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, July 23, 2016


Mile Marker 4172:

Act III, Scene 1:  My friend Jen and I have just returned from dinner when my phone tings with a text from my sister Sam in Vermont.

"Heading to the hospital."

This is it.  Act III.

Sam is in labor with her third child.  When I visited them a few weeks ago for Independence Day, we decided I wouldn't come back when the baby was born.  Instead, I'd return later in the summer, once they were all settled in.

It made perfect sense at the time.  Now it makes no sense at all.

"I should be there,"  I tell Jen.  "I want to be there."  The urgency brings me close to tears.

"So buy an airline ticket,"  she says.

"It's not that simple."

It's hard to explain the burden of traveling as an amputee.  And tonight, that last minute idea seems beyond my capabilities.  Flying to Vermont is ridiculously expensive.  Plus, my leg is already throbbing with its usual evening ache.   I'm running out of energy.  How can I start packing now?  How can I go anywhere on such short notice?

"Call me if you need a ride to the airport," Jen says.

I stand in the hallway of my apartment.  Tired.  Powerless.  Too far away from where I need to be.

That's when I get an inexplicable surge of courage.

We're not in Act II anymore.

Act III, Scene 2:  Flashback.

Act I took place in March 2010 when my niece Riley was born.  Back then, I had two strong legs, no health problems, and no doubts about my own competence.  I fit comfortably into my role of big sister to Sam, bedside helper at the hospital, and of course, aunt to a brand new baby girl named Riley.

The intermission was not kind.  Eight months later, when I was hit by a truck, Sam got in her car and drove 400 miles from Vermont to Philadelphia with baby Riley in the backseat.  For the next 2 years, our lives centered around a very different hospital... and me.

When little Brennan showed up in Act II, it was a relief to celebrate such a happy occasion!  I still wasn't quite myself, but with the help of my parents and a wheelchair, I managed to make a cameo appearance.

(For the backstory on Acts I and II, click here.)

Now, Act III is unfolding -- fast!

Act III, Scene 3:  I hop around my bedroom on crutches.  It's nearly midnight, and I am grabbing t-shirts and shorts, a shrinker and pajamas, a couple of random socks.  I toss them all into my school backpack.

Balanced on one foot, I pull my "leg kit" from the closet.  It's already packed:  Albolene, AdaptSkin, Eucerin, Neosporin, Allen wrench, extra valve, extra socket padding, and alcohol spray.  Looks complete enough.  I'll add my Genium's charger in the morning.

My laptop screen illuminates the dim bedroom.  A plane ticket for the next morning hovers there, on the website for American Airlines.  It's waiting for me to click "continue."

I click it.

It's the most spontaneous thing I've done in 5 years.

Act III, Scene 4:  Four hours later in a Vermont delivery room, my tiny niece lets out a mighty wail.  She surprises everyone -- even the doctors!  It's 4:32 a.m.

Beautiful day for a new baby!
Meanwhile in Philly, I take a shower and push into my prosthesis.  Get dressed.  Fold up my crutches and grab my backpack.   At the airport, I join other sleepy travelers.

It is 7/17.  The baby weighs 7 lbs. 2 oz.  My flight leaves at 7:35 a.m. and I'm in seat 7D.  (That's a lot of sevens!)

Act III is a lucky place to be.

When the plane lands in Burlington, I hustle out and catch a taxi to the hospital.

Already, the improvements since Act II are palpable.  I walk confidently across the hospital lobby on my own two feet, not in a wheelchair pushed by my dad.  I'm back in my element, playing the role of independent, responsible big sister.  And, as an added bonus, it's a "good leg" day!

I ride the elevator to the 7th floor.  (Yes, another seven!)

"Hello?"  I stick my head into the doorway of Sam's room.

She's sitting up in bed, glasses on, hair pulled back, exhausted but so happy.  Her husband Gregg is in the chair next to her.  Both of them look up.  Surprise!  They weren't expecting me.

But there's an even better surprise...

In Gregg's arms is a precious package just 4 hours old.

Dylan Brooke

Her journey?
Much tougher than mine!
Gregg hands the baby to me -- all seven pounds of warmth, and fluttery eyelids, and chubby cheeks, and pouty pink lips.  I peek under her hat at the blonde peach fuzz, still damp and matted from birth.  She lets out a graceful, high-pitched sigh.

I've never felt prouder or more certain.  This moment -- and this little girl -- are worth every mile.

Act III, Scene 5:  Big sibs Riley and Brennan bounce in with my parents a short time later.  They're bubbling with curiosity.

"Today's the baby's birthday!"  Riley says.  "She's zero!"

In Act II, at age 2, Riley was as lost as I was.  Her whole world was shaken.  No one asked her if she was ready to play the part of "big sister."

Now, at 6 years old, she embraces that role with gusto.

"I want to hold the baby!" she proclaims.  We sit her in a chair with a pillow on her lap.  Four-year-old Brennan climbs up next to her, scuffling out a space for himself.  He's not quite sure what's going on, but he thinks he wants a piece of it too.

In Act III, a threesome is born!

Watch out world!

Nurses and doctors come and go.  My mom changes diapers.  My dad brings lunch and dinner.  Sam's friend Paula gives us a swaddling demo.

In the rocking chair, I cuddle "Baby Dyl" as long as I can.

I'm in LOVE -- all over again!

Finally, Gregg drives me back to the airport.  There's a 2 hour flight delay, so I sit in the gate area thinking about all the miles that led me here.  Although it feels kind of full-circle, Act III is really another new beginning.

When I finally line up for boarding, my phone tings again.  It's a photo and message from Sam:

"Heading home!"

Me too.  But I'll be back before you know it.

Turns out, I take the biggest steps for the smallest reasons of all.


  1. Welcome Dylan Brooke! Great post! I might wanna head up in mid-August if you're interested....

  2. Congratulations to you, Ricki, and all the Levs! Dylan has an amazing aunt!