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!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Things We Take With Us

Mile Marker 2000:

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson


Mile 2000 gathers slowly like a quiet storm.

For weeks, I spy it brewing on the horizon.  The miles on my Fitbit roll forward.  When will I hit it?  What will I do when I get there?  A 2000th mile is something I never thought to consider!

But there's no time to dwell.  Summer is ending, and I'm rushing around trying to tie up its loose ends.... new jobs, day trips, dinner with friends....
Go Pitt!

In the midst of it all, my friend Matt makes a most courageous return to college!

And then one morning, the sky breaks.  I wake up at Mile 1996.75.   Today is the day.  The storm is here.

But it's just me.  On a Thursday.  With 3 1/4 miles to go.

I haven't piled sandbags or battened down hatches.  I haven't organized a celebratory event.  I haven't gathered friends or family.  I haven't fortified myself with a PT on a motorcycle.

I walk anyway.

Right off, I bang out 2 miles on the treadmill.  But I'm restless and giddy at the gym.   My stomach stirs like thunder, and my steps are lightning quick.   With one more mile to conquer, I leave Magee for parts unknown.  (Well, not really... but it does feel that way!)

I get in the car and drive toward my old neighborhood in South Philly.  When I see a bicycle chained to an iron gate,  I park and begin walking north over the bumpy brick sidewalk, past rowhomes and flower pots.

I follow the bike lane.

At the corner of Washington Avenue sits the firehouse.  The one that sent Tanya to my rescue.  I pause for a moment with respect and thanks.

Then the light turns green, so I step swiftly off the curb.  When I reach the opposite side of the street, there are still 8 seconds left on the blinking walk signal.  Eight seconds!  Things really have changed!

I cross 3rd Street and then 4th.

One step after another, less than a half-mile to go.


I try to remember how it felt to be biking along that November morning.  To be living the last moments of my old life.   But it's not easy.  The sky today is stormy, not sunny.  The landscape is fresh with summer flowers.  And the white lines of the bike lane are worn away.

My feelings from THEN get all mixed up with my feelings from NOW.

Finally, I arrive at the intersection where this story began.  This is it.  Mile Marker 2000.

I breathe in.  Take a look around.  The new condos on the corner are finished, complete with chairs on each balcony.  The crosswalk is empty.  The footprint we painted at Mile 1000 has long since washed away.

There's no sign of what happened here.

Traffic passes unaware.  A trash truck roars by, painted red and yellow with a mosaic of fall leaves.

Gently, I set down a pile of shells and stones.  Some are from the beach.  Some are from my own collection.  A tiny shell, pink and cracked, is from my grandparents' house.  It goes on top.

I don't come here often, but when I do, I think about my old life.  This is where I feel closest to my leg.  Where I remember the things I left behind.

So much has happened in 2000 miles.

It may sound silly, but today as I stare out at the blacktop, there's this inner dialogue where I tell my leg how much things have changed.  How much I've changed.  There's so much I want to share...

I wish you could meet the people who've inspired and challenged me, those who've walked with me along the way.  I wish you could see my whole new world and where this journey has taken me.


I wish you could feel every step I've traveled on my NEW leg.

I guess, in any journey, these thoughts are par for the course.  There are things we leave behind and things we take with us.

As I stand there, the light turns green and then red again.  I wait for some boy to come along who remembers the accident.  Or a group of colorful bikers to pedal me away.  Or a PT on a motorcycle.

All that materializes is a storm cloud overhead.

So I leave the shells on the sidewalk and take one more step.  Then another and another.  When I look back, the intersection is still there.

But so is where I'm going.

As I walk away, I wonder why today of all days -- at such an important milestone -- this place didn't "give me" anything.  A souvenir.  A signal.  A new memory to add to my old ones.  Something to take with me.

A few tears start to well up.  Through them, I spot something shiny on the sidewalk.

A penny.  Heads up.


In that flash of copper, I see 2000 miles that never, ever would have happened if so many forces hadn't come together at exactly the right place and time.   The firehouse, the trauma center, and the PT gym.  Hiking trails, boardwalks, and bike paths.  Family, friends, and fellow travelers who've kept me marching on.

A storm so perfect and powerful it grows new life with each step.

If that's not a takeaway, I don't know what is.

I gather up all that strength inside me and keep walking....

On toward 3000.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this. You have (or maybe gained) a real gift of perspective, and you help me every time you post.

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  2. This post has touched my heart, moved me to tears, and filled me with pride and gratitude... not just for all you have done, but even more for who you are. "Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." It will be an honor and a privilege to walk beside you on the road to Mile 3000.

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  3. Great post, Rebecca! I love those gratitude moments....and try to keep them in mind on "bad leg days." Just think, if our accidents wouldn't have happened, we never would've met! (And our Gimpy Chick album would not happen.) ;) Onward, girlie!

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  4. Beautifully written as always, Ricki! You are an amazing person and friend! I miss you!

    BTW, my other Philadelphia (internet) friend, Nancy, is sending me your article! Can't wait to have my own copy to show to Jimmy, Emma, and Nathan!

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  5. 2,000 will seem like nuthin' when you get to 3,000! Can't wait to see where you'll go next, Rebecca!

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