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, February 24, 2013

Escape to New York

If you're wondering where I've been this week, I've been recovering.  Not from a hospital stay or injury --  thank goodness! -- from something much, much better...

A ROAD TRIP.

I used to be a road trip expert.   With barely a thought, I'd toss a duffel bag into the trunk of my Honda Civic and take off for a long weekend.   One summer, I spent 60 days driving cross-country with my friend Linda.  We met cowboys, ate crawfish, and hiked every national park that crossed our path.

There's so much I love about traveling:  the "not-quite-home" feeling of hotel rooms, the excitement and uncertainty of navigating by map.  I love meeting new people and tasting new food.  I even love turnpike rest stops!

But like most experiences, travel is no longer as simple as it used to be.


Mile Marker 940:

In New York City, the streets are short and the avenues are long.
  

My mom, friend Jen, and I aim downtown and start WALKING.  (Map in hand, of course!)



Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan unfolds before us like a 4-lane highway.  As the street numbers drop, the big buildings fade into caf├ęs, restaurants, and corner groceries.

Somewhere around 47th Street, we’re drawn in by a window of French macarons, neat rainbow rows of meringues stuffed with delicate icing.  We order a six-pack of flavors to go:  Wedding Almond, Orange Blossom, Nutella, Raspberry, Honey Lavender, and Coconut Chocolate.  We're not in France, but tonight in our hotel room, it'll taste like it!

Bag in hand, we amble down toward Murray Hill, a neighborhood packed tight with restaurants, bars, and posh-looking apartments.  Green awnings and brownstones line the sloped side streets.  In the blue light of evening, we peer inside them for a glimpse of “real life” in the Big Apple.

On the corner of 35th Street, we spy an unassuming bar, whose name – THIRD and LONG – seems a fitting end point for today's journey.

But there’s another reason we want to stop in.   The bar belongs to Matt Long, the New York City firefighter who inspired me with his book, The Long Run.  More than a year ago, my PT Julie turned me on to Matt’s story, which involved a bicycle accident eerily similar to my own.  Matt’s recovery, struggle, and ultimate accomplishments still offer me strength at my weakest moments.

Last winter, when I wrote the post In Training, I sent Matt an e-mail.

And he replied with this encouraging message:  

Keep it up!  I have shared your blog with many and I'm glad I can be a source of inspiration to you....  If our schedules allow it would be great to walk a mile or two with you!  Keep pushing, Matt.

He wasn’t available to walk this weekend (I did ask!), but stopping by his bar seemed like the next best thing.

Bartender Sid welcomes us warmly.  $2.00 drafts are the day's special, plus a glass of wine for Mom.  The walls are lined with flat-screen TVs displaying every sport imaginable.  Behind the bar hangs a Montreal Canadiens flag.   At center are two rectangular mirrors engraved with crosses and helmets in memory of NYC's fallen firefighters. 

For a Saturday at 5, the place is comfortably full.  At one point, a bulldog even scurries across the floor!  Sid serves him a dog treat. :)

We unwind for an hour or so.  I tell Sid my story and ask about Matt.   Then we make a toast – to road trips, new destinations, and all the inspiration we find along the way.


Mile Marker 943:  Sunday nearly blows us over.

We'd planned to walk the Brooklyn Bridge, but that gets scrapped -- at least until spring!

Instead, we “cab it” across town and ride an elevator to a walking path that's high but not as risky.  

The High Line is a public park above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side.   It traces a mile of old rail line from Midtown to the Meatpacking District.   

The railroad tracks are still there, zig-zagging along the paved skyway.

As they mix with plant life, murals, and sculpture, the trail becomes an elevated museum above the city.



Modern buildings sprout up as if they've grown there too. 

My apartment...
in case I ever move to NYC!


We can only imagine how it'll all look in bloom!





There's even a view of the Statue of Liberty...
But the winds are fierce up here!  Jen's virtually unrecognizable, and I grab Mom’s arm to stay steady on my feet.

We push onward, soaking up every last ray of sunshine.

The garden is barren, but spirits up here are bright.  Dozens of walkers pass us, heads wrapped tightly, smiling bravely into the cold. 

And when we look close, we notice the tiniest signs of spring!


Mile Marker 945:  Later that afternoon, I catch up with college friends Chip and Charlotte, and meet their kids – Anna, Chloe, and Charles.

Anna, the oldest, is 10.  This means I haven't seen Chip and Charlotte in more than a decade!

Mom's old flip phone
is just plain
embarrassing!
Our meeting place is the glass-encased Apple Store on the edge of Central Park.  Mom, Jen, and I step out of the cold and into the cylindrical elevator.  Down below, the sea of shoppers is so thick I have to call Chip -- yes, on his iPhone! -- to locate him. 

We lure the kids away from electronic heaven for a brisk jaunt through Central Park.

Thankfully, the wind’s settled down enough for me to walk without holding on! 

The park opens up with grassy hills that have kept their green throughout the winter.  Passing through the zoo, we catch sight of seals flopping around their icy pool.

The kids scale the city boulders. 

We climb a steep path to a tree-house at the top of the hill.  For a few seconds, the view of the city is enough to distract us from our numbing toes!

Anna's feet give my Genium
a dose of boot envy!
A half-mile later, we emerge onto the sidewalk.  Chip hails 2 cabs, and we ride down Broadway toward Ellen’s Stardust Diner (according to Anna, “The diner where the waitresses sing!”). 

Over milkshakes and burgers, the wanna-be stars sing and dance around us.

The kids are STAR STRUCK…

...Well, most of them anyway!

Finally we say goodbye in Times Square.  Surely, it won't be another 10 years till our next visit!


Mile Marker 946:

Heeee'res Gabby!
(Right kid, wrong TV show...)

Wind Chill = -2 degrees!
Brrr!


On  Monday morning at just past 6, Mom, Jen, and I trek a half-mile to Rockefeller Center.   The sun hasn't cleared the skyscrapers yet, but the plaza sparkles with anticipation.

Before we know it, Today Show cameras are rolling.  Packed into a bundled crowd, we watch the broadcast on the outside monitors.  Our fingers freeze against the metal railings as we proudly display our signs for TV audiences everywhere to see.

But there's surprisingly little action out here.  It’s so cold that Al Roker reports the weather INSIDE.   Yes, Mom, I’m glad you talked me out of wearing shorts!

Gabby's a true fan!
Click to read her sign...
Beside us, we meet 7-year-old Gabby and her mom, Shari.  Stylish in her boots and pink glasses, Gabby distracts us from the cold with her steady chatter.  “I think a commercial break is a good time for a snack!” she giggles, ripping into a pack of yogurt cereal bites.

She digs my robot leg, and I’m happy to have her join us for this mile. 

After almost an hour, our fingers and feet have turned to icicles.  When Al finally comes out to shake our hands, we can barely feel it!  

So we escape with Gabby and Shari to a nearby coffee shop to warm up.  Cozy and comfy, we settle in with our new friends, waving to the TV cameras through the window.


When the weekend's done, we've covered 7 1/2 miles in less than 48 hours!  Miles fly when you're having fun.

And the trip is fun.

But not EASY.

At every turn, there are sensations and worries that distract me from my surroundings.  On crutches, a hotel room is like a foreign language.   The change in schedule jet-lags my intestines.  And the Genium is a good sport, but not quite as forgiving as my old leg.

In almost 1000 miles, I've tried to put these things behind me.  But after nearly 2 years of "traveling," I still can't escape The Way Life Should Be.

Sure, I can choose to rest safely at home.  But isn't it better to push out into the world, thankful for each glimpse of what I once had -- or might have?

Having come this far, I'm convinced the only way to get good at something is to PRACTICE.

There was a time when the longest distance I could walk was between two dining room chairs.  There was a time when bike riding and skating seemed like pipe dreams.

I only hope that learning to travel again works the same way.  That with every step, it will get easier and easier.

So I'll do it again and again.

As they say on Broadway, the show must go on.

Thanks to Mom and Jen for their endless patience -- and tolerance for the cold!  And for all the old friends and new ones in NYC.  Couldn't have done it without you!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Take Three


Mile Marker 930:

What to do?  

At 5:50 a.m. I am already fresh out of ideas.

It is February 11th. 

Last year on this day, I watched Bob take his historic first steps as a bilateral amputee.  And the year before, I celebrated my own WALKING DAY.

In between came parallel bars and crutches, ramps and stairs.  Four sockets and two knees.  And -- oh yeah -- one incredibly beat-up pair of sneakers.

But early this morning, I lie in bed restless.  Two years in a row, this day has been important and amazing.  Now, half-dreaming and half-awake, I rack my brain for another milestone that'll measure up.

Idea #1 floats by...

Take SEPTA to the doctor’s this afternoon.  ("Really?" all you city-dwellers groan.)  But up till now, I’ve taken my car everywhere.  Climbing those huge bus steps would mark new territory.  An adventure!

Ten minutes later, the 6 a.m. news dampens this idea.  Rain all morning.  Freezing rain, to be specific.   Not prime Walking Day weather.

On to Idea #2…

Instead of one mile on the treadmill, I’ll walk two.   I smile into the pillow.  This one has potential.  On this day each year, I'll add another mile!  A new tradition! 

Goal in mind, I head over to the rehab gym.   I pick my way carefully through the wet parking lot and then dry my shoes on the carpet just inside.  Merrily, I hop onto the treadmill.  

Unfortunately, 22 minutes and only one mile later, my leg has had enough.  Numbness sets in, along with an ominous socket rub.  I limp over to the mat.

Pull bag and towel in hand, I slip off my sweaty prosthesis.  I dry and massage my leg as I chat with workout buddies in the wellness center.

Despite the nasty weather, everyone's spirits are high.  

Beth, a fellow amputee, just celebrated her first year cancer-free!  

Check out those muscles!
18-year-old Dajon is pumpin' iron like a superhero.  And Dajon's mom, Pat, is a power-walker herself.  



Suddenly, I know exactly how to mark Mile 930 -- and this very special day!

Jess, our wellness leader (and biggest cheerleader), captures our departure on video:

video


We don't go far – just a victory lap around the rehab gym.  But as we put one foot in front of the other, we carve a path between the exercise machines.  We march over carpet and tile.  We wave to therapists and smile at other patients.  By the time we emerge from our short loop, our speed and rhythm transforms us into a giggling, energetic, cohesive team.

On the outside, not much has changed.  The windows are still splattered with cold rain.  The hovering sky is still shadowed in February gray.

Karen
(a.k.a. Riding Hood)
leads rainy day fun!
On my own, walking had seemed like a painful chore.  

But at Mile Marker 930 -- with these friends beside me -- each step radiates all the light and hope of the past two years.

Hello Sunshine.  This is my team.



Two years ago, between those parallel bars, I took one tentative step at a time.

Last year, I watched Bob bravely take two.

This year, it's not about what I do.  It's about who I'm with
 
When in doubt, take three!  I did.

HAPPY WALKING DAY!


To see footage from last year's Walking Day, click here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Indoor Recess

Mile Marker 919:

Snowflakes, 40 m.p.h. gusts, below freezing temps...
As an amputee, the winter blues strike with a vengeance.

Slick sidewalks send my left foot sliding.  Wild winds knock me to my knees.  It's enough to make me hole up like a groundhog and sleep the season away!

So for the last few miles, my Genium and I have decided to fight back.

Call it innovation.  Call it necessity.  Call it INDOOR RECESS....

Remember how your teacher dug out the old board games when the school's playground was covered in snow?

Surprisingly, these dreary days have helped me do just that.  They've given me a chance to revisit some old skills -- to get them in shape before spring arrives.

In 6th grade, I lived for weekends at the roller rink.  Under the disco ball, my friends and I did the backwards skate, the couples skate, and the ever-popular Hey, Hey Alligator!

Now I've traded in my Jordache jeans for a prosthesis.

As the miles roll into the 900's, friends Chris and Mary reacquaint me with my indoor skating roots.  The smooth floors and repetitive laps prove to be just my speed.  While the rest of my skate pals tear up the frigid streets of Philly, I lace up, let loose, and try not to trip over toddlers!

We've even recruited a newbie --
my friend (and former nurse)
Deb's daughter, Rebecca!
Stride by stride, my footwork is making a slow, steady comeback.

I'm probably the only skater in the rink's history to wear a helmet, but better safe than sorry.  At this rate, I'd be laughed out of Jefferson's ER if I came in with a SKATING injury!


Next, I swap skates for shoes to join my amputee support group for an evening of BOWLING.

At a cool basement bowling alley in South Philly, we become bionic bowling to the 10th power!  Together, we re-teach our bodies how to send that ball as hard, far, and straight as we can.

I mark a rhythm and count my steps to get a running (er, walking!) start.  1, 2, 3, 4, lunge, release!

The technique pays off.  My Genium and I hit a new high score -- 44.

Most of Team Bionic still bowls me over.  But at least now I'm bowling up the right alley!


And finally, who needs an indoor gym when you're surrounded by stairs?

This week, the PT students at Arcadia University welcomed me to their class for a lesson on prosthetics -- and STAIR-CLIMBING.  If you think it's motivating to work out with a PT, try working out with 50 of them!

With a close look, you can see I still have plenty of skills to chase.  But 15 steps with only one mis-swipe?  In my life, that's stair-climbing on steroids!

video


All in all, a few days of indoor recess can be fun.

But as any school kid -- or teacher -- will tell you, it's just a way to bide time until the weather clears.

Punxsutawney Phil agrees.  In a few short weeks, he's really gonna step outside and celebrate!

And me?  I'll be right there in his shadow.

Thanks to PT Chris for the awesome AU video!