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!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Places I've Been

Mile Marker 4450: 

They say you can't go back, but really you can.

It's just not the same.

Take Chicago.  Or more specifically, a bike path in Chicago.

At Mile 4,450, I'm walking down the lakefront bike path with Shelley's mom, and our friends Dawn and Annie.

We're going to visit Shelley's tree.

It's not hard to find.  Take the Barry Street underpass.  Follow the bike path south.  Walk past the Belmont sign and a grove of baby trees.  Count five street lights.

Then there it is.

Shelley's tree.

It's willowy and tall.  Young but sturdy.  Independent and free.  Marked with a pink ribbon from the Chicago Park District, its branches reach upward toward the sky.  Its leaves show the earliest hints of red and gold.

It reminds me of Shelley!

With Shelley gone, Chicago is not the same for me.  It's not quite as comfortable, not quite as familiar. Yet standing here under her tree, I feel a touch of that goodness return.
So I do!

I can feel her.  It's a place where she is.

I can even give her a hug.

Mile Marker 4457:  

A dorm room at Northwestern.

My roommate Keats and I stroll across campus together.  It's a fall wonderland studded with all the stuff we remember.  Paper flyers are still taped to the ground.  The library still sprawls into three towers.

25 years?!
And the students?  They still look a lot like we did, with the exception of their Starbucks cups and cell phones!

On the south side of campus, we come to our old dorm.  There's a kid walking in.  We follow him.

"Hey!  Can you hold the door for us?  We used to live here 25 years ago!"

He turns around.  We're giggling like freshmen.

He smiles and nods, placing his electronic key on the sensor.  His name is Dylan, and he lives on the first floor, but he's nice enough to walk us all the way up to the third.  (You need a key card to enter there too.)

"If you lose your key card, it costs $100," Dylan says.

We tell him that when we lived here, lockouts were $5.00.  And we thought that was outrageous!

The building feels small, like when you go back to visit your elementary school.  If I spread my arms, I can touch both walls of the hallway.  The giant windows are no bigger than dormers.  And the walls we covered in posters don't look large enough to hold them anymore.

We pose in front of Room 308...

Our room!

...and Dylan snaps a photo.

Just then, a boy walks out of the bathroom in a towel.  "Excuse me," he says.  "That's my room."

Right.  It's not our room anymore.

Keats and I laugh all the way down the stairs.  Good thing you don't need a key card to get out!

Mile Marker 4480:  

An intersection in Philadelphia.

What did you expect?  It's November.

I stand on the edge of the sidewalk and stare out at the place where this story began.

If you look close enough, blacktop isn’t just blacktop.  It’s a blur of light and dark like an ocean seen from the sky.  There's nothing black and white about it.  It's all shades of gray. 

For the first time, I notice there's a patch on it, an irregular shape with messy edges.  It reminds me of the skin graft on my leg -- glossy borders, unmatched and paved against the grain.  Nearby, there's a long, deep crack in the surface that looks like an incision.

This street has wounds too.

I stand and watch for a while.  Cars rush by.  Bikers too, well-dressed with backpacks and saddlebags.  Not one is wearing a helmet.

If I stand here long enough (which I do), a garbage truck rumbles past.  Then a tractor trailer.  Its wheels are massive, as high as my shoulders if I stand close enough (which I don't).

I find a fallen leaf in the street at the exact place I fell.  One half is flattened and stuck to the ground, but the other half ripples lightly in the wind.  It's a symbol, I think.  It reminds me of me.

Everything here reminds me of me.

When the traffic clears, I rescue it.  Set it safely on the sidewalk.  Cover it over with seashells.

Life goes on here.  That always surprises me.  In my mind and heart, this corner stays frozen in time.

In a few hours, it will be November 9th, my "Alive Day."

I want to say something significant, share some deep thoughts about what it means to have another year on this earth.  I want to talk about where I'm going.  But I can't stop thinking about these places I've been.

How many times did I bike along the Chicago lakefront with Shelley?


Walk up those dorm stairs with Keats? 

Pedal through that intersection on my Trek mountain bike, ready for the workday ahead?

Why do I keep going back?

Every year on this date, my life gets whittled down to one place -- one moment -- where the rest becomes history.  There's this urgency, this sense that time is running out, and this knowledge that my old life will end when the clock strikes seven tomorrow morning.

I don't know why it keeps happening.  But I do know this,

You can go back to a place time after time, but you can't go back in time.  You just have to go forward.

With any luck, tomorrow will be just a normal Wednesday.  (I know I'm not the only one anticipating November 9th this year!)

So fasten your helmet.  Load up your saddlebags.
We'll need all the strength and hope we can carry.

Here's to Year 6 of the journey... and many more miles ahead!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Impossible Things

"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.  "When I was your age, I always did it for a half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

--Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Mile Marker 4403:

My friend Kym believed impossible things.

She believed she would write a hit screenplay.  And she believed Bradley Cooper would play the leading role.  "Why not?"  she told me.  "He's from Philly!"

Growing up, Kym and I shared movie magazines and wrote letters to Hollywood stars.  As high schoolers, we flew to UCLA for a summer media program.  In college, we both studied film.  Then, halfway through my freshman year, something changed.  I decided that dragging around heavy camera equipment was not for me.  It'd be a nice hobby, I thought, but I needed a "real" career.

With feet firmly planted on the ground, I entered adulthood.  I guess you could say I stopped believing impossible things.  Or at least I cut down.

Kym never did.  She continued writing and learned to do voice-overs.  She made small films.  She even landed a role as an extra in the movie Sixth Sense.  She put her ideas, and goals, and dreams out there for all to see.

In our 20's, Kym and I traveled together through Europe.  At every famous sight, she suggested silly poses that made us stand out from the crowd.  I felt goofy and conspicuous, but I went along with it.  (This was long before selfies, so we took turns holding the camera!)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Ok, I admit it was fun!

On our first day in Rome, as we meandered through the Roman Forum, I paused for the thousandth time to look at my guidebook.  Kym stood there restlessly, itching to move on.

"I have an idea," she said, "Let's try to see all of Rome in one day!"

"Why?" I asked.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing?

"Just to say we did it!" she answered.

See, most people --  like me -- would say it was impossible.  But Kym was out to prove them wrong.

Feeling the time crunch, we agreed to explore the city by motor scooter.  Yes, driving ourselves.  On 2 wheels.  Around traffic circles.  In Rome.

At a storefront called I Bike Rome, we saddled up on scooters and signed the waivers.  I dragged Kym over to a display of helmets on the wall.

"No one wears helmets here,"  Kym said, as if I were the crazy one.

"We're not from here!"  I told her.  Even back then, I refused to give in!

It's not in the photo, but I'm pretty sure
I convinced her to wear a helmet!

After a slight fender-bender (a.k.a. Kym's runaway scooter on the sidewalk), we spent the rest of the day touring Roman bars in search of ice for her injuries.  Come to think of it, we probably did see the whole city that way.  Back at the hotel we joked that Kym, covered in bandages, had earned herself a leading role in the Italian media -- as the poster-child for I Bike Rome!

A good enough reason to celebrate!

Fast forward 20 years.

In the summer of 2014, I pass Mile Marker 1900.  And Kym is diagnosed with cancer.

It's impossible to believe.

She eats colorful foods.  She strives to walk a mile each day, even when she's in the hospital.   When she needs to get blood, she makes jokes about vampires.  She fills her Facebook page with artwork and poems.  With all her energy, she sends love into the world.

See it?
Kym finds hearts everywhere: in sunsets, and sidewalks, and bowls of cereal.  And when I see them in my own travels, I take a photo and send them back to her.

Months pass.  Then a year.  Then two.  Kym radiates goodness.  And -- as impossible as it seems -- even good health.

Kym believes she can get through this.  Her plan is to heal completely.  To reclaim her body and surprise her doctors with an unexpected medical miracle.  She is so good at believing it, that for a while, we believe it too.

On a walk one morning, I discover a heart in the alley near my building.  It's nothing special really, just the twist of a wrought iron handrail at someone's doorstep.  But I stop.  Think of Kym.  Take out my phone.  Snap a photo.  Then keep walking.

By the time I reach my apartment and unlock the door, the day has begun.  I make breakfast, answer texts, and send emails.  Wash the dishes, pack my bag, and leave for work.  In the rush, I forget about that heart.  I never send it to Kym.

I regret that one little heart got left behind, that I never took the time to send it.

On the first Friday of October, as I pass Mile 4403, Kym passes away.

Reality seeps through the cracks.  We always think there will be time.  But some things are impossible.

On a much tinier scale, it seems impossible that more than 100 miles have passed without a blogpost.  I'd like to say there hasn't been time, but really it's just a matter of choosing what we spend our time on.

So in honor of Kym, I'm writing again, and putting this message out there:

Do you have an idea or a goal?  A dream or a hope?  Even a heart for someone?

Don't wait.  Launch it.  Send it on its way.

And then, think like Kym.

No matter how impossible it might seem to be...

"Heart on... my Raisin Bran flake!!"
by Kym  /  June 28, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Camp Dreamcatcher

Mile Marker 4275:

The hills are steeper, but the kids are just the same.

Camp Dreamcatcher.

It's been years since I've been here, and I have to admit I'm a little nervous.  I'm nervous about spending the day in the heat, sweating out of my leg, and tripping over tree roots.

But I'm also nervous about being back.

I wore sandals today, figuring the kids would get a kick out of my pedicure.  But a few steps down the rocky road to the dining hall, I have a change of heart -- and shoes.  I turn around and hike 20 yards back up the hill to the car to put on my sneakers.

Sneakers were always the rule at camp.  Now I know why.

At the bottom of the hill, a bunch of 7-year-old girls gather around, oohing and ahhing over my "robot leg."  They bombard me with questions.  Then, with equal excitement, they spy the camp's therapy dog Brealey, and race off to play with him.  In a flash, my Genium and I are old news.  (What did you expect?  They're kids!)

So great to see old friends again!!
Camp Dreamcatcher is a therapeutic camp for children and adolescents whose lives have been touched by HIV/AIDS.  For years, I volunteered each summer as a camp counselor and village chief.

It's been a while.

Today, director Patty has invited me back to share my story with the preteen and teen campers, and the 17-year-old "Leaders in Training."

Coincidentally, there's even a
trauma doc in the group --
counselor Benny!
We sit together -- kids and counselors -- on a circle of folding chairs in the wooden lodge.  I spend an hour with each group.  It's informal.  I don't use any notes.  I just describe what happened to me, the abridged version.

Like always, I mention the importance of wearing bike helmets.  I show the kids my Genium and pass around my water leg so they can take a closer look.  We talk about what it's like to be an amputee, the pros and cons of different prostheses, and the steps one takes to learn to walk again.

They ask lots of great questions.  Can you wear high heels?  How do you shower?  Why doesn't it look like a real leg?  What if the battery runs out?

To show them the charging pad, I press the rotator button and flip my leg completely upside down.  They gasp, and then crack up!

In many ways, it's like talking to any group of school kids.

But this group digs deeper.

Were you depressed?  they ask.  How did you get through it?  How long did it take?  Do you still miss your leg?  Do you think about it every day?

Unfortunately, the campers and counselors here understand all too well what grief feels like.  Many camp seasons, there's a Memorial Wall filled with photos and messages to honor a camper who has passed away during the off-season.

This year that wall is dedicated to Amber, whom I still picture as a dark-haired, dark-eyed 10-year-old in my cabin.  She loved getting dressed up, trying on make-up, and being a star.  A natural leader, at 12, she organized a "strike" from her top bunk to protest a long, hot hike to the lake.  Through many summers, I watched her grow.  Her personality was so dynamic, her smile so full of light, it's hard to believe she's gone.

Coming here today, I worried that maybe my loss wasn't significant enough.  That it might not be connected or meaningful enough for the kids to relate to.

But it turns out, loss is loss.

So I answer their questions the best I can.  I tell them what I've learned along this journey, things most of them know already.

"You don't get through loss.  You don't overcome it.  You just learn to live with it."

I tell them how it feels.  Today.  To be back at camp again.  Beyond the physical challenge, I realize there's something else.  I'm thrilled to be here.  But it reminds me of my old life.  It makes me miss who I was before.

They nod.  They get it.

These kids may be experts at loss, but they're also experts at LIVING.

I've brought along a new batch of Thousand Miles wristbands in "glow-in-the dark" green.  With Sharpie markers the kids write their own goals and dreams on the wristbands.  Wearing a reminder on my wrist has helped me work toward my goals, so maybe it'll help them too.

When we finish up, several kids and counselors ask me if I'll come back next year.  Not just as a visitor, but as a counselor or village chief -- like old times.

When I shrug vaguely, they push further, "WHY NOT?"

With this group, it's hard to say no.  I can't really think of a good excuse.  While it's tough to plan in advance, part of me wants to sign up right now.

We all know dreams are fleeting.

You have to catch them when you can.

Thanks to Patty and the rest of the Dreamcatcher team for such a warm welcome!  Hope to see you next year!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Bionic Babysitting

Mile Marker 4249:

Maya and Gavin are twins.  They're two months old.  They have two car seats.  And of course, there are two of them.

No matter how you count it, I'm outnumbered.

Today, I'm the bionic babysitter.  Late as always, I rush up Jen's steps and into her house.  Jen waves hello and runs out to her doctor's appointment.

"Don't worry,"  I call after her.  "I know the drill!"

Well technically, I don't know the drill.  But I know where the diapers are.  And I'm hoping that's good enough.

After all, the twins and I have been hanging out together for a long time.  We go way back.

Yes, there are two of them.  But Maya and Gavin are well-behaved babies, and to Jen's credit, they're on a great schedule too.  They eat well.  They snooze in shopping carts and doze during dinners out.

Best of all, they make great weight training partners!

Check out her reply...
When Jen leaves, the twins are sleeping in their bouncers.  Or at least I think they are.  They're so cute I snap a photo and send it to my friend Deb.

She's right.  Let the games begin.

Maya goes back to sleep, but minutes later, Gavin starts to fuss.  I pick him up, rock him in my arms, and walk him around a bit.  This sounds natural enough, but it turns out, hoisting an infant out of a bouncy seat is like a new PT exercise.  I stabilize my prosthetic leg, shift onto my right leg, bend my knee, lean toward the floor -- and scoop!

Once we're up, instinct kicks in.  I sing camp songs like they're lullabies.  My Genium goes into "baby sway" mode.   Each step is careful and calculated, but surprisingly I feel solid and strong.  (Thanks Ottobock!)

When we stop for a diaper change, there's a slight fumble, but it has nothing to do with the babies.   My diapering skills are just a bit rusty.  I tape Gavin's Pamper on backwards, then switch it around.  Ahh, the design goes in the front!  Gavin watches me curiously from the changing pad.  (Is that a smirk, kid?)

I got this.

First selfie??
The two of us settle down on the couch. Gavin's warm little body creases the crook of my arm.

Then Maya lets out a pint-sized grunt from her bouncy seat.  I glance over.  Uh-oh.  She wriggles into a new sleeping position.

At that moment, I'm struck by a jolt of panic.  What if they both wake up at the SAME TIME?

Miraculously, they don't.  At least not until Jen comes home.

When she arrives an hour or so later, Gavin and I have paced off Mile 4,249 together.  And Maya is still asleep.  Whew!   We made it.

On this journey as an amputee, there's a first time for everything.  We'll call this mile my first successful babysitting double date!

So my little friends, it's true.  Between the two of you, you do have four legs.

But until you can walk -- and count -- I'm still ahead of the game!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Book?!

Mile Marker 4240:

I took my first step toward a thousand miles on July 9, 2011.

Today marks 5 years and 1 month of taking tiny steps toward a very large goal -- and telling my story along the way.  It's turned into something pretty cool:  224 blog posts (including this one), readers from 10 countries (according to Blogger stats), and over 140,000 page views!

I always figured friends and family would follow my journey, but I never imagined the story might appeal to others, or take on a life of its own.

That's where Donna comes in.

You may remember her from the
Farmer's Market fiasco!
Donna was the first friend I met because of this blog.  That's right.  Long before we met in person, Donna was a self-proclaimed BLOG FOLLOWER!

Three years ago, we met at a party in our apartment complex.  I was new to the neighborhood, standing around with a paper plate in my hand.  Donna came up, introduced herself, and started talking about one of her favorite activities, running.

"Do you run?" she asked.

It was September.  I was wearing jeans.  Donna had no idea I was an amputee still mastering the art of walking.

So I yanked up my pant leg a bit.  "I wear a prosthesis,"  I said.  "I can't run yet, but I'm hoping to learn--"


As soon as the words slipped out, Donna covered her mouth and began to apologize.  To this day, she tells me how embarrassed she was.

But here's the thing.  I wasn't offended at all.

I was flattered!  My story had preceded me!  Isn't that the dream of every writer?   I told a story that someone remembered, and recognized, and READ!

To make a long story short, Donna and I became great friends.

Blogging has helped me survive and thrive through the twists and turns of this journey.  When funny things happen, I write.  When I'm struggling, I write.  When nothing else soothes, I write.  Within the words, I rediscover comfort, and encouragement, and even hope.  And knowing you're out there reading?  That's like having a built-in support team!

But is it possible that you, the reader, might glean something from it too?

Please say yes.

Because I want to share my next goal:

To write a book.

Ok.  There.  I said it.  It's not done yet.  In fact, I've only taken the first steps, and it already seems like a daunting task.  Case in point:  my Post-It covered coffee table...

I'm not sure where this project will lead.  But then again, are we ever sure where we're going?   Gotta start somewhere.  Five years ago, I wondered if I'd ever reach Mile 1000.

So here's to the story behind the story.  The one that happened to me, but also the one we've constructed together.  Let's keep going.

Got advice?  Experience?  Connections?  Questions?
Parts that pique your interest?
Favorite parts?  Helpful parts?
Parts you wish you knew?

Conversation is good!  Write a comment, send an email (my1000miles@gmail.com), or message me on the FB page.  I'd love your input!

Time to embark on a new chapter.

Come along!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sweat Test

Mile Marker 4200:

Ever feel like your leg is slipping off in the middle of a busy sidewalk?

If you're an amputee, and it's summer, the answer is probably "yes."

I'm talking about SWEAT.

Ask anyone in Philly.  It's been a sweaty summer so far!   As I navigate the bricks and cobblestones of Old City, my leg gets looser and looser.  For amputees, the simple phenomenon of sweating can make or break your prosthetic suspension -- and your day!

Sorry Bri, I'm outta here!
It can be disappointing, like when I only last for 2 innings at the Phillies game.

Or disconcerting, like when I nearly lose my leg at the Farmer's Market!

Luckily, Donna comes to the rescue!

But mostly it's just discouraging.

When the temperature heats up, I have a tough time cooling down.  Think about it.  Amputees have less skin than most people.  That means less surface area to release the heat.  Plus, it's sweaty inside a prosthetic socket!  My leg is encased in a silicone liner.  When I sweat, the moisture creates movement, or sheer, between my skin and the liner.  At best, I'll get a socket rub.  At worst, my whole leg starts to slide off.

It works!!
Now, it's not all bad news.  I've been on a solution streak this summer.  After all, I finally figured out how to style an umbrella bag as a perfectly fitting raincoat for my Genium!  (The trick is cutting a second hole and slipping it on like a leg-warmer.)  Not exactly hi-tech, but progress!

So I am determined to solve this sweat problem too...

I'm conducting a Sweat Test.

A sampling...
I've had limited success with prosthetic products.  So armed with CVS coupons, I load up a shopping cart with "normal" antiperspirants.  I take them home and methodically try them on my leg, one by one.

A waist harness offers
extra protection.
Thank goodness!
The roll-ons and sticks are too slippery.  But Degree's dry spray goes on better.  It absorbs quickly with no greasy residue.  My liner doesn't slip or slide.  It has potential!  But can it take the heat??

Well, almost.

I'm walking up 3rd Street when the familiar slippage begins.  For above-knee amputees, there's no discreet way to fix your leg in public.  So I've learned to seek shelter.  ASAP.

That shelter happens to be Moko Salon.

"You're early," receptionist Melissa says.

She's right.  My haircut with Jackie is not for another hour.

"Actually, I thought I might use your restroom to fix my leg."  I gesture toward my prosthesis which, by now, is dangling like a loose tooth.

Melissa waves me down the stairs.

Ahhhhh....  Re-donned and refreshed, I sit down in Jackie's salon chair.  As she cuts my hair, I tell her about the Sweat Test.

"This may sound crazy," she says, "but what about a dry shampoo?"

I look at her in the mirror.  Go on...

It's TSA size too!
"I have this product," she says.  "It's a powder that takes the oil out of your hair.  Maybe it would keep your leg dry too."  She hands me a small cylindrical container.

It actually makes sense.

"If it works, you'll be a millionaire!"  I tell her.

At home, I shake Jackie's product into the palm of my hand.  It's like lemony-scented downy snow.  I rub a tiny bit onto my leg.   It feels grainy and tacky.  I roll on my liner.  It adheres like glue.

I walk around a bit.  Feels kind of prickly.  Not exactly pleasant but bearable, I guess.  And if it keeps my leg on...

I begin a one-person clinical trial.

For the most part, the results are surprisingly good.

Until I get a red, itchy, blotchy rash.  (Yep, a side effect.)

My dermatologist, Dr. S, is supportive and sympathetic.  She doesn't chide me for experimenting at home.  And she doesn't laugh when I tell her about the off-label use of Jackie's no-sweat hair product.

Instead, she says not to worry.  "The rash isn't life threatening."

She prescribes two more antiperspirants to try, along with some creams to counteract the rash.  Then she leaves me with these encouraging words:  "Summer won't last forever."

The Sweat Test continues.

At Mile 4200, the DNC is about to make history in Philly.  Despite the heat, I get caught up in the excitement.  Friends convince me to walk 6 blocks to Independence Hall where the Today Show is filming live.  It's 7 a.m. and the humidity is already cranked up to "sweltering."   It's hot.  It's crowded.  Yet somehow, my leg stays fastened.

Jackie's powder aces the Sweat Test!

This is newsworthy!!!

On the way home, we cool off with Old City Coffee's newest special...


Only time will tell if we've stumbled onto the next big thing for amputees.  We've still got plenty of summer to sweat through!

(And I'm open to ideas if you've got any!)

Innovation can come from anywhere.  That's what's cool about searching for solutions in a city where history is made.

It's not just perspiring.  It's inspiring too!