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!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Gotta Run

Mile Marker 442:

I signed up for the running clinic with less than 12 hours to go.

This is how I face most decisions that cause me fear.

I am an Olympic-grade waffler.  I can list pros and cons faster than a speeding bullet.   Make excuses more powerful than a locomotive.  And leap "worst-case scenarios" in a single bound.

For months, I’d been looking forward to the Amputee Running Clinic sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.  Even with surgery in April, I thought, I'm sure I’ll be ready by then! 

But as May 19th approached, it was clear that I was nowhere near ready.   Last weekend, I couldn’t even put on my prosthesis!

At 9:30 Friday night, I sat waffling at my computer.  Finally, I closed my eyes, pressed "submit," and sent my registration flying through cyberspace.  Ready or not, I was going to learn to run.

It was just like the start of every skate season. 

I'm a fair-weather athlete.  When our club's first skate rolled around each spring, it always caught me off guard -- like a crocus popping its purple head through the snow, except a whole lot FASTER!

Tuesday night skates were expert level: speedy, hilly, and incredibly long.  Lacing up my skates, I imagined the disasters to follow:  lagging behind the pack, burning hamstrings, climbing mile-long hills.   And yes, on the first leg of the skate route, they usually all came true!

I should have never come out!   I wheezed to myself, struggling up Lemon Hill.   

The year-round skaters (a.k.a. muscleheads) whizzed by me.  “Great night for skating!” they’d call out.  Yeah, right.

On that first hill, I cursed the air for being so humid, the trees for being so buggy, the street for being so gravely, and of course, myself for being so out of shape!  But gradually the road leveled out.  We’d hit traffic, or a stop sign, or a red light, and I’d catch up to my friends.  We’d start talking, and before I knew it I found myself at ease -- crouched down low, at high speed -- careening down toward Kelly Drive again.

Two hours and 16 miles later, inflated by endorphins and friends, I couldn’t imagine another Tuesday night without skating.


Yesterday as I drove to the running clinic, my mind was again flooded by things that could go wrong --  pain and pressure, skin irritation, stumbling, sweating out of my socket....

I’ll just watch from the sidelines, I told myself.  I'm not ready for this yet.

On the sunny field, a crowd of 50 amputees circled together for stretching exercises.  I did some.

By the time we lined up for drills, I decided to try some of those, too.

My volunteer trainer was Sophie, a freshman in college -- a runner herself – working with amputees for the first time.

“I might not do everything,” I told her.  “I’m still recovering from surgery.  I’ve only been back in my leg for a week.”

But as the coach began to tell us about running, my trepidation faded into excitement.  He asked the "above-knee" amputees to step to the front of the line.  We all stood there, quiet and tentative.  Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my ambivalence.  No one wanted to be first.

“You!” he said suddenly, singling me – and my Genium – out.  “YOU have an above-knee amputation!”

The crowd laughed.  (It's tough to hide an amputation in shorts.)  I stepped up to the orange cones.  So did the other AKs.

He divided running into 5 steps, explaining each one:
  • Leaping onto your prosthesis,
  • Pulling back with your upper leg muscles,
  • Releasing off your toe,
  • Pumping your arms, and 
  • Reaching forward with the opposite leg to extend your stride.

At PT, I'd already learned that first step:  leaping.  It’s a process of trusting your prosthesis, expecting it’ll be there when you land.  Learning to control your knee so it holds steady under impact.  After months of practice, I became a fun and reckless leaper, entertaining fellow patients with my clumsy ballet.  

Well, I can do that part, I told myself. 

Just then, there was a tap on my shoulder.  I turned around to face my PT Deb, the one who taught me all my basic skills -- including how to LEAP!   Magically, she had shown up to volunteer.

Gait belts secure, we leaped, pulled, released, pumped, and reached  across the distance between the cones.  As the coach added elements to the mix, our trainers shouted directions:  “Pull back!”  "Toe!"  “Reach!”   And of course, the all-important, “BREATHE!”

We watched each other’s prostheses – mechanical, microprocessor, specialized, and motorized – move against the ground.   

My new buddy Miles pounded the turf behind me on his Rheo Knee.  Partway through the drills, he needed a tune up from the pit crew.  They made his leg longer!

Back and forth we went, patting each other on the back and cheering each other on. 

I tried to do Deb and Sophie proud.

In the time-span of an hour, there was no way for a beginner like me to integrate all those skills.  But it was definitely a start.

When the coach called a break, I was hit by that "first-skate-of-the-season" feeling.  Not the one from the grinding push uphill, but the one from the gliding coast down.  

The feeling that it’s only the beginning of the season.  The knowledge that I still have a long, long way to go.   And the clarity that I am in it for the LONG HAUL.

After all, did I really I have a choice?   Talk about Olympic-grade power...

These days, tasks often seem too huge and intimidating.  Too impossible to even attempt.  But Mile 442 reassured me that the old skating rule still holds true:  

Sometimes the only way to start is to just lace up and… LEAP in.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your running clinic day. I can totally relate to your description of pushing "submit" on the computer--I can envision swhen I paused before hitting "submit" or "send" or before dialing the phone, wondering if I was about to take on more than I could handle. But I take a deep breath and think of a quote I once saw that resonates with me again and again: "Life begins when you step out of your comfort zone"--It's those "just outside my comfort zone" places where I find I meet the coolest people and enrich my life in ways I never expected.

    Since the day of the accident, you have been forced out of your comfort zone far beyond what a person should have to endure....and in that regard the quote doesn't hold as true to me....Life is enriched when I choose to make that leap; I'm not sure "enriched" is the word I'd always use when I'm forced out of the comfort zone, but in each post you have shown how spirit and courage and determination can help us grow when forced to that zone. In each blog post I see you courageously stepping (literally and figuratively!)to those "outside the comfort zone" places, and you inspire me and everyone reading. I hope you're also inspiring to yourself because you, my friend, are a rockstar.

    Rock on. RUN on! (and keep breathing) :o)

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  2. I had my own battle with the submit button this weekend too...happy 1st run and here's to many many more!

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  3. Wow, Rebecca! In the picture, you & your new running pals look like the Magnificent Seven!!!

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  4. Your post reminded me of a skate that we did over the weekend while in DC. We traveled from downtown DC "up" to the Georgetown University campus. Its a lot of uphills to get to the heart of the campus. I don't think that this is what they had in mind by "higher education". Like your run and the first skate of the season, the uphill climb is tough, but its worth the reward at the end. We were rewarded with a fun downhill ride and yes I was "crouched down low, at high speed". I'm sure that you will have many more downhill rewards in the future. Lace up and leap in. Pressing "Publish" now.

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