Hiking boots, check.
Canine companion, check.
|Support team, check!|
We set off from the house along a slippery slope. My sister Sam and friend Chrissy walk in front. My brother-in-law Gregg trails behind.
One knee bends. One foot sinks deeply through 12 inches of wet, melty snow. With a jerk of my left hip, the other foot follows. It feels more like a soccer kick than a step. In a matter of seconds, I land on my knees in the icy muck.
We've barely started out, so Gregg dashes back to the house. He has an idea.
A small brown shepherd -- Hope -- bounds along in front. With just 3 legs, she is more agile than any of us.
She loves hiking, but she's skittish too. The ski poles make her flinch. The same way trucks do for me.
"Hope is missin' one leg!" my niece Riley will tell you.
She'll point out that I am, too. "You have one real leg and one pretend leg," she says knowingly.
Her eyes grow wider. "A ROBOT leg!"
She's put these clues together herself. At 3 years old, Riley is quite a smart cookie. Her whole life, she's only known me as an amputee.
She can't remember Mile 15, when we were both learning to walk -- together.
A "missin' leg" doesn't seem to stand in Hope's way. She hikes with the big dogs and even jumps the baby gate at feeding time. But like other amputees I've met along this journey, she has a story of suffering and resilience.
Struck by a car and left on the side of the road, she gave birth to puppies. All of them died. Alone, she hung on for days. When she was finally rescued, her back leg had to be amputated.
Today she startles easily, but bares no anger. Through it all, she's somehow maintained the capacity to love.
Behind her, I take step after tentative step. My Genium and I have never been out in the snow together. We're protected by a thick sock, stable hiking boot, and knee-high Gator wrap.
Hope is bare-pawed. She lopes easily in wide circles around us. A natural in the snow.
Rays of sun come through the treetops, softening the ice beneath our feet. Today it's balmy by Vermont standards. Our jackets are light. You can smell the blue sky.
Ski poles in hand, I pave a rhythm over twigs and under branches, through twists and turns. My arms pump as hard as my legs. It feels like cross-country skiing.
Sam gets her camera ready. Whether I stay on my feet or not, I know we'll probably end up laughing!
A new hill awaits, higher and steeper than the last. I've climbed it many times with 2 legs, but it's going to be a challenge with one.
Hope races up as if to say, We've come this far. Don't stop now!
Upward, the ski poles hook me in. With the toe of my boot, I push against the snow. Its depth keeps me moving.
|We celebrate at the top!|
Going down is another story. Unpredictable -- a precarious mess of trial and error. But whatever works!
Many nights, I dream about running. Sledding. Skating. In sleep, I move spontaneously. Easily. Naturally. Perfectly balanced.
Motion without boundaries.
She reminds me of my dreams.
|A prosthesis does have|
I unzip my icy Gators, one by one.
It's been a sweaty and exhausting trip. But one filled with possibilities.
I imagine trekking around Philly next winter, ski poles in hand.
The stuff dreams are made of.
Thanks to my human support team -- Sam, Gregg, and Chrissy -- for chancing this one with me. And hoping for the best :)