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, July 30, 2012

Let the Games Begin

Mile Marker 564:

I cannot take my eyes off those Olympic athletes.  

How their shoulders curve forward as they cycle ahead of the pack.  How they become a head-to-toe wave as they push off against the clear pool water.   How their leg muscles bulge as they plant their feet firmly on the balance beam.  

I'm awed by their bodies.  And their precision.

At Mile Marker 564, I return to the rehab gym. 

It’s no Olympic training center, but we’re a team there.  On the surface, it may not appear that way -- we’re all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes.  We navigate the equipment using wheelchairs, prostheses, canes, and walkers.  But if you'd feel the energy, you’d know we are ONE.

Yet on this particular morning – two days after my hospital discharge -- I’m nervous and tentative.  Worried about moving too much.  Or too little.  Wondering if my breakfast will digest without pain.

“I’ve been in the hospital,” I tell my teammates.

There’s a collective groan.  They all know what it means to have set-backs.  Each day, we notice who among us is absent, tired, or hurting.  We do our best to sympathize, encourage, and support each other. 

We also laugh.   More than you might think.

Carmen loves gardening.  We have that in common.  Dan offers advice about my new iPhone 3 (although he agrees with my brother Mark that I’m still ages behind!).   James is quiet, but steady.  Marlene cracks us up with her unintended sarcasm.

Karen’s barely 10 years older than me, but she’s been in and out of the hospital many times.  Still she’s never without a SMILE.  Her birthday’s on Thursday, and she’s bringing a cheesecake so we can celebrate together.  “I don’t do much at home,” she says.  “So I want to celebrate with all of you here.”

At Mile Marker 564, their spirit rubs off on me.  I step onto the treadmill.  This is the game.  I play along even when I don’t know what’s around the next bend.  

It helps to know I'm not the only one.


The stories and struggles behind those Olympic athletes interest me more than their skills.  I watch how US gymnast Gabby Douglas’s family cheers her on.  How John Orozco’s mother hides her eyes during his pommel horse routine. 

I wince when I hear about Irish gymnast Kieran Behan's injuries.  How judo champ Kayla Harrison persevered after suffering abuse from her former coach.  How Turkish gymnast Goksu Uctas practiced outside when her town crumbled in an earthquake.

And I laugh when I hear how Michael Phelps’s mother once sent him to the pool just to get that hyperactive little boy out of her hair!

Then there’s Oscar Pistorius. 

If you haven’t heard of him, you soon will.  Nicknamed the Blade Runner, he's a bilateral below-knee amputee from South Africa. The first amputee in history to cross the line from Paralympics to Olympics.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether he has an unfair ADVANTAGE over able-bodied runners.  There's even the assertion that -- if he runs well -- able-bodied athletes may choose to have their legs amputated so they can run on carbon-fiber blades, too.   (REALLY???)

I don't claim to be an expert on the issue, but I can tell you a few things:

Oscar Pistorius does not have ankles or feet.  For him, even standing still takes the utmost in balance and strength.  His upper body is extremely well-developed.  For as high-tech as his "blades" are, they do not come close to "biological legs."

Oh yeah, this too:  At the end of the day, Oscar Pistorius cannot walk to the shower like able-bodied athletes.

These things are easily overlooked.  Oscar Pistorius is so TALENTED and STRONG and INSPIRING that he makes people stop and reconsider what it means to be disabled.  

That's an accomplishment much bigger than any medal.

Still, you never know how many times someone had to start over.   

Remember Matt Long, from my post last January, In Training?  

Toward the end of his book, The Long Run, Matt describes an incident in which a police officer hassles him for having a handicapped parking sticker on his car.  He was driving with a friend through upstate New York to watch a triathlon.  The police officer cited the two bikes on the roof of his car, his fire department sticker, and his license plate that read IWILLRUN.  He asked Matt, “What’s your disability?”

At the time, Matt had been training hard.  His upper body – visible to the officer through the unrolled car window -- was extremely fit.  He offered to get out of the car to show the damage to his legs and body.  The officer refused and wrote him a ticket.

Afterward, Matt asked if he could say something.  This is what he told the officer:

"The license plate says ‘IWILLRUN’ because that is something I say to myself every day when I wake up in the morning.  It keeps me moving every day and keeps me from wasting my life because of the accident I was in.  The fire department sticker is for a job that I did for 12 years, and that I can’t do anymore because of my disability.  And the handicap-parking sticker is mine, and it was earned because of my disability."

Matt captures it all.  The daily battle, the challenges, the hurdles.  The pain that takes your breath away.   The moments each day when you have to mobilize your last bit of strength to push past all the doubt.  

At Mile 564, I take my place at yet another STARTING LINE.  After all this time, still on unsteady ground.

I walk on the treadmill for just 11 minutes when pangs of pain light up my abdomen.  They’re like thunder in the distance -- threatening enough to make me pack up and head home.  Then, an hour later they dissolve into nothing.

Let the Games Begin.  (Again.)


**Don't forget to cheer on Oscar Pistorius as he runs for Team South Africa!

To read more about the debate, click here and here.

4 comments:

  1. It's always such an honor to read your blog, Ricki. Your writing and your spirit are beautiful.
    I've been wanting to share with you the name of a cyclist from my hometown who is completing in the paraolympics, with one arm. (I don't know him, but his wife was on one of my softball teams in the 1970s). Here's an article about him. http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120730/news/707309905/
    Please know that you are an olympian in my book. :o)

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    1. Thanks so much, Shell!

      I'm trying to figure out how to watch the Paralympics on TV. I'm sure it'll be available online somewhere, but instinct says it won't be as easy to find as the Olympics this week!

      If anyone has info, please comment!

      I'd love to stay up late cheering on Joe Berenyi (the cyclist Shelley mentioned) and all the other Paralympians as they compete in London!

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  2. My friends asked me about Oscar as we were riding past an above the knee amputee during RAGBRAI last week. They were interested to understand how the body responds to an amputation and about the amount of effort used for activities of daily living AND then sports. I explained all the info I have learned from you!! They were amazed! This post just sums it up even more!! Keep on trucking Ricki! Your a super star!! Love you! xoxoxox :)

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  3. It doesn't matter how many times you step up to the START LINE, you will always be an OLYMPIAN...on your mark, get ready, get set, GO!!

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