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!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Comfort Zone

What do an ICY SIDEWALK and an ELLIPTICAL TRAINER have in common?

They're both outside my comfort zone!

Mile Marker 1575:  

Mother Nature dumps more snow on Philly.   For the last 2 winters, she’s been kind.   But now, in my 3rd year as an amputee, she declares, “No more kid gloves.  You can handle this!”

I'm not so sure about that.

No,  I want to
In mid-February, school closes for 2 days in a row.  By the third day, I'm restless.  I've made plans, but do I dare venture out?

My friend Kelly, a fellow amputee, posts on Facebook that she has just shoveled her driveway.   Go Kelly!!  That's just the spark I need....

I lace up my boots, start the car, and steer out of the parking garage.  Fortunately, I don't even have a driveway to shovel!

The streets are glazed with slush as I head across the city.  When I find a parking spot along the curb, cars drive by, splashing my door.  Nervously I wait to get out.  I watch the sideview mirror till I can’t see any more headlights.  The time is NOW.

In one swift motion, I unlatch the door and swing out my Genium.  I push up into a standing position, and close the door as quick as I can.  Sliding my glove along the car, I make my way toward the sidewalk.  My heart is pounding.  I hate being this close to traffic.

Uh-oh.  A foot-high snowdrift blocks the curb.  If I sink into it, I'll fall for sure.  (Walking in deep snow is like marching, a skill I haven't yet mastered.)  So I inch along the parked cars until I reach a shoveled-out space at the corner.

I was too panicked to get
a photo of that stretch of ice,
but it looked kinda like this one!
There, I face the next obstacle -- a 20 foot stretch of sidewalk that looks more like an arctic tundra.  I draw in a deep breath and begin shuffling along it like I'm walking on glass.  Land each step as light as a snowflake.  One false move could cause an avalanche.  That avalanche could be ME.

Finally I reach the parking kiosk.  Relief!  But only for a second.  I realize, at that moment, I'll have to cross that sidewalk twice more – once to put the parking ticket in my car and a second time to get where I’m going.

Here's a handy map (courtesy of my friend Shelley):

Ugh.  Magic better happen after this adventure!

This winter, more than ever, the walls of my comfort zone confine me.  I stay indoors when I want to go out.  I drive when I'd rather take Septa.  I circle the city in my car, checking the sidewalks, afraid to walk on them.

Ok, I admit it.  The entire month of February lies outside my comfort zone.

It makes me angry and frustrated.  But at Mile 1575, there's a new force pushing against those walls.  If Kelly can do it, maybe I can too.

And today, if I do stay on my feet, I'm pretty sure it will be worth the trip.  For the first time in 3 years, I’m going to see Ed.  

Ed was a volunteer at the rehab hospital when I was there in December 2010.  Each morning, he greeted me with a warm smile as I’d wheel into the dining room for my breakfast tray.  Back then, EVERYTHING lay outside my comfort zone -- even coming to breakfast.  But Ed stretched those boundaries just a little bit wider.

“When I can walk again,” I'd tell him, “I’m going to come back and be a volunteer like you!”

And for more than a year now, I have been going back.  Each week, I volunteer at the rehab hospital, keeping patients company as they undergo therapy in the gym.
The reunion is worth it!

When I think how far my comfort zone has expanded in the last 3 years, what's a few more yards of ice??

After that trek, I log the next 25 miles mostly indoors.  But getting out in the winter makes even the smallest steps feel like a victory.

Friends Ruth and Asa help me navigate the snowy city.

In Washington Square, I find my favorite picnic spot buried under a sea of white.

And my first sip of lavender green tea tastes like much-needed spring.

Little by little, as if by magic, the snow disappears.

Mile Marker 1600:

The temperature hits 40 for the first time in months.

My friend Robert shows me his latest accomplishment -- the elliptical trainer.  He's inspired me before.  But his newest idea pushes at those walls, just like Kelly's snow shoveling!

At Mile 1600, Trainer Ian gives me a quick tutorial.  PT Colleen suggests putting my Genium in "free swing" mode.  PT Deb sticks Dycem on the pedal to keep my left foot in place.

I grip the handrails, push back against my socket, and step onto the machine.   In "free swing," my Genium is as flimsy as a piece of spaghetti.  But it works.  As I push the pedals forward, it comes along for the ride!

I start out tentatively, arms braced on the center handles, eyes glued to my left foot.  Gradually, I find a rhythm.   One hand at a time, I reach for the machine's moving arms.  Take my eyes off the Genium for one split second and then another.

At day 3, it still looks more natural than it feels.  My arms work overtime, and my left foot isn't quite stable.  But at least I'm moving!

Deb and I even have a little FUN with it...

Of course, leaving your comfort zone is much easier when you've got your team around.  Slip-ups are laughable.  And anyway, pedaling the elliptical is nothing like walking on ice!

But it is something new.

Each time I cross that boundary, a tiny bit of fear melts away.  Step by step, mile by mile, the desire grows.  I want to travel farther and farther.

Does magic really happen out there?

Maybe, maybe not.   But sometimes, I discover a burst of confidence.  Sometimes, I get a good workout.

Or sometimes -- as in the case of the arctic tundra -- I realize just what I can handle.

And that knowledge holds a magic all its own.


  1. Ricki, you are so unbelievably brave and amazing. Spring is almost here....Karen Wish

    1. Thanks Karen... Funny how once the temperature hits 50, I forget all about winter!! Happy spring :)

  2. I wish I was half as motivated

    1. I wish I was half as motivated. Thank you for pushing me. Robert

    2. Robert,
      I heard through the grapevine about a certain someone climbing bravely onto an unattended elliptical trainer in his apartment building's gym.... Exactly who's pushing who?? Keep it up. It's good for me :)

  3. Rebecca you look awesome on the elliptical! Thank you for reminding me where the "magic happens"- Binal