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!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

True Colors

Mile Marker 514:

From across the street, I hear two boys talking.

“She gots a robot leg!” says the big one to the little one.  (The big one is all of 4 years old; the little one, maybe 3.)

I step up onto their corner, which also happens to be a bus stop. 

They both race toward me eagerly, like the ocean rushing onto the beach.  Their mother leans back against a nearby building talking on her iPhone.

“You see my robot leg?” I ask.  But I know they can’t NOT see it.  It’s impossible to hide, especially in shorts.

Wide eyed, they gather in closer.  The knee of my Genium comes up to the bigger boy’s waist, to the younger one's shoulder.

The younger one reaches forward to touch it, as I know he will.  When I nod, the older one follows.  Their small fingers run along the smooth titanium.

I am ready with a well-rehearsed speech.  This happens nearly every day, especially in the summer.

But they catch me off guard.  The older boy reaches for my other leg.  My right one.   He touches my REAL shin, my REAL calf, my REAL knee.

“Yeah, that’s my real leg,” I tell him, stepping back.

“What happened to it?”  His amazement has abruptly changed to concern.

He's staring at the long pink incision scar from those first surgeries, where they tried to harvest veins from my right leg to save my left.  And then he sees the bigger rectangular scar from the skin graft which occurred one month later.  

Over time these marks have gotten lost in the mix.  To me, they don't stand out like a robot leg.  But when I wear shorts, they’re still there for anyone to see.

I fumble a bit and offer something vague, soothing. “Oh, I got hurt, but now I’m all better.”

It seems to satisfy him.

I make an excuse to continue on my way.  Their mother has finished her phone call.  She sends me a distant smile without eye contact.

As I walk on, I hear the older boy tell his little brother, “I’m gonna get TWO robot legs!”

On the return trip, I’m relieved to find their bus has come and gone.

It's late morning, and I meander down some side streets.  This path distracts me from the distance left to get home.  The uneven bricks force me to walk slowly, to rest my muscles.  

And the colors call to me.  On the tightly-packed houses, they stand out as signs of individuality.  

With flowers and paint, each place tells its own story.


When I least expect it, I stumble onto a makeshift art exhibition and meet “artist-in-residence” Greg. 


He looks like your typical South Philly guy.   Don't let it fool you.  His IMAGINATION is anything but!  Fascinated with Indian culture, he decorates his square of the city with Gods and spirits made of metal scraps and pastel paint.  He proudly tours me through his outdoor art gallery and even invites me inside his house to see more.  (No worries Mom -- I went politely on my way!)


As a little girl, I had a book that showed how colors mix together to create new ones.  

Blue + Yellow = Green.  
Red + Yellow = Orange.
Blue + Red = Purple...

I was awed by those illustrations!  For years, I swirled my watercolors, and crayons, and magic markers to see it happen for myself.

But it's true off the page, too.  We’re a combination of everything that’s happened to us -- colors from "before" mix with those we are "now."  The shades are darkened by some experiences and lightened by others.  Tinted by people we meet along the way.

The results can be predictable or surprising, like questions kids ask.

They can be obvious or subtle, like details that make each house a home.  

They can be proud like an artist who displays his work, despite what his neighbors may think.



When I was in the rehab hospital, a nurse told me, "Scars are tattoos of the brave."

I think of all the remarkable people I've met along this journey:  veterans, fighters, survivors, and heroes.  And I know she was right.

But our colors -- all of them -- make us who we are.  They tell our TRUE stories.

Happy Independence Day!

4 comments:

  1. While it is true that scars, Genie, and the paint job on your latest socket are all colors of outward change through time and experience, they really serve to highlight your TRUE COLORS of determination, strength, and an optimistic spirit which have have endured and defined you for your whole life. In much the same way that our country has endured difficult times and numerous missteps, but has strived and struggled to remain true to our founding colors of freedom and equality...Happy 4th!

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    1. It helps to have an excellent team and strong guiding leaders in both situations. Luckily, I've got both!!!

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  2. I find it remarkable that you are so open and welcoming to curious strangers of all ages. It seems similar to being a celebrity in that you are "on" whenever you are out in public, despite the sort of day you might be having. You just seem to face every challenge head-on, even if it means putting a smile on your face and explaining things that can't be easy emotionally... then having the courage to share it here with all of us. I don't know how you do it all but you sure are an extraordinary person.

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    1. Thanks, Chrissy. I'm not a celebrity, but I often wonder if the kids on my street think, "That's where the robot lady lives," when they walk past my house. I was just talking to a friend (and fellow amputee) about this today. There are definitely times -- often when I'm uncomfortable, tired, or in pain -- when I don't FEEL like showing off my leg to strangers or answering questions. On those days, I stand quietly in the supermarket line, praying that it moves along quickly so I can get back in my car and go home. If people shoot me curious looks, I just try my best to ignore them.

      But when I'm feeling ok, I'd rather have people ask questions than avoid looking at me or staring me like I'm some kind of freak. (Both of which they do sometimes.) And with kids, it's sort of a chance to teach them that everyone's different and that differences are not something to be afraid or ashamed of. ...And if those teachable moments correspond to my teachable mood, than all the better :)

      Thanks for your comment!

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