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!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Orlando Magic

Mile Marker 1160:

Around the corner from Disney World, someone waves a magic wand.  I become ORDINARY.

It happens in a crowded hotel lobby.  Metal prosthetics reflect against the shiny floor tiles.  Crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs are everywhere.  A seven-year-old bounces by, kangaroo-style, on two c-shaped carbon fiber running legs.

Suddenly, I am just one of the gang.

Sure, other hotel guests are scattered about -- prosthetists, physicians, family members.  Even my mom.

But here at the Amputee Coalition National Conference, those with 4 limbs are in the background.  It’s the ones without who really shine.

For me, the conference begins with a training course.  My classmates hail from South Florida to South Africa.  Some are beginner amputees, like me.  Others have been missing limbs their entire lives.  We talk about common issues:  pain, rehabilitation, grief, and loss.   We become tight as we laugh our way through role plays.  By evening, we're deemed Certified Peer Visitors, ready to help new amputees in hospitals and rehab centers around the world.

And that's just the first day.

I learn new tricks at every turn.  The next 3 mornings start with YOGA.  Mats go on the floor; bolsters and blocks, under our bodies.  Prostheses and wheelchairs are pushed aside.   When I first tried yoga as an amputee, I found more frustration than peace.  But here, we build slowly, focus on individual differences.  Like magic, I find balance, patience, and hope.  By the third session, I decide to try a "regular" yoga class when I get home.


At the next day’s SWIM clinic, I meet Carla.  We walk from the cabana to the pool together.  Bending over, she tugs down a skin-colored stocking.  Off comes her prosthesis.  I can't believe it!  Her leg looked so real that I assumed she was just someone’s family member.  I had no idea she was an above-knee amputee like me!

We climb into the pool; Carla without her prosthesis, and me with my aqua blue water leg.  Then Carla surprises me again.

“I just learned to swim 4 months ago,” she says matter-of-factly.  “I wanted to do a triathlon, but I didn’t know how to swim.  So I signed up for swimming lessons at the Y.” 

It's no illusion.  She did the triathlon.

By the end of the clinic, I’ve got a rough crawl and backstroke going.  Until Carla hits me with another zinger.

She tells me her prosthetic foot has a heel that can wear stilettos!  She'll be wearing them at the dance on the last night of the conference.  I've got to see it to believe it....


That evening, I go  BOULDERING with Ronnie Dickson, a Paralympic rock-climber.  He's not only an above-knee amputee, he's a prosthetist too.

Don't try this at home!
With the turn of a wrench, he detaches my Genium and, in its place, installs a tiny climbing shoe that would fit my 3-year-old niece.

I grab a size 6 shoe for my right foot. 

Ronnie demonstrates how to use my prosthetic side as a pivot to move across the rocks.  He says the short leg will keep me close to the wall and give me more control.  He's right!

Austin, a below-knee amputee
from Oregon, climbs too.


We leap on and off the rocks, climbing till our arms give out!



The conference overflows with speakers, workshops, and clinics.   I can’t take notes fast enough.  I want to soak it in, talk to everybody, savor each word, and do EVERYTHING!

Kinda says it all :)
I'm swept up in the fairy dust.  It fills me with confidence.  Fortifies my understanding of all I am in this new body.

Mom and I go from session to session.  We learn about limb transplantation and osseointegration -- the process of surgically anchoring the prosthesis directly to the bone -- two medical advances that'll gain ground in the next few years.

With Byron from Ottobock
We attend discussion roundtables where we share our stories and meet more inspiring friends.






I volunteer for a DNA study sponsored by Walter Reed.  They’re searching for genetic factors that influence phantom pain.  I donate a few tubes of blood and tell them about the phantom sensations I’ve had – Ankle Blades and the Stone Sandal, lightning bolts, burning, and itching.  They've all become more manageable over time, yet they still linger.  Just another part of life as an amputee.


One night, there's more magic in the air than usual.  I see a young man walking toward me down the hotel hall.

That guy’s wearing a prosthesis,  I think to myself.

And then an unexpected thought--
Wait a minute.  I'm wearing one, too!

For a split second – the first time ever -- I FORGET I'm an amputee!

It's the best trick by far.

At this conference, there's so much ABILITY, disability disappears!


On the final afternoon, U.S. Army Colonel Greg Gadson speaks.  Injured by an IED in Iraq, he is now a bilateral above-knee amputee who walks using two bionic Power Knees.  (Coincidentally, he's also an army colleague of my surgeon, Dr. B!) 

Col. Gadson's speech takes us from his injury, through his rehab, to his recent role in the movie Battleship.  He tells us that, as an amputee, you're never finished recovering.

“Every time you get a new foot, it’s like pressing the reset button,” he says.

The audience cracks up because it's true.  Shoes, sidewalks, sockets... there's no end to the unpredictability!

But the theme of his speech resonates with me even more:

“I don’t ask WHY,” he tells us.  “I just ask WHAT’S NEXT.”

It captures the spirit of every person I've met at this conference.  They’re moms and dads, professionals and athletes.  Resilient human beings inside and out.  They know there's no magic pill.  Yet they keep moving forward to live their lives.

I want to take it all home in a souvenir bag.


With Carla and Amy --
maybe someday
I'll wear heels too :)
At the closing ceremony, Carla is wearing her stilettos.  And surprise... she's not the only one!

Mom and I move together around the ballroom, giving hugs and snapping photos.

It's hard to say goodbye to all the friends we've grown to love this week...

Jennifer
Kelly and Hector

 Zack and Berni


Elena and Ariel
and Pierre
...to name just a few.
We're so close, it seems impossible we met just days ago!

The music and dancing goes on and on.  No one wants to break the magic spell.


But the next morning, Mom and I pack up and check out.  I take one last trip across the hotel lobby.  The tiles aren't as shiny without the glint of metal.  The space feels lifeless and sad, like an empty stage.

A handful of vacationing families check in at the front desk.  Limbs intact.

On our way out, I stop at the restroom.  As I’m washing my hands, a young girl in flowered flip-flops stands stock-still in the doorway, staring at my Genium.

“You like my robot leg?” I say.

Slight nod.  Eyes wide.  Mouth agape.

“It’s cool, isn’t it?”

She doesn't blink.

“There’s a computer in there,” I tell her.  (For kids that's usually the clincher.)

This girl doesn’t budge.

So I grab a paper towel and head for the door.  She watches me leave, in awe.

Show's over, folks.

Oh well.  Who wants to be ORDINARY anyway?


If you need a little magic -- or just a 3-minute vacation  -- watch this video :)

To all my friends from the conference – Kelly, Hector, Amy, Priscilla, Mike, Carla, Jennifer, Doug, Ronnie, Austin, Tommy, Lisa, Pierre, Zack and Berni, Elana and Ariel, Arnold and Mo, DeeDee and Peter, Kurt, Mary, and Emma... Thank you for inspiring me in a way I will never forget!  Can't wait to see you all again in 2015!

And to Uncle Mike, Vicki, and the Cain clan -- Thanks so much for giving us a warm welcome to your Sunshine State! xoxo


5 comments:

  1. Wow! Sounds like a great trip! So many strong people! While I'm sure you fit right it, you've never been ordinary. You've always been, and continue to be, extraordinary!
    PS. Thanks for the T-shirts!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Reading this entry, especially this:
    "For a split second – the first time ever -- I FORGET I'm an amputee!

    It's the best trick by far.

    At this conference, there's so much ABILITY, disability disappears!"

    made my day. Awesome stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great video: My reaction to your events was a full 100% - "Live it to the fullest!"

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a joyous, inspiring and unforgettable experience it was to be part of such an extraordinary group! Thanks for inviting me... it was truly a privilege to be there!

    ReplyDelete
  5. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING BLOG! I don't have a blog but this makes me wanna start one

    -Carla*

    ReplyDelete