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!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Something to Chase

Mile Marker 812:

Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap

This is the sound of my Genium climbing stairs.  There’s a swipe against the floor as I pull back in my socket.  A whispery glide as I flex my hip to raise the leg.   A soft tap as my foot lands on the next step. 

Except when I miss.


That's the sound of my carbon fiber foot crashing into the stair riser.

The Genium is an intricate piece of machinery.  When I walk, it senses the angle of the ground.  It measures the speed of each step.  When I move from pavement to grass -- or step in a pothole -- it recalculates.  It even locks in place so I can bend at the sink to brush my teeth!

A stair-climbing mode sets the Genium apart from other microprocessor knees.  When most amputees ascend stairs, they drag their prosthetic leg up behind them.  The Genium allows the user to climb more naturally step-over-step.  The trick is telling it to.

That’s where the swipe comes in.  Or -- if you swipe too early, too late, too hard, or too light -- the clunk !

Swiping up stairs requires timing, strength, and skill.  You pull back in the socket, sweeping the ball of your foot against the floor.  (Imagine wiping dog poop from the bottom of your shoe.)  Then you lift your thigh high, as if pedaling a bike.

A good swipe gets your foot up to the next step.  A bad swipe is like jamming your toe into a block of cement.  Luckily it’s a prosthetic toe.

My progress with stairs is slow.  And discouraging.  My muscles aren't strong enough.  My legs are too short.  The swiping motion triggers my ankle blades.  I have enough excuses to build a stairway to the moon.

I can only do the shortest set of stairs, and even those, not very well.  By the second or third swipe, my adductor muscle just gives up.  My leg circumducts outward like I’m swinging it around a puddle.   To compensate, I use my arm to tug myself up the railing.  It’s the only way I can get enough height to make it to the next step.  And sometimes, I just miss the swipe all together.  Watch.  It's not exactly pretty...

To boost morale, PT Deb arranges a little healthy competition.  And, as it turns out, INSPIRATION.

When I enter the stairwell, Chase, an above-knee amputee, is halfway up a long flight of stairs.  I met Chase a while ago at Prosthetic Innovations.  At the time, he told me he was trying ice hockey.  (Yes, cool.)  I'm prepared to be impressed again.

And I am.  Chase advances his Genium to each step in a straight line, not with a squiggly dance like I do.  He uses the railing for balance, not as a tow rope.  When he goes up it looks effortless.  But his beads of sweat tell me it's not.  It's just designed to look that way.  Check it out...

"His legs are longer!" I joke to Deb.

"You'll do it," she says.

It's true.  Chase is physically stronger than I am.  Each step he takes is determined and skillful.  And -- short jokes aside -- he does have longer legs.  (He's got a prosthetic arm too, if you want to get technical.)

But above all, it's his COURAGE I admire most.

A former firefighter, Chase is now training to become an EMT.  While my goal is to climb step-over-step, his goal is to climb step-over-step carrying a 40-pound backpack of lifesaving equipment!

For several sessions, I swipe repeatedly onto a single low step.  To strengthen my adductor and hip flexor, Deb wraps a resistance band around my socket. 

“Ok, now swipe,” she says.

I pull back in the socket and hike my leg toward the stairs.  She pulls against me, holding the band taut.  We repeat the exercise several times.  When she finally releases the elastic, it’s like a sling shot – I get so much height, my foot lands three steps up!

Then she puts me on a rocker platform.  Like a surfer, I sway back and forth, bending alternating knees and trying to balance.  To straighten my Genium, I tighten my adductors and blast my glutes.

I can feel it.  Little by little, I’m getting stronger.  My balance is getting better.  I'm standing straighter.  I’m swiping with more precision and getting more height.

There are still clunks, but fewer of them.

At the end of today's session, I practice climbing up a set of 4 wooden stairs.   I swipe carefully, accurately.  There are railings on both sides, but I’m only using one – and trying not to tug on it.

“Chase better watch out,” I hear from behind.

I turn around.  Deb’s standing at the bottom of the steps.

She watches as I swipe again -- aiming for gentle strength and high lift.  My Genium’s foot lands squarely in the center of the next step.

“Good one,” she says.

 I come down and start over again.  And again.  And again.

A new amputee, Dane, stops by to watch.  It's his second day on his prosthesis.

Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.
Sw-- Clunk!

That's right, Dane.  There's always something to chase.

Cheers to Chase for showing me how to rock the stairs!
And to Deb for (among many other things) this post's catchy title :)


  1. My money's on YOU, Rebecca! If anybody can chase Chase down, it's most definitely you... just sayin.

  2. Great videos, looks like you both are making great progress! I remember when "swipe"-ing over a small stick in the trail was a 50/50 proposition. Keep chasing your goals, avoid the "clunks" when possible, and, the rest of the time just dust yourself off and try again.

  3. Mary Lou from Little Pete's heard your interview on KYW radio on Monday. Attached is the link from the web version! Great testimony to your spirit and determination and to Genium! http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/11/26/smart-prosthetic-leg-designed-for-military-now-available-for-civilians/