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!

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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My Team

Mile Marker 5177:

When the rain hits, it's good to be among your own.

At the Ossur Running and Mobility Clinic presented by Challenged Athletes Foundation, it's been drizzling all morning.  Now the skies open.  Heavy clouds release a steady stream of raindrops.

Incredibly the runners stand their ground, sprinting drills across the field.  Volunteers follow, holding fast to their gait belts.  No one seems to notice the weather.

But me?  I'm on the sidelines, and I need to run for cover.  I glance around.  On this field of amputees, there aren't many microprocessor knees like mine.  Most people have swapped their computerized legs for running blades.

I hustle into a nearby tent, digging through my backpack in search of long pants.  I'm so intent on keeping my leg dry, I don't even notice the woman standing next to me.

"I should have worn pants," she mutters.

The sentence is so familiar -- I say it so often -- at first I think it came from my own mouth.  When I turn, I notice the woman has a C-Leg, a microprocessor knee like mine.  She's huddled under the tent too.  We start talking.

She asks me about my Genium.  Her C-Leg is made by the same company, Ottobock.  If the conversation seems a bit awkward, it's because we're standing under a tent sponsored by Ossur, a different prosthetic company!

No worries.  The Ossur rep is there too.  And she chimes in without missing a beat.  "Have you tried our new Rheo Knee XC?" she says, explaining its perks.

The story goes on.  I could tell you the pros and cons of each knee, but that's not the point.

Here's the point:

In my everyday, daily, routine life,  I'm usually the ONLY ONE with a prosthetic leg.  Here, it's nice to have company.

I've gotten used to standing out as the only amputee -- at work, on an airplane, in line at the coffee shop....  It's often unique and fun.  In the last week alone, I've fielded questions from a curious 6th grader, a TSA agent, and even a snack vendor at the Phillies game.  A bionic leg is a great conversation piece.

But some days, especially when the hard stuff hits, it can be isolating.  Even the most normal activities take effort.  When I'm sweating out of my liner, or nursing a new socket rub, or feeling the jiggle of a loose rotator (Yes, that happened this week too!), there's always a lingering thought:  No one here understands.

I didn't realize how much it weighed me down until the last few miles.  Which were noticeably lighter.

At Mile 5171, I met 4 new amputees in Magee's rehab gym.

At Mile 5172, I picked up my friend Zach (a fellow amputee) from the train station and drove him to Prosthetic Innovations where, of course, we found more amputees -- with camaraderie to spare!

That's Zach on running blades!

At Mile 5173, I was volunteering at Jefferson Hospital when a family in the lobby flagged me down.

"Can we ask you a question?" they said.  "Where did you get your leg?"  (Oh yeah.  I was wearing shorts.)

It turns out, their close friend just lost his leg from a motorcycle accident.  Wow.  As you might guess, they had questions.  A brief encounter turned into a half-hour conversation.

You might think all that running around would be draining, but it wasn't exhausting at all.  It was energizing.  Fortifying.  It refueled me.

Being the ONLY ONE is a heavy burden.  Being part of a COMMUNITY takes the pressure off.

At Mile 5177, I stand on the sidelines at the running clinic, dodging raindrops and cheering on our PI Team.


Zach leaps onto his two running blades.




Shannon and Vinny tear it up in the advanced mobility group.

BEAST MODE!

I even "run" into a PT buddy!

Hi Chris!

Meanwhile, 50 other amputees with various configurations of blades, feet, legs, and arms defy the laws of motion.  It's a day of personal bests.  The strength and persistence is contagious, even from the sidelines!

We're led by Bob Gailey, the expert on amputee mobility

So why stay on the sidelines?  What about that awesome running blade I have?

Well, it's at home today.

Running and mobility clinics have been helpful, fun, and super motivating for me.  (Click here for a play-by-play.)   I'd recommend them to any amputee who wants to improve speed and balance.  But running takes a toll on my body -- both sides -- my residual limb and my real leg.   Lately, for every action, it seems there's an equal and opposite reaction.

It's a good leg day, and I don't want to risk it by running.

That may sound bizarre to you two-legged people out there.  But in this community, on this soggy field, in this misty rain that's hazardous to our hardware, we understand.

This is my team.



Thanks to Ossur, CAF, and PI for such an energizing event!   For more info about the Running and Mobility Clinics, click here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

5 Ways to Escape (when you can't go to France)

Mile Marker 5042:

I live inside a construction zone.


My windows are coated with dust, and the air smells of exhaust.  The view from my balcony looks like feeding time at Jurassic Park.


When the sun goes down, there's street work below.  All night long, I hear the revving of truck engines.  Jackhammers rattle my bed.  It's like trying to sleep through a really bad production of Stomp.

Earplugs required!

In the morning, my walk is detoured.  Literally.

Mile 5042 takes me past 5 construction sites and 2 sidewalk closures.  My leg, usually noisy with nerve pain, is the only thing that's quiet today!

So on the way back, I choose a different path.  I head up 3rd Street, cross under the bridge, and step into a neighborhood filled with brick houses, a dog park, and lots of bright colors.

Mosaic coffee holders too!

I'm only a few blocks from home, but it feels like a world away!
How peaceful...

This isn't a big escape, like France, but it's a small one.

You might not be surrounded by construction, but face it.  Life is messy.  We all crave escape.  Yet most days -- for most of us -- big escapes just aren't possible.  We can't go to France.  And if we've got mobility or health issues, maybe we can't even walk around the block.  Some days, we can't even leave the house.  Trust me on that.

So Mile 5042 gets me thinking.  For all those times I can't escape big (which is most of the time!) how do I escape small?

Here they are...
MY  TOP 5 SMALL ESCAPES:

Everything tastes
better in a mason jar!
1.  Change it up.  When I changed up my walk this morning, it spurred me to change my breakfast too.  I tried something new -- mason jar oatmeal.  (Living on the edge, I know!)   But it's worth a shot.  Inject a little "newness" into your day, and see what happens.  Comb your hair to the opposite side, toss sunflower seeds in your salad, light a hazelnut candle, put on funny socks... or if it's just one of those days, move yourself from the bed to the couch!  Doing something different, no matter how small, can put you in a new place -- which leads to a tiny, but fresh, change in perspective!

2.  Find your soundtrack.  I run low on energy, especially in the evenings when little "Leg-erella" is about to turn into a pumpkin.  When this happens, finding a soundtrack gives me the boost I need.  If this moment were a movie, what would be playing the background?  A Broadway show like Miss Saigon?  A podcast like This American Life?  A band like Fun.?  (Those are a few of mine!)

How about Pandora's French Café?

Sift through old CDs.  Explore iTunes.  No matter what soundtrack you find, a small escape for your ears can help the rest of your body tackle the big stuff!

My current read...
3.  Get outta your head (and into someone else's).   You may not know this, but for a full year after my injury, I barely slept at all.  Every time I closed my eyes, I'd relive the trauma of the accident.  On those long nights, DVDs were my only escape.  It started in my hospital room with the first series of Glee, and it worked like a charm.  Nowadays, I sleep much better (jackhammers aside!) but when my own problems overwhelm me, I still resort to books and Netflix for distraction. (See Mile 417 for an example.)  It doesn't matter where you go.  Escaping into someone else's life is better than getting lost in your own!

4.  Get your hands dirty -- or at least busy!   Way back at Mile 89, I discovered an unexpected path to pain relief -- baking Angry Cookies!  Since then, keeping my hands busy has been my go-to escape when pain takes over.  (No baking necessary!)  Find your own balance between mindless and mindful.  Pot some plants.  Color with crayons.  Do a crossword puzzle.  Knit a scarf.  Play cards, or the piano, or a video game.  Text a conversation using only emojis.  My friend Ellen taught me that one...


Surprisingly, it works.  An escape for your hands is an escape for your mind too!

Stop!
5. Use a BEX PASS.  I want to be everywhere and do everything, in case you haven't noticed.  The trouble is, most days my body just can't keep up.  When I overdo it, my leg lets me know, and I'm forced to sit on the sidelines.  It happens so often my friends came up with a name for it -- the BEX PASS.  (That's "Bex," short for Rebecca.)  The Bex Pass is like a last-minute cancellation policy.  No questions asked.  No excuses required.  It caught on so well, my friends use it too!  I still feel guilty, and I don't like to miss things, but it's ok to prioritize and choose.  Sometimes it's the only escape we have!

Days have passed since I started this post, but the view out my window hasn't improved.  Grrr.  Feeding time goes on and on.

Yet if I look in the other direction and zoom in really close....  Check this out!

Another small escape!

What are YOUR best ways to escape??
Share a few in the comments below!

Go ahead.  Sweat the small stuff.
I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

So She Did

Mile Marker 5000:

Just like that, I land back in my happy place.

Well, "just like that" is a bit of an understatement.

What I mean is, after flying for 11 hours. trekking through 3 airports, adjusting to a 6 hour time change, pulling 44 pounds of luggage over cobblestones in the pouring rain, and wearing my leg for 22 hours straight, I am finally in France!

If you want to get technical, it isn't truly Mile Marker 5000.  But it counts.  I'm pretty sure I earned the rest in airline miles.

My leg still sweats and swells in all the usual places, but I don't mind it so much.  We're walking to the local boulangerie for croissants aux amandes!

Our first morning in Nice, Mary and I carry our breakfast to a city park bench.  Here's our view.

Everything -- I mean everything -- is better in France!


We log more than 15,000 steps that day, most of them on actual stairs!

It turns out, Nice is a city of escaliers, something I neglected to notice when I was here 8 years ago -- with two legs!

Our apartment is on the "second floor" which to us, is actually the third.  In France, the ground level doesn't count.

That means 35 steps each way -- up or down -- every time we go in or out.

It's in Vieux Nice, the old part of the city, so the stairs look like remnants from an ancient castle.  The shaky railings change from wood, to metal, to wood again.  And the stairwell lights?  They run on a modern timer.   You press a button to turn them on, and they switch off after a minute or two.  (Energy efficient, but we get caught in the dark every time!)

The abyss lurks below our doorstep

Our climb is an endless source of entertainment, endurance, and nervous laughter!



In the end, it doesn't get any easier, but we learn to love it.
It has a certain medieval dungeon charm!


Mary and I walk all day.  Some days more than 6 miles.

One afternoon, we unexpectedly end up on the rocky beach.

We're taking a selfie from the promenade above, when Mary's water bottle accidentally tumbles onto a pair of sunbathers below.  We race down to rescue it -- and apologize!  (Pardon Monsieur et Madam!)

We never do take that selfie!


Each morning we walk to the Cours Saleya, a sprawling outdoor market filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers, and cheese.

We stock up our tiny kitchen!


One late night, we meander through the Place Massena, searching for a boulangerie I remembered from my last visit.  When we get there, it's closed, of course.


That's ok!  The journey is half the fun!

In case you haven't guessed, walking is essential here -- mainly because of the crème glacée!

A few days in, we're faced with a crisis:  too many ice cream flavors and not enough time!  This is serious.  We resolve to plan better.


The next day, we carefully schedule an ice cream stop between each meal.  The flavors are wild!  My favorite:  fromage blanc avec crème de marron (chestnut cream).
Not technically ice cream,
but worth the stretch!

Mission accomplished!

To be honest, I worried about this trip.  A lot.  I pictured all kinds of disasters.  My Genium would malfunction, and I wouldn't be able to walk.  I'd end up in a hospital with abdominal pain, or worse.  My troubles travel with me;  I can't really leave them behind.

To my relief, the challenges that come along are just the usuals, not worse (or better) than they are at home.  I problem-solve as they arise.  And in doing so, I realize something.  I've kind of mastered them.


The highlight of this trip is when we meet up with my French friends.  After canceling a visit because of the accident, we finally get a do-over!  (For the backstory, click here.)

When Hervé and Max meet us outside our apartment, they greet us the French way, with a kiss on each cheek.  It's charming, especially from 10-year-old Max.  He was just a baby the last time I saw him!

"Shouldn't you be in school?"  I try to tease.  But my French isn't good enough.  Hervé translates.

In response, Max fakes a very dramatic cough.

This visit is big.  For Max, it's "stay-home-from-school" big!

They drive us to their house in Sillans La Cascade, an hour north of Nice.  When we arrive, Christelle and Léa are waiting.  We hug each other so tightly we're not sure whether to laugh or cry.  We can't stop talking -- in a mix of languages -- there's so much catching up to do.  We haven't seen each other for 8 years!

Cést ma famille!

Christelle prepares a traditional Sunday dinner, even though it's Monday.

French delicacies with a habit they picked up in America!

The next morning we hike a sloping, wooded trail near their house.  The rocks form uneven stairs, and I grab Mary's backpack for balance.  We end up at la cascade.

I guess there really are happy endings!

It gets even better.

Next stop:  Draguignan, the town we shared 8 years ago when we exchanged homes.

Christelle still works here.  Max and Léa go to school here.  To them, it's just a bustling local town, part of daily life.

For me, it's so much more.

We walk toward the city center.  My feet -- even my Genium -- seem to know the way.

Then I see it:  a cluster of tables and wicker chairs.  This is the place I've imagined a thousand times.

During the toughest moments of my recovery -- painful bandage changes, sleepless nights, days when I wasn't sure I'd ever go anywhere -- this is the place where I escaped in my mind.

It's part of who I was.  BEFORE.  I sat here, so many days, sipping café au lait.  I was proud of myself:  an independent, competent, adventurous traveler.  In this place, I believed I could do anything.

Tears well up.  I squint into the sunshine.

I'm back.  I'm really back.


"This is my happy place," I say to Mary.

Then I repeat it to Hervé, in French.  It gets lost in translation, but I think he understands.

It's the end of one journey and the beginning of another.


Before I left on the trip, my parents gave me this travel journal.

She believed she could, so she did.

It gave me a much needed boost of confidence in those jittery hours before my flight.

Yet I know it's not that simple.

Believing is powerful, but it's really just the start.

It drives us to take the journey.  It keeps us chipping away, step after step, even when it's the hardest thing we've ever done.  And when we finally reach our own horizon, it sets our sight on what's beyond.

Teal green shutters.
Flowers on balconies.
The blue Mediterranean sky.


After 5,000 miles, that's what I see beyond mine.


BIG THANKS to all who've helped me get this far!   "Bisous" to my French family, and especially to Mary -- my awesome and courageous traveling companion, who loves France as much as I do!