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, June 28, 2012

Little D

Mile Marker 504:

I grew 5 inches in sixth grade but was still the shortest kid in the class. 

Good things come in small packages, our teacher wrote in my yearbook.

If you've met my family, you know I come by it honestly. We're a long line of small but MIGHTY women.

“Strong Russian stock,” my Aunt Candy used to say.

We move furniture.  We rise early to cross things off our to-do lists.  We make sure each day packs a PUNCH.

And when we're together, just watch out!   The excess energy bubbles over.   The volume gets louder and louder.  We toss ideas back and forth faster than 20 Ping-Pong balls!  You can't get a word in edgewise.

We’re actually BIG packages in small bodies.

But since the accident, I’ve had trouble keeping up.  Tiny bites of family time are enough for me.  Short visits with friends.  Lighter amounts of food.   I fill to capacity more quickly.

At Mile Marker 504, I find a state that's the perfect portion size.

Delaware.

It's quiet, unimposing.  Sandwiched along I-95 between Pennsylvania and Maryland, it is truly a good thing in a small package.  Minus the overdrive.  

On a Saturday afternoon, I head down to Wilmington to see my good friend Bosco.  It's a route that used to be easy and direct but now drags out with discomfort -- big trucks, reckless drivers, traffic jams.

But it’s Bosco’s birthday.  And over the past 20 months, her rides to Philly have been too numerous to count.  So I owe her one, or two...or fifty.

Plus, it’s a glorious, breezy day.  The clouds are high and the sky is huge.   The Riverfront is the perfect place for lunch and a walk.

Like Delaware itself, the Riverfront is miniature by big city standards.  There are a couple of restaurants and a children’s museum scattered along the walking path.

Across the water, the micro-metropolis of Wilmington shows off its business center.  You can count the tall buildings on one hand.

Even the river is narrow.   A good swimmer could dive in and emerge on the opposite bank without really trying.



But small is good here.  It leaves space for grass, trees, and sculpture.  For meandering and relaxing.


Bosco’s got several inches on me, but she has a "small package" way about her.  She's soft-spoken and thoughtful.  She prefers friendly gatherings to huge parties.  And of course, she’s from Delaware.

At lunch, we splurge on oysters from the Canadian coast.




Then we hear the ringing of delicate bells.  We watch as a drawbridge rises three times to let water taxis pass underneath.  Like the Riverfront, the small boats are nearly empty.  We wonder where they’re going. 

Later, we start walking.  We ask a passerby to snap a picture for us.  He tells us he used to be a traveling photographer for the Dixie Chicks.  Hmmm....  What do you think?


The water’s peaceful.  The path is smooth.   And best of all, I can make it from one end to the other!

The river is lined with these birdhouses – intricate constructions of wood, and stone, and cement.  They echo Delaware’s history.  

From my vantage point on the ground, they are perched against the clouds.

Like tiny mansions in the sky!


From start to finish, we're barely out for 3 hours.  But the afternoon feels like a vacation.  

Here in Delaware, small packages don’t have to explode like firecrackers.  They don't have to be dense or powerful like neutron stars. 

They can be slow like lazy afternoons on the river.  Or quiet, but amazing, like the birdhouses.  Or they can slip under the radar like tax-free shopping.   (Just another perk of this small but mighty state!)

It's pretty obvious.  I am not a calm, quiet package like Delaware.  It’s just not in my blood.

But I’m learning to take life in small doses.  To pace myself.

Because every once in a while, Little D is a good place to be.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'm Gonna Be

Mile Marker 500:

I reach Mile 500 on the last day of school and the first day of summer -- two days that hold so much PROMISE they radiate with heat.

This year they overlap.  And the temperature soars to 100.

I wait until early evening when the sun sinks below the tallest city buildings.  When the humidity breaks.

Then I go out for a walk.

The neighborhood unmasks itself in honor of this special day.  Butterfly bushes smell sweet.  Birds chirp from telephone wires.  At the corner bar, the man on the steps nods at me with a smile.  I smile back.  

He doesn’t know this is Mile 500.  But I do.

At the park, the construction fences have been removed to reveal sparkling swings, sculptures, and climbing gyms.  The playground is filled with warm air and families -- bikes, wagons, kids of all colors.   Moms and dads covered in tattoos, beer bellies, and short shorts.

I spy a boy with a seventies-style bowl haircut.  He drops his dirt bike sideways in the grass.  In one smooth motion, he darts across the yard, climbs a copper dome sculpture, and then kicks an older kid’s soccer ball. 

With each zip, his mother shouts after him, “Too fast!”  “Get off that!”  “Come back here!”

But he doesn’t.  Instead, a soccer game forms gracefully around him, as if that’s exactly where he's meant to be.

I used to be like that.  Or at least, I used to feel like that.

Go fast!  I want to yell back.  Climb!  Keep running!


It’s taken a YEAR to get to this point.  And the miles have been stacked with peaks and valleys.  Clogged with socket rubs and pain.  I've spent many miles running on empty. 

But as a goal-setter, I'm already wondering.... What will the next 500 be like?

They stretch out before me, reflecting brightly like a new morning.  They're lit with hope and determination.  On that road, I can do anything.  BE ANYTHING.

I’m gonna be faster.  Braver.  More agile.
I’m gonna run.   Skate.   Travel. 
I’m gonna recover the life I had.  The one that’s not just about ME.

That's the hardest.  In my mind, I yearn to put this year behind me.  To take long walks, hang out with friends, visit family, go on trips, teach students, help people….

The list is as endless as that little boy’s energy.  Yet partway through each day – before I’ve reached even the first mile -- I just fizzle out.

And then the journey shifts gears.  It becomes about me and me alone.  About conserving energy, making choices, and facing this new life.

I wish the answer were simple.
500 miles = 5000 trips to the mailbox.
(Remember Mile 7?)
  
It's not far enough.

I rest on a bench at the park.  Its surface is so freshly sanded it reminds me of woodshop class.

Finally, I get up to walk home.  I circle back across the widest street in the neighborhood, waiting patiently at the edge of the curb for the light to change to green. Carefully I step into the crosswalk's clear white lines.

As I reach my own block, there’s group of neighbors sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk.  They’re laughing at one of their own -- a twentysomething guy in a muscle shirt -- pedaling awkwardly on a toddler’s tricycle.  It looks like a circus act.  I smile at him.

His middle-aged mother rolls her eyes. “How old can you be and still ride a trike?!” she asks as I pass by.  The guy is laughing, too.

“I’m 42, and I would!” I call back quickly.  It pleases both of them.

But then I feel a pang.  I'm suddenly worried they’ll ask me to TRY. 

I’m half that guy’s size, yet I know with my prosthesis I could never squeeze onto that kiddie bike.  I could not get my knees into that position.  I could not rotate my hips outward or balance on that tiny seat.  I could not keep my foot on the pedal. 

The old me would have challenged him to a race.   The new me just keeps putting one foot in front of the other.

But a surprising thought pops into my head:
I WOULD IF I COULD.  

In that moment – at Mile Marker 500 – I realize there is a certain part of me that’s still alive and kicking.  Even if it’s been hidden for most of this journey.

All those things I tell myself I'm gonna be in the next 500 miles... I would do each and every one of them!

I climb my front step and unlock the door.  I am exhausted, sweaty, and achy.  But basking in the heat of my discovery -- this newest ray of PROMISE.

So, back to the question.  What's it gonna be...
500 miles in the next 4 months??

Could I do it?
That still remains to be seen.

But would I?
YES!

I'm gonna be....


Vital stats for Miles 0-500:
7 states
6 weeks on crutches
5 sports (or attempts at sports, anyway!)
4 prosthetic sockets
3 pairs of new shoes
2 prosthetic knees
and...
1 new nephew -- though I can't exactly take credit for that one :)

Click here for a video look at the past 500 miles!
And thanks for walking with me!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Who You're With

Mile Marker 475:

I've heard the saying, It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

But I think there's more to it than that.

Walking buddy Jared
does make blacktop exciting!
Mile 475 didn't carry me to any exotic locale.  It didn't teach me any fancy new skills.

Instead it reminded me that -- in the company of the right people -- even a stretch of blacktop can be exciting!


In other words...
It's not what you know or where you go; it’s who you’re WITH!

I have to backtrack here to tell you about Ed. 

In late December 2010, about 7 weeks after the accident, I landed in the rehab hospital.  The dining room there was like a scene from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.   At mealtimes, patients arrived in power wheelchairs and manual ones.  They propelled themselves on gurneys.  Some even wheeled down in their hospital beds.  And in the midst of all that traffic was Ed.

Ed was a volunteer who worked the breakfast and lunch shifts.  But really, he was so much more.  Ed remembered every patient's name, what they liked to drink, and where they liked to sit.  He introduced new folks.  He made light conversation.  He just loved to be there!

Now everyone knows there is nothing worse than walking -- or wheeling -- into a cafeteria as the NEW KID.  That first morning before breakfast, my stomach churned with middle school anxiety.  But there was something else, too.  Although I'm ashamed to admit it now, I was scared to meet other people who were handicapped.

Clumsily, I steered my wheelchair into the dining room, skimming door frames and table corners.  (I'd had my "driver's permit" for less than 2 hours.)

Ed greeted me like an old friend.  He found me a place to sit.  He introduced me to Beth, Robin, and Val.  We were all different ages, of different backgrounds, and hospitalized for completely different reasons.  If we'd found ourselves standing at a bus stop together, I'm sure we wouldn't have said a word.  But this time, not one of us was STANDING.

So spurred on by Ed's friendliness, we started talking.  And wouldn't you know, breakfast turned out to be the best 30 minutes of each day!   


Mile 475 had that same feeling.

I took a rambling walk through the city with my cousin Tracy.




We laughed in the face of uneven curbs.  We halted mid-sidewalk for goofy self-portraits.

We found pink! 

Tracy has a knack for gliding over bumps in the road.  And when we're together, she pulls me along with her.

A chat with Deb is like a vitamin;
it just boosts my whole day!

A hospital meeting brought us back to familiar ground, and staff who -- no surprise -- approached me like old friends! 

But at this mile marker, friends also popped out of the least expected places... like behind a hospital security desk.

 Meet Tyrone.  As I walked by, the glint of my Genium caught his eye.  We started talking about robot movies, and then about life.  He said I inspired him, but he doesn’t know how much his own story inspired me!
  
Every landmark along this mile became the perfect place to hang out with friends.  Even (ahem!) a certain stretch of blacktop at Prosthetic Innovations.

Proving the revised theory once again, It’s not where you go, but who you’re WITH.

There's my pal Pisey, who showed me the ropes from the very beginning.  He just makes it all look EASY!


And this motley crew...
John, in the red shirt, watched me take MY first steps.   A year later, I watched Bob take his.  (Check 'em out in Take Two.)

Ann, on the left, is just now finding her stride.  And we’ll all be walking along with her!


Yes, there are still lots of times when I feel alone.  

When there's too much pain to walk and too much fatigue for words.  When vulnerability keeps me inside, and my old life of travel, energy, and adventure seems far, far away.

Then there are miles like 475.  

Simple patches of pavement that prove I’m still part of a bigger community.

Going anywhere...

...or NOWHERE...
...as long as there's good company!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tire Tracks

Mile Marker 462:

“I just get so tired!”  I told Prosthetist Tim last week.  

There's loosely defined trail along the outskirts of Prosthetic Innovations.  It’s grassy on one side, paved on the other.  At the far end of the loop, the two paths meet at a foot bridge with stairs on either side.  It's not long, or well-worn, or formally marked.  But it’s an all-terrain route to take your prosthesis for a test drive.  And best of all, your prosthetist can watch you from the window.

I’d done one loop when I told Tim how tired I was.

“What kind of tired?” he asked.  “Muscles?  Socket?  New foot?   Not enough sleep last night?”

I wasn't sure.  Who knew there were so many kinds of TIRED?!

“Sometimes you just have to work through it,” he told me.

So 4 laps, a new foot, and a slightly longer leg later, I went home to work through it.


And I did.  I worked through it.  All weekend long.

See the plane?
On Friday, Mary, Chris, and I headed over to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum -- a quiet cove of nature, just a stone's throw from Philly's airport.  


It's a land of serene ponds, water birds, and woodsy trails.

We ambled along in the dirt, sifting through mica deposits and rocks striped with sediment and sand.  Chris pointed out an oriole – shiny black with a band of orange along its wing.   

Wild fruit grew along the edge of the woods  ("South Philadelphia Death Berries," was our best guess.) 

Sandal adjustments...
I loved the hike, but my new foot made even the softest trails feel like solid rock.  After less than a mile, I was ready to head home.


Lions and tigers and ... ??

The following day, my mom and I rounded out Mile 462 with a stroll through the neighborhood.    

Along the way, dogs and cats peered out at us through open doors and bay windows.    

Halfway through, we powered up with homemade iced tea and French macaroons from nearby Philadelphia Java Company.

Then on a colorful block of rowhouses, we met Christopher, relaxing on his front steps.  By that time, I was tired.  My lower back ached from swinging the heavier foot and longer leg over the ruts in the sidewalk.  

But new friends are fuel.  And my Genium -- I’m quickly learning -- is the world’s best conversation starter!   

Refreshed, we pounded the pavement homeward.


Mile Marker 464:

Sunday morning my pedometer reached its own level of exhaustion. 

It froze at Mile 463 and refused to push on any farther.  On the verge of panic, I scrolled through its various functions – mileage, time of day, calories, elapsed exercise time....  I stopped when I saw the numbers 999999 fill the screen.  This little machine, I realized, could literally not take another STEP!

With a sigh of relief, I recorded the number 463 and then pressed the reset button.  Back to zero across all modes.  Ready to walk again!  (If only rejuvenating were really that easy!)

Just in time.  My pedometer and I had a new trail to blaze...

A few hours later I joined my dad, brother Joe, and niece Brianna at Citizens Bank Park for Brianna's -- and my Genium's -- first Phillies game.   

We (nearly) caught 3 foul balls.  We scrambled out of our seats during 2 rainstorms.  And we saw 4 home runs blasted over the back wall.  Unfortunately they were all ALL scored by the Marlins!  

I wobbled off-balance as we shoved our way through the crowded concourse.  I held my breath as I descended the wide concrete steps toward our seats.

But through it all, I taught Brianna about innings, and runs, and rally caps.  I helped her munch her way through hot dogs, ice cream, peanuts, and cotton candy.   

Then we SMILED BIG as our faces were broadcast on the super-huge Phantavision screen!

Click to see...
For many Phillies fans, I’m sure it was a just another day at the ballpark.  Not for us.  It's a powerful thing to look back at where you've been.

At home that night, I was overjoyed with the accomplishment of a "normal" weekend.

I was also beyond BEAT.   

I threw some dinner into a Tupperware container and dragged it up the stairs to my bedroom.  I peeled my leg out of its sweaty socket.  I practically crawled into the shower.  By 8:00, I’d collapsed into bed.

The next morning, I returned to Prosthetic Innovations.  

I told Tim I had worked on it.  And I was ready to get my OLD foot back.  Not my old old foot, of course, but the next best thing.

I never get TIRED of PI's return policy!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Welcome Home

Mile Marker 450:

When I wake up, I think I'm looking at the hazy beach sky.  Then the happiness washes over me.

I AM HOME!

My bedroom ceiling is painted a calm blue-gray color.  Its wooden fan spins against the heat.  I’m lying in my bed under a single cotton sheet.  It’s barely 6 a.m., and the light leaking through the blinds is neutral and white, like it isn’t fully awake yet.

I stretch and inhale the air of my own room.  My own house.  I soak it up like an old friend.  I listen for sounds on the street – neighbors chatting, car doors slamming – but it’s still early and quiet.   

A Saturday.

I rouse slowly; exercise my leg and ab muscles as if living here depends on it.  As if the last 7 weeks have led up to this moment. 

From the edge of the bed I reach for my Genium, plugged in against the wall.  My assortment of pull-bags, lotions, and shrinkers have found their own way home, back to their usual baskets and shelves.

I suction my leg in carefully, determined to get a good fit on the first try.

Today anything seems possible.


Mile 450 marks my second homecoming.  The first one was last July.  Back then, my home-care OT Keith came over to design accommodations:  railings to be added, kitchen shelves to be rearranged, bathroom supplies to be set-up.  We considered how safe I might be on each of the four floors.

To prepare me further, PT Julie helped me load up grocery bags and carry them into the kitchen.  We practiced going up and down each stairway with my prosthesis.   We role-played how to bring small bags of laundry from the bedroom to the basement.  We made an emergency plan:  throw your crutches down the stairs, slide down on your bottom, and get the heck out!


But on this early morning, I descend the stairs slowly.  My knee bends obediently, and my hands trace the TWO smooth railings, crafted last summer by friends Robert and Jim.

In the kitchen I fill the kettle for tea and open the garden door.

Winter '09-10
Born from cinderblock and weeds, this garden has survived through droughts, floods, and blizzards.  

It is the length of my entire house, and allows my parties to double in size.

Now strawberries and chives push up from between the patio bricks.  When friends visit, they'll gather wild bunches of lavender and rosemary.  

“It’s the South Philly soil,” I always say.  But that’s not entirely true.  This garden needs tending and weeding and watering, day after day in the Philly heat.  This summer I know I’ll be begging for help.

Outside, it’s already a humid 82 degrees and feels even hotter.   I keep the door open anyway.

After breakfast, I revisit every inch of the house.  I delve into the basement and climb up the spiral stairs to the 3rd floor.   I look at my photos and study my books.  I pour Draino down the shower drain.  I rerun the dishwasher;  I can’t remember if the dishes inside are clean or dirty.

With every step, I am more at home.  Even lugging laundry down the stairs feels like a privilege.

It’s a peaceful thing, but also bittersweet and temporary.  Like a late afternoon on the beach.

I love this house inside and out.  From the moment I unlocked the door, it held promise.  In the past seven years, I’ve made it mine from the ground up.  

But I know it will soon OVERWHELM me.

It holds obstacles already.   Two floors are off-limits without my prosthesis.   In bad weather, it confines me inside.  And even with my prosthesis, this house is just A LOT of work.

So my summer mission is to search for a new place.  One that will feel like home, but also like FREEDOM.


By the end of Mile 450, my friend Jen stops by with a tiny jar of “South Philly Strawberry” – jam she's cooked up from the berries in my garden.  

Bosco comes over to help me water.

Then in the evening, as I'm ready to trek up to my bedroom, there’s an unexpected knock at the door. 

It’s my friend Jim.  Just stopping to say "hi" on his walk home from work.  We chat through the screen.

I'm tired, but tickled.  These kinds of surprises can only take place here, in this house. 

They are like dipping, twirling kites against the beach sky.

I AM HOME.


Take the rough-cut homemade video tour!