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!

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!

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like this visit was a win-win!

    ReplyDelete
  2. As always, a poignant post -- can't wait for you to get all this in a book!!!

    ReplyDelete