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!!!


Saturday, June 1, 2013

From Chicago, With Love

Mile Marker 1107:

Greetings from the Windy City!  

Bike the Drive is a Memorial Day tradition here.

Before the accident, I always flew to Chicago the last weekend of May.  With my cycling buddy Shelley, I rose early and buckled my helmet.  We hopped on our bikes (mine, rented) and joined 20,000 riders to pedal a loop around the famous -- and windy -- Lake Shore Drive.

This year, even HALF the ride will be a challenge.

I've packed carefully:  biking shoes,  bike pedal, power belt, crutches... even my water leg.   Still, I can't shake the feeling that something's MISSING.

Susan and Rocco come with me from Philly.  They pick me up, drop me off, and lug my awkward "leg bag" onto the plane.   I call them my Secret Service, but really they're so much more!

Shelley heads up the Chicago branch of the team.  She's our chauffeur, tour guide, and bike commissioner all rolled into one.

The night before the bike ride, we shift into high gear -- We've got a crisis on our hands.

Shelley borrowed a bike for me, but the seat won’t go down low enough.  I can't even climb on.  I can't imagine trying to stop or start, let alone ride 15 miles!

I'm in a panic.  Everyone's here to ride with me.  And now I might not ride at all.

We call the local bike shop – Bobby’s Bike Hike.  When the guy picks up, I breathe a sigh of relief.

“I’m here from out of town to do Bike the Drive,” I tell him.  “But I’m having technical problems with my bike.”  

'Technical problems' isn't quite accurate, but it makes a long story much shorter.

The shop closed an hour ago.  I ask the guy if they’ll re-open before the ride tomorrow morning.  Yet I know it's unlikely.  The ride begins at sunrise.

"No," he says, "but I’ll be here for another half-hour if you want to come by.”  He's surprisingly friendly for 9:00 in the evening.

"There’s just one thing,” I tell him.  “I’m only 4’10.  So I'll need a really small bike.”

“I think I have one that’ll work,” he says.

He's so nice, I decide to tell him one more thing.

“Also...um... I wear a prosthesis, so I'll need to attach my own pedal.”

I brace myself for a hang-up.  He probably thinks it's a prank call.

“Come on over,” he says instead.

Shelley and I hop in a cab.   As we approach the shop, Rocco zips by on his bike, rented here just an hour earlier.  (I don't call him Secret Service for nothing!)

Bike guy Mark greets us at the door, smiling.  

“Did you think I was kidding?” I say.  I hand him the pedal.  Then tug up the leg of my jeans to show him the Genium.  

Mechanic Connor sets me up on a small black city bike.  He lowers the seat so my toes touch the ground.  He attaches my caged, weighted pedal, fresh from Philly.


In a matter of minutes, the Bobby’s Bike Hike crew earns an honorary place on my all-star team!


Traditional 6 a.m.
pre-ride photo
Mile Marker 1110:

Early the next morning, the sun glimmers off Lake Michigan.   In our hotel room, it feels like any other Bike the Drive day...

...except for the leg
charging in the corner!

Outside, Shelley stabilizes the handlebars of my bike so I can climb on.  Even with the low seat, it's taller than my bike at home.

But as we start off, there's another 'technical problem.'  It's 49 degrees.  My prosthesis comes loose each time I lift my leg.

I keep pedaling.  It can only get warmer, right?

We meet the rest of our group near Buckingham Fountain -- Vickie who's biked with us in the past, and my brother Andy, who’s biking for the first time in years!

Finally at the starting line --
Flanked by my Secret Service :)

Illinois is flat, but Lake Shore Drive runs hilly along the coast.  On this upright bike, I can't lean forward to propel myself.  In the first few miles, I learn to lower the gears.  Rock at the waist and heave with my shoulders.  The hills get progressively easier.

The sun shines full force, and my socket stays suctioned.  As we approach the first turn-around, I even snap a few pics -- while riding!

That's Rocco up ahead!

Vickie and Shelley

Go Andy!
Susan, always by my side :)


Almost 8 miles down --
aside from SOCKET RUBS, I feel good!!!

After a break, we head south again.  I find a rhythm of riding and chatting, mounting each hill as it comes.

Until Mile 14.

Merely blocks away, we can’t even see the finish line.   To reach Grant Park, we have to climb the final, steepest hill, which happens to be a drawbridge over the Chicago River.

“I don’t know about this,” I gasp.  I steer toward the side of the road in case I need to get off and walk.

Up ahead, Vickie looks over her shoulder.  “ONLY 25 PEDALS TO THE TOP!” she yells.

As you might guess, the numbers save me.   I lower into “granny gear” and throw every ounce of power into that hill.  One by one, I count the pedal turns.  With each push and pull, I’m closer to the top.

Exactly 28 pedals later, I reach the hinge of the drawbridge.  (Nice call, Vickie!)

I touch my foot to the ground.   My right leg's quivering.  And I can't even feel my left.



Hi-fives all around!



It's all downhill from here!

When the morning ends, we've covered almost 20 MILES.
Not exactly old times, but close!


Mile Marker 1111:  ('Cause the pedometer doesn't count bike miles!) 






The weekend rolls on...


Chocolate dipped bacon...
not quite as good as it sounds.

There's an outdoor music festival starring Andy's School of Rock kids.

  



Holy Cow!


Shelley’s birthday at Harry Caray’s.





Navy Pier with Wendy and company.








Pizza with Vimla's girls.





And Nina's first visit to "The Bean."




We're so busy having fun, I don't think about what's missing.

But I notice a few things.  I used to visit my friends in the suburbs.  This year, they all come to me.  I used to walk the Magnificent Mile.  This year, I take cabs everywhere.

And what's with all the multi-level streets and open-tiered stairways?   Where are the ramps and elevators?  Why is everything so far apart??

Chicago is my home away from home, yet it's different this year.   It's really ME -- not the city -- that's changed.


Mile Marker 1113:

On our last morning, the hotel doorman hails us a cab.  "Where to?" he asks.

I glance down at my metallic aqua-blue leg.  "The BEACH, of course!"

He looks skeptical.  It's 55 and rainy.  But it's the perfect day to try out my new water leg "Sandy."

The Secret Service gives me a hand as we climb slick steps and cross muddy pavement.   At Ohio Street Beach, a workman is churning up sand with a mini-bulldozer.

He stops and looks on with interest.  The wind's blowing and the fog's rolling in.  Our bright jackets stand out against the gray sky.

"My first time on the beach!"  I call out, waving to him.

The workman nods his head.  "My dad too," he says, pointing to my leg.  We share a smile.

I sit down on a concrete jetty to take off my sandals.

The ground is cold, but the beach is alive.

As I step into the waves, my eyes cloud over with tears.



I squeeze the wet sand between my toes.

My LEFT LEG can't feel it, but somehow it does.


On that hazy beach, the answer becomes crystal clear.
I know exactly what's missing.  And all I still have.

From Chicago, with love.
Wish you were here.




A video of Sandy's first dip, with Secret Service of course!  (Awesome cinematography by Shelley!)

video