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, March 27, 2013

After the Fall


Mile Marker 990:

I fall.

Simple as that. 

The cones come up too fast.  In an effort to stop, I squeeze the brakes suddenly without thinking it through.

Jared's just a few steps away, but I'm down before he can reach me.

I hit the blacktop on my left elbow, my foot still stuck in the pedal cage.   Then, psst! – the bike lands on my socket valve.  My leg's attached to the bike, but I'm not attached to my leg.

It's the first time I've fallen off a bike since the accident.


When I first learned to walk, Prosthetist Tim told me the amputated side was like a "cliff."  When your body's missing a limb, he explained, it recalculates its center.  You learn not to lean to the missing side; there’s nothing there to hold you up.

To walk with a prosthesis, you have to retrain yourself to trust the equipment on that side.

Biking takes it to a new level.  With my Genium's foot locked in the pedal cage, that side becomes a cliff again.  On wheels.

I topple over the edge.

Jared lifts the bike off my leg.  I’m a little banged up but nothing serious.  We laugh it off.

Yet in my mind, a sea change happens.  A new sense of urgency erupts from somewhere deep below.  I NEED to figure this out.  Right here.  Right now.  I CANNOT fall outside this sheltered parking lot.

Spoiler Alert:  If you like surprises, you might want to skip the next sentence.

I am planning to BIKE my 1000th Mile.

It seemed the perfect finish.  A way to come full-circle and show how far I've traveled.  Like a final exam.

So I've spent the last month preparing – tuning up my bike, strengthening my muscles, trying to work out the kinks of prosthetic pedaling.  I even bought a new helmet.  I was psyched for the challenge!

But in my rush to push forward, the underlying truth almost slipped by unnoticed:

BIKING IS DANGEROUS.  

It's the split-second difference between my old life and new.  Between leg and no leg.

Lying in the hospital, I relived that accident over and over again.  It played like a “helmet cam” video whenever I closed my eyes.  Night after night, I watched it and heard it and felt it.  The truck comes nearer, corners me in.  I reach out my arm as if I can stop it.  It is TOO CLOSE.  I hear the thunderous tires, the roaring motor, the thudding, sickening bounce of the axles.  I cry out.  And then I realize -- there is no escape.  I am GOING DOWN.  The panic strikes in my head and my heart.  I am knocked off my bike.

At Mile 990, that truth resurfaces like the remnant of a sunken ship.

If I bike again, there's no margin for error.  It must go well.

I move through the week, trying to digest this idea.  I stop at Whole Foods, do laundry, make dinner, check the mailbox.  But my mind is disconnected, like a computer busy running a virus scan.  I float through the motions, distracted and unsure.

Trying to reconcile what happened with what could happen again.

Late in the 990's, I find myself at the rehab gym telling friends Robert and Binal about this latest mishap.

Last week, I was fired up about biking.  Now my confidence is shaken.  I’m fearful.  And ambivalent.
 
Robert is a marathon runner and triathlete.  “Falling is the best way to learn,” he tells me.  He says that's the way he learned to use the pedal clips on his bike.  “After you fall, you learn real quick to plan ahead the next time.”

Each morning at the gym, I see Robert working his way back from his injury.  He stretches patiently, methodically, consistently.  He lifts each foot to walk farther and farther each day.  He knows exactly which muscles are strong and which need work.  He creates goals and tracks his progress.  His every move reminds me that recovery is a step-by-step process.

When the going gets tough, I look to the TOUGHEST people I know.  And Robert is definitely one of them!



A few days later, I bike again with Jared in the parking lot.  He sets out the cones and marks a line on the ground where I should start braking.  "To stop," he reminds me, "shift your weight to the right."  I turn the handlebars gently and lower my shoulder as he's taught me.  I straighten my right leg to guide me as I slow down.

I practice NOT FALLING.

Later my friend Mary and I load our bikes on the car.  We head down to FDR Park where there's an empty road with a wide bike lane.  

Together we do 2 loops.  We bounce through potholes and avoid mudpuddles.  We climb a gradual incline.   We dodge those inevitable bumps in the road.

When we get back to the parking lot, I do stops and starts.  At least 30 times.

I practice NOT FALLING.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to excel.  At this point, I’ve got about 10 hours under my belt.  As with so many skills, I'm a beginner all over again.

But biking is different.
I am vulnerable.
This is real.

Mile 1000 will not be a final exam.  It'll be a pre-test.

I hope it’s good place to start.





If you're around Rittenhouse Square this Saturday, stop by the Farmers' Market.  For MILE 1001, I'll be joining forces with the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to promote safety between bikers and motorists! 

2 comments:

  1. I know that falling is a part of learning and getting better. When I took my first ever skiing lesson, one of the first things that we learned was falling - well I didn't need to know how to fall, I already mastered that, but I did learn how to get up.I'm glad that you rode again a few days after your mishap. Never a doubt! Sorry, no bike riding cliches... :)Recovery is a pedal-by pedal process. You'll do great on your pre-test.

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    1. Rocco,
      That's so true about falling. I'm sensing a pattern here... When Tim gave me the go-ahead to walk without crutches, the first thing he taught me was how to get up from the floor! Now it's a skill I keep in my back pocket all the time -- even when skating! I guess I can now add biking to that list...

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