking to get coffee, I drive 9 miles.

It's worth it!

In the White Mountains of New Hampshire, I'm sharing a house with my parents, my sister Sam, her husband Gregg, and nieces and nephew Riley, Brennan, and Dylan.  In case you lost count, that makes 8 of us.  So while it's quiet and serene outside the house, there's a constant hum inside.  The TV surfs between Sprout and CNN.  The washer and dryer tumble with endless loads of towels.

And Dilly wakes up long before the birds!

She's cute, so we let her slide!

I'm used to living on my own and doing what I want, but on this trip the kids set the pace.  We're on mountain time.

We befriend bears.

Climb rock walls.

Bungee jump.  (Safely!)

Get lost in life-size mazes.

And ride a gondola high above the world!

At Lost River Gorge, we hike a one-mile boardwalk.  It has a thousand stairs, cascading waterfalls, and a suspension bridge that makes Mom nervous.

The trail is lined with boulder caves carved by glaciers long ago.  Determined to follow the kids, I cover my Genium with plastic.  While my parents hang onto Dylan, the rest of us squeeze between stone walls, belly through passageways, and snake over puddles.

More than once,
I get stuck between
a rock and a hard place!

Each cave comes with unique challenges.  How will I tunnel under that low-hanging rock?  Hoist over that boulder?  Slip through that tight spot without releasing my socket? 

And of course, where's the best place for a selfie?

By the time I emerge there's an audience.  When I crawl bear-style up a wooden ladder, I accidentally knock my hip against the edge of a boulder.  Luckily we have a 7-year-old commentator to capture the moment.  Turn up the volume.  Here's a replay...


In the mountains, there's time for everything.  I even catch up with my old friend Bob, whom I haven't seen since long before the accident.  He and his family live about 50 miles from here, which by mountain standards is pretty much next door!

Exactly 2 years ago, I wrote a post called Small Happiness.  More than 2000 miles have passed since then, and that happiness has grown exponentially.

Riley, who took her first steps when I did, back at Mile 15, is now entering 2nd grade.

Brennan (born at Mile 436) is our newest kindergartner.

And prosthetist in training!

As for Baby Dyl?

On our last night in the house, she disappears.  While Dad's outside at the grill, and we're hustling to get dinner on the table, Dylan is suddenly no where to be found!  We can hear her little voice, those soft baby babbles, but we don't see her anywhere.  That's when she peeks her nose over the second floor landing.  Mom and Sam race up the winding stairway to find Dylan sitting at the top with a proud smile, pleased as punch with her newest accomplishment.  Her first time climbing stairs alone!

It's summer here, but autumn is on the way.  Already the night air smells like Halloween.

Time flies.  Seasons pass.
Things change.  It's good to take a break and enjoy them for a while.

That's the beauty of mountain time.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How to Climb Anything

Mile Marker 5373:

I stand on the floor, fingers curled around the start holds.  Carabiners locked.  Leg locked.  

"Climbing!" I call.

And whoever's belaying me -- Sarah, or Sara, or Marian, or Jacki, or Peet, or Julia, or Carly, or Alyson, or Jake  -- calls back.

"Climb on!"

Those two small words launch me up the rock wall.

My goal this summer had nothing to do with climbing -- and everything to do with writing.  I had planned to write a new blog post each week, submit a few articles, keep up with social media, schedule some presentations, and hey, remember that BOOK??

So how did I get from here...

...to here?

In case you missed it on Facebook, I did my first EVER climbing competition in June at USA Adaptive Climbing Nationals, where (spoiler alert!) I placed 2nd in my category, surprising everyone -- most of all, me!

But the biggest prize, by far, was making friends with so many amazing athletes.  On paper, they all have "disabilities" -- amputations, visual impairments, neurological or orthopedic challenges -- yet they're the most able-bodied group I've ever met!

They're UNSTOPPABLE-- on and off the rock wall!

If I wasn't addicted before, I am now.  Climbing is a concrete and all-consuming challenge.  When I'm on the wall, there's no space to think about anything else.  The only way to go is up.

It's not like sitting down to write -- where instead of a route to follow, I'm faced with a blank page and no clue where to go.  How do authors ever finish anything?  How do they even start?

At Mile 5,373, I hit a wall.  Not the climbing kind.  The blank page kind.

The more I climb, the better I climb.  But how can I channel that momentum toward other goals -- like writing my first blog post in two months?

Come on.  We all have walls to climb.  Maybe my struggle can give you a boost too.

Call it self-help.
Call it a pep-talk.
Call it notes from a novice climber.

Here's what I'm calling it...

How to Climb Anything (even a blank page)

1.  Get the start.  The start of a climbing route is the first move on the wall.  I grapple with starts a lot, especially if they require a tricky left foot.  I stall.  I hesitate.  I overthink.  (Prosthetist Tim calls it "analysis paralysis," and it extends to my writing too.)  Yet here's the thing:  getting the start can be a real confidence booster.   It works for any goal.  There's always a first step.  And once we take it, we're on our way.  Kinda like writing this blog post...

2.  Ask for beta.   Hang out in a rock gym, and you're likely to hear, "Can I get some beta on that one?"  For climbers, beta means information.  It's how we share suggestions and strategies with each other.  How we problem-solve on the wall.  And beta's good for any goal, even writing.  (Think blog comments -- hint, hint!)   If we ask the right people, beta can help us reach new heights!

Sharing bionic beta with a bi-ped :)

3.  Cheat past it.  When I get stuck on a climb, I CHEAT.  Yep.  I grab hold of a neighboring route and "cheat past" the problem area.  Why?  It lets me see what's next.  With any goal there's bound to be stumbling blocks (or writer's block!), but those barriers don't have to stop us.  It gets me thinking:  if a story is too hard to start, could I jump right into the middle?  I guess it's better than standing still!

Of course, you can't cheat in competition!
(Although for this move, I wished I could!) 

4.  See the finish.  No matter how high the rock wall, I know there's a finish hold waiting at the top.   (Maybe that's why I favor climbing over writing!)   Far away goals are tough to reach.  I get it.  I should visualize a complete book, cover to cover.  300 pages?  I can work with that.  Break it down.  Endpoints and endorphins -- they're not that far apart!

And finally... my favorite.

5.  Climb on.  The magic words of rock climbing.  Climb on means you're safely tied in, you're on belay, and you can start your journey.

Climb on
is a launch pad.
A kick in the pants.
Permission (and pressure) to GO FOR IT.

Gotta admit, it's a pretty good send-off.

I am not an expert climber.  My foot slips easily.  My reach lacks distance.  And my leg comes loose without warning.  I've got a lot to work on.

But when I hear the words climb on, I'm ready to face it all.

Yes, even that blank page.

A shout-out to this fabulous group, who gives me a "leg up" and keeps me climbing on! 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Unexpected Blessings

Mile Marker 5248:  

"Be sure to tell them about the challah," my dad says.

When I was in the hospital, every Friday afternoon, a challah -- the traditional Jewish Sabbath bread -- was delivered to my room.  From November through December, those loaves of bread measured the length of my stay more accurately than any calendar.

By the time I was discharged just before Christmas, we'd accumulated 7 challahs.  Afterward, I was re-hospitalized 6 more times, and each time, we received another.

I believe our grand total was 13.

Hold that thought.

At Mile Marker 5,248 I've been invited to share my story with Jefferson Hospital's Pastoral Care Program, the department of hospital chaplains.

When you picture a chaplain, what do you think of?

Yeah.  Me too.  But at Mile 5,248 that picture is redrawn.

To prepare the presentation, I ask my parents what they remember about the Pastoral Care staff.  And for the first time ever, I hear a play-by-play of the minutes, hours, and days when I first became a trauma patient.  How have I never heard these stories before?

It turns out, hospital chaplains played a major role in supporting our family -- and later me -- in ways that can only be described as unexpected blessings:

1.  He appeared out of nowhere.  As my mom waited, shaken and scared, outside the heavy doors of the trauma bay, a man dressed in plain clothes appeared.  He introduced himself as a hospital chaplain.  Well, you can probably guess where her mind went.  But that impression lasted only a moment because he assured her he was simply there for support.  "I'm here to help you with anything you need," he said.  And it turns out, he was.

2.  He googled a phone number.  When the accident happened, I had been on my way to work.  So in the trauma room, in the midst of pain and panic (and possibly adrenaline), I wanted my mom to call the school and tell them I wouldn't be in.  A short time later, she realized she didn't have the school's phone number.  Fortunately, the hospital chaplain was there.  He darted off without missing a beat, and returned, in seconds, carrying a phone and the school's phone number.

3.  She rescued my lost colleagues.  As soon as they heard the news, my school principal and two of my close colleagues rushed over to the hospital.  But once there, they couldn't locate my family. Because I'd come in through trauma, my family had remained in the Emergency Department, not in the usual waiting area.  The first chaplain's shift had ended, and a new female chaplain had come to support our family.  Like magic, she resolved the confusion. Trekking through 3 hospital buildings, she found my coworkers and gently guided them to where our family waited.

4.  She handled my mangled bike.  That same chaplain stepped up again when a police officer arrived at the hospital carrying my crushed bike.  Bent at a sickening angle, it had broken into two pieces.  Metal spokes poked out in all directions.  "Where should I put it?" he asked my family.  (He said I had asked them not to leave it behind.)  To my family's relief, the chaplain took charge.  She told them she would keep the bike in a safe place.  Then she whisked it off so they wouldn't have to worry about it -- or look at it.

5.  She made my nights bearable.   The first 4 blessings helped my family, but the fifth one helped me.   In the hospital for nearly two months, my physical health improved, but I was plagued by post-traumatic stress.  I feared being alone, I couldn't sleep, and every time I closed my eyes, I had vivid flashbacks of the accident.  Every night became a nightmare.  I needed to talk to someone, but who??  A wonderful woman began to stop by my room at the loneliest times.  She'd come after my family had gone home, and the lights had been dimmed for the evening.  She listened.  We talked.  She told me she worked the night shift, and I could call her anytime.  I didn't realize it then, but she, too, was a hospital chaplain.

At Mile 5,248 I tell these stories, and more, to the members of the Pastoral Care team.  And they tell me a few things too.

That chaplain who "appeared out of nowhere?"  He was actually on a mission to find my mom.  Pastoral Care, I learn, is part of the trauma team.  They're wired into the communication network and sent to support families when trauma strikes.  There's not only spirit, but science behind their blessings.

Ok.  Maybe that part isn't so surprising.  But here's what is.  Those chaplains, who at the time barely knew us, somehow figured out what we, as individuals, needed.  For our family, it wasn't about prayer and faith.  It was about PEOPLE.

Human comfort comes in many forms.

As we're wrapping up the presentation, I suddenly remember my dad's reminder about the challah.  I tell them.

They laugh, and say -- absolutely -- that was their department too!  It turns out, the bread is baked and donated by Jewish Family and Children's Services, and distributed to patients and families by the Pastoral Care team.

Just then a young chaplain pops up from his seat and hurries out of the conference room.  He returns seconds later with a freshly wrapped challah.

"For your dad," he says.

Add it to our list.

I know a blessing when I see one.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sweat Test 2.0

Mile Marker 5215:

It's called a Liner-Liner.

It reminds me of one of those "As Seen on TV" products -- like a prosthetic version of the "ShamWow."

In reality, the Liner-Liner is exactly what it claims to be:  a liner for your liner.  The label promises sweat-wicking material, improved comfort, facilitated grip, and a washable interface.  But don't answer yet...  It also costs less than $20!

I first heard about the Liner-Liner on a Facebook page for amputees.  A man from Florida recommended it.  I figured he was probably an expert on sweat!

When I googled it, it popped right up on a website called Amputee Store.  Yes, it's real.  (And awesome.)

In 2 days, the Liner-Liner lands in my mailbox.

Remember last summer's Sweat Test?

Now, 10 months later, it's the morning of Mile 5,215.  We'll call it Sweat Test 2.0.

I pull the Liner-Liner onto my leg like a comfy sock.  My own silicone liner rolls over it easily, and my leg slides into the socket without a hitch.

But before I can take my first step, I spot a warning on the label:

NOTE:  Ensure suspension is effective prior to full time use.

Note #2:  That's not fine print.  It's bold print.

If you're an amputee, you know this.  SUSPENSION IS EVERYTHING.  It means keeping your leg on!

There are lots of suspension systems out there.  Here's how mine works:

I roll on a silicone liner.  The inside of the liner sticks to my skin.  The outside has 5 circular seals -- like rings -- that grip the prosthetic socket.  When I push into the prosthesis, a valve expels air, creating a vacuum which keeps the leg sealed.

If you break the suction -- at any level -- the suspension fails.  That's why sweat can make or break your day.  Literally.

The theory behind the Liner-Liner is simple:  add an extra layer to soak up the sweat.

Note #3:  This is not simple at all.

I walk tentatively around the apartment.  There's more pistoning -- up and down motion -- than I'm used to.  But it's also soft and cushioned.  I give my Genium a tug.  It stays on.

Got suspension?  Check.

Next stop, the sidewalk.  The extra layer muffles the sensation of my foot against the ground, so I step carefully over curbs and grates, and kick extra high to clear the cobblestones.  It's a humid day, but three blocks in, my leg still feels dry and secure.  Whoo-hoo!

I head toward Race Street Pier, a tree-lined park that juts out over the Delaware River.

I rarely walk down here because it's off the beaten path and there's no place to do leg adjustments.  But today, the Liner-Liner brings a surge of confidence.  I savor the stroll, soaking in the lines and textures of early morning.

Even my gait seems pretty good. Check out the replay...


When I reach the end of the pier, I discover this message.

Well, this Liner-Liner, for one!

I'm ready to declare Sweat Test 2.0 a success!

Then I get home.
And sit down.
And my leg slides right out of the socket.

(Got suspension?  Not anymore.)

So.  The results are in.  Despite a pleasant first mile, the Liner-Liner is still very much a work in progress.  And for me, that means it's back to the drawing board.

Hello old friends.

My usual sweat fighters:
Climbing Chalk + Degree DrySpray

The latest Sweat Test proves, once again, there are no easy answers.  But I still dream of a day when my leg and I can take the heat.  In fact, I'm already thinking...

How about Liner-Liner 2.0?  

Imagine it.  Lycra thin.  Cool on skin.  Wicky on the inside.  Sticky on the outside.

Think bike shorts...

...meet hospital socks!

Calling all inventors.  Anyone game?

It's only June.

We've got time -- and temperature -- on our side!

Hey fellow amputees, 
Want to run your own Sweat Test?  
Legs and sockets are all different, so what didn't work for me might work for you.  I have Liner-Liners, in 2 sizes, washed and up for grabs.  Comment or email me if you want to try them!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lucky 13

Mile Marker 5200:

My niece Brianna just turned 13.

At Mile Marker 5200, I trail behind her through the narrow aisles of Primark, her favorite store in the mall.  She peruses the graphic tees, torn denim shorts, and skinny jeans, handing them to me one by one.  We carry an armful into the fitting room.

This is her birthday present -- shopping -- because at 13, she has a style all her own.  (Well, technically it's a style she shares with most of her friends, but you get the idea!)  Plus, I'm a shopper too.  We have that in common.

After checkout, Brianna says, "There's one more place I want to go."

If you know a 13-year-old, you can probably guess where we're headed...

Starbucks Frappy Hour!

Brianna lives in the far suburbs, at least an hour's drive from Philly, so coming into the city is a big deal.  We don't see each other as often as we'd like.

To see more, click here.
But whether she knows it or not, she's played a large role in my journey.  She was only 6 when my accident occurred.  During those earliest days in the hospital, she couldn't visit, so my walls were papered with her handwritten notes and magic marker drawings.

When I was discharged, we worried about what to tell her and how to talk about my missing leg.  I used to take her to the sprinkler park and the ice skating rink.  She loved the aunt I was "before."  What would she think of me now?

We didn't have to worry.  Not really.  My sister-in-law, Amy, gave Brianna the heads-up in kid-appropriate language.  The doctors couldn't fix my leg, so they had to take part of it off.   (I've used that same sentence to explain it to many kids since!)

To our surprise, Brianna's reaction was equally understated.  At first she asked, "Why are your jeans wearing a ponytail?"

Later, when I showed her my new prosthetic "robot leg," she concluded, as only a 6-year-old could,  "It would be cooler if you had two robot legs." 

That was it.  End of story.  For her anyway.

For me it was just the beginning.  I spent the next few years busy with rehab, caught up in my own recovery.  I didn't have the confidence or stamina to take her places anymore.  We drifted apart.

And she grew up.

Now Brianna has gone from kindergarten to 7th grade.  She's a rock climber and a vegetarian.  She likes to read and bake cookies.  She does well in school.

This is our first weekend together in a long time.  (Maybe ever.)   We rack up 4 miles.

We get dumplings in Chinatown.

Sample Thai rolled ice cream.

Go rock climbing together.

Brianna can belay now!

Sure, I'm the adult here.  The expert on city life.  But the physical part is still challenging.  In the sweltering heat, we drive instead of walk.  We plan our activities around shade and air-conditioning.  I stop to readjust my leg every few hours.  Brianna waits patiently, scrolling through her phone like a typical teen.  Although I wonder what she's thinking, she seems to accept my differences in the same matter-of-fact way she did when she was six.

When bedtime comes, I set her up in the guest room with a book-light and a worn hardback copy of Judy Bloom's Tiger Eyes, one of my own favorites at 13.   It's the story of a girl with a loss so big, she wonders how she'll ever go on.  Brianna says she likes it so far.

I take comfort in numbers.  Back in my hospital days, a wise surgeon told me the number 13 was lucky.  Granted, he was just trying to allay my fear about another surgery, but the idea stuck with me.

Brianna and I are forging a bond again.  At 13, she towers above me in height.  She wears a much bigger shoe size.  She can out-shop me at the mall and drink me under the table in Frappuccinos.  Yet somehow, for some reason, she still looks up to me.

Thirteen feels more than lucky.  It feels like the right place to start.