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 13, 2013

Making History

Mile Marker 1135:

How far do you have to go to make history?

Take Ben Franklin.  I mean, who flies a kite during a thunderstorm??   Of course, if he hadn't taken that risk, I'd be blogging by candlelight right now -- with my quill pen....

Mile 1135 is a historic one.  Our starting line is the gate of Christ Church Cemetery, Ben Franklin's final resting place.

I meet up with friends Robert and Binal, just as Robert's setting up his crutches.  I've seen the drill at the rehab gym, but today there are a few extra steps.  Binal slides elbow protectors up Robert's arms to guard against rubbing.  She wraps his right hand with Velcro, fastens it to the handle of the crutch.

My job is easy -- to push the wheelchair.  Just in case.

One step at a time, we make our way toward Independence Mall.  Robert finds his balance on the brick path.  Binal spots him.  I pace along next to them with the empty wheelchair.

As we pass the Visitors Center, a tour guide accosts us.  “Would you like a bus tour?” she asks.

Come on!  Do we look like we need a bus tour??

We tell her -- politely -- that WALKING is the point of this journey.

It's the most historic square mile in the country.  The center of our nation's freedom.  Today this walk means even more.

Exactly one year ago – on June 9, 2012 – Robert suffered a spinal cord injury.  (See his early steps here.)   He's been fighting back ever since.  With a year of strengthening, stretching, and strenuous work behind him, he is ready to meet this challenge.  A FULL MILE.  On foot.

As we maneuver over a sidewalk speedbump, a gray-haired woman passes us.  Wielding a cane.

“Take your time,” she says, rushing ahead.

"Bring her back here,"  Robert tells us.  "I want to race."

Time for water ice!
Thirty minutes later, we reach the Liberty Bell.  The sun is blazing.  The sidewalk is crowded.  We’ve covered exactly 4 blocks.

Already, my little leg is soaked inside its socket.  Robert isn’t the only one testing himself today.  Binal shadows him step-by-step, her hands inches from his hips.  And although this mile isn't about me, I wonder how I’m going to STAND long enough to finish it!

But we've all agreed.
If Robert's going for it, so are we!

Luckily, there are lots of distractions.

We meet a 3-legged dog named Charlie, out on his very first walk.

We even pass a woman strutting around topless -- making history of her own.

At the half-mile mark, we hear a friendly call from behind.  “Hey you guys!”   Surprise.  It’s our yoga teacher Fatima, from the rehab gym!

“I recognized your voices,” she says.

It figures.  Our group hasn't quite gotten the hang of silence.  In fact, we're probably her chattiest yoga class ever!

She walks with us for a minute, then heads off to teach another – quieter – class.

Last week, when I charted out this route for us, I searched for the widest sidewalks, the flattest brick paths, the fewest number of steps.  But still there are obstacles.  Cobblestones surround the shade trees.  Tourists don't look where they're going.  Through it all, Robert pushes on.

It takes us 2 lights to cross each street.  When the first walk signal flashes, we step to the bottom of the curb cut.  Robert braces on his crutches.  Binal stands behind him.  My Genium and I pause mid-stance, waiting for the light to change again.  Traffic zooms by.

At the second walk signal, Robert starts purposefully into the crosswalk.  Binal follows, pointing out potholes and ruts.  I push the wheelchair alongside them, blocking oncoming traffic.  I realize at that moment, I've joined my own Secret Service.

At 5th Street, 2 lights aren't enough.  We’re still in the crosswalk when the red hand flashes.  The countdown begins -- 15, 14, 13, 12....   It's all just too fast!

Amazingly, a police officer drives into the intersection.  Traffic comes to a complete halt.

For us?  We’re flattered!

Then we hear a ruckus of musical drumbeats.

There's a parade coming!
(Not for us, but it certainly feels like it.)

Suddenly, we're bobbing along in a sea of rainbows, acrobats, and puppets 10 feet high!
Sweaty, tired, and ready for the HOMESTRETCH!


Finally, we head out of the congestion and into a shady stretch along 5th Street.  Merely yards from the finish line, our conversation has fallen short.  Our steps are fatigued.

Click to read the t-shirt.
Pretty much says it all!
I'm drained, and I can only guess how Robert’s doing.  We keep pushing ahead.







In front of us, a little girl stumbles on the sidewalk.  She's trying to keep up with her family, yet at the same time, she's craning her neck to stare backwards at us.  I imagine what she must see -- Robert’s crutches, my robot leg, the wheelchair.  Lots of metal glimmering in the sun.

“What do people think when they see us together?” I say to Robert and Binal. 

What happened to those people?  Were they all in an accident?  Is it contagious?

“They’re probably wondering who the wheelchair is for," says Robert.

We crack up.  We've been carting around an empty wheelchair for almost 3 HOURS!


Once on a school field trip, a tour guide told me that the answer to almost any Philadelphia history trivia question is Benjamin Franklin.  He accomplished a lot.  But here's what people don't realize.  When Ben Franklin started out in Philly, he was just the editor of a small-town newspaper.

Through the sweat and fun of Mile 1135, Robert teaches me the trick to MAKING HISTORY.

You don't have to start big.  You just have to take small, brave risks, one after the other.

One step at a time.  One day at a time.  One year at a time.

Congratulations Robert -- on a very HISTORIC first mile!!!


4 comments:

  1. You write with such grace, attention to detail and beautiful introspection. Thank you for telling the story of Robert's first mile.-Binal Ward

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  2. I completely agree with the first comment--you are such an incredible story-teller and I almost feel like I was on this journey with you. Love the writing, love the photos and all the smiles--can't help but smile myself.
    I kinda think that parade WAS meant for Robert--the amazing spirit and determination of all three of you are certainly worthy of a parade!
    You are all incredible...and you continue to be incredible "every damn day"! :-) (I find that little mantra incredibly helpful in my life, I must say) :-)

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Congratulations Robert! Robert told me that in a year he will be skating - like Rebecca! And keep on inspiring others, Rebecca!

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