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, November 16, 2014

Mind the Gap

Mile Marker 2230:

Four years ago today, after a week of surgery and sedation, I woke up in Jefferson Hospital’s 7th floor SICU.  I know it was November 16th because I can still picture the date scrawled on the white board across from my bed.

"When’s Veteran's Day?"  I asked my family over and over.

I knew I'd been in an accident.  I knew my leg had been amputated.  I knew my body was stiff with tape and I could barely move.  But in that medicated fog, what I couldn't figure out was how I'd somehow missed November 11th!

Why was I so hung up on that particular day?  At the time, there was a lot riding on it.  On the Tuesday of the accident, I had a "To-Do" list a mile long.  Our school was about to undergo state compliance monitoring.  As the Special Ed Coordinator, I’d been spearheading the preparation effort for over a year.  And that week, I still had one major task:  to complete a video presentation about our program.

I had planned to put it all together that Thursday -- Veterans Day.  I'd been counting on that extra day off from school.

When I woke up on the 16th, that day had disappeared.

My case isn’t unique.  I’ve heard stories from people who were out much longer than I was.  My friend Rob, injured in an accident in August 2001, was unconscious through the events of 9/11.  In mid-September, he literally woke up to a different world!

Maybe it's a step in adjusting to my New Normal, but this year's anniversary finds me minding those gaps.   Not just that one missing week.  I mean the REAL GAPS.  The space that still exists between my life "before" and my life "after."

On the east edge of Philly, the Ben Franklin Bridge divides the river and the sky.  It stretches from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, towering 380 feet above the Delaware.

There's a walking path along it.  And this November 9th, I decide to try it.  If we make it to the other side, we will have walked 9,573 feet  – 1.8 miles.  If we double back, it'll be closer to 4 miles!

Like all events these days, walking the bridge is a last minute decision and "leg-dependent."   A team somehow materializes.  Friends.  Mom, Dad, and Mark.  PT Julie and her daughter Alaina.

At 10 a.m., we decide it's a go.

Early-bird Donna and her running pals were nice enough to mark our trail...

I follow the chalk messages like a treasure hunt.   

Wouldn't you??

Talk about motivation!

The half-mile stroll from my apartment to the bridge flies by!

At the foot of the bridge, we gather for a photo.  The Ben Franklin is a fixture in our neighborhood, but most of us have never crossed it on foot.  Today we're all ready for an adventure!

Happy Anniversary!

We start the uphill climb, rising above 4th Street, then 3rd, then 2nd...

If I squint to the south, I can just make out the yellow chairs on my balcony, blurred against the bricks.

The Race Street Pier rolls by below us, a collage of autumn leaves. 

And suddenly, we’re over water!

We walk the width of the Delaware River from 20 stories above.  I stop to gaze upward at this dizzying, amazing structure!

Jack likes this hike a lot better...
and I agree!

The bridge is an incline, but the walk isn't overly strenuous.  Not by last year's standards anyway -- when we hiked the slippery waterfalls of Rickett’s Glen

I'm in a different place this year, physically and emotionally.  This year's challenge isn't just survival.  It's to BRIDGE the old and the new.  The "before" and "after."

To build a bridge, you've gotta have a strong foundation!
Here's mine!

In the weeks leading up to this walk, I had a disturbing dream.  I was up on a bridge high above a river, on a walkway of concrete planks.  Between those planks were huge gaps.   To get from one section to another, I had to jump.  But I knew I’d never make it.  The spaces missing were much too wide.

And anyway, my friends
would never let me fall!
At Mile 2230,  I notice the Ben has gaps in its concrete too.   As we make our way across, my sweaty liner slips and my footwork gets sloppier.  I trip several times, catching my Genium’s foot on the edge of those openings.  Luckily, they're only inches apart!

But it reminds me of what happens when I try to bridge my "before" and "after."   I do stumble.  Frequently.  My leg gives out before the rest of me.  There's a gap between what I want to do, and what I actually can.  They're like two ends of a bridge that never quite touch.

I don't have to tell you that bridges are full of metaphors.  And this particular bridge -- on this particular day -- is fuller than most.

When you peer out over the water, you can see other bridges in both directions:  the Walt Whitman to the south, the Betsy Ross to the north.

I learned that from my PTs!
That's a handy thing about bridges.  If one is closed, you can usually find another.  It's become a way of life for me.  There are alternate ways to do almost anything!

Over the last 4 years, I've watched a few of my own bridges close down, but I've watched many more go up.  They're like highways zooming out in all directions.  A web of relationships, a network of support and care.  They connect me to people and places I never knew existed just 4 years ago.

But I feel like I've known
At least half of our group today is from my life AFTER!

On this bridge the ends do meet.  And they get along swimmingly!

After a brief stop on the Jersey side, we turn around to head -- Where else? -- back toward Philly.

The bridge vibrates as a train roars by on the tracks beneath us.  Here's our version of the High-Speed Line...

(You can always count on Mark for special effects!)

By the time we reach Philadelphia, my prosthesis is dangling, my gait is terrible, and I've set a distance record in my new socket.  But most importantly, we've crossed that bridge!


So whatever did happen to Veterans Day?

I can't really let it go without proper acknowledgement.  Let's just say from my new vantage point, it's grown from a school holiday to a day to honor some of the bravest people I know.

Their strength,


their spirit,

and Mike
and the way they always stand tall.

I'm ready to make up for lost time.
Build bridges.  Keep walking.

And fill the gaps along the way. 

Love & thanks to all who've helped me "rebuild" these last 4 years!  Couldn't have made it this far without you!

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