After an 8 hour drive, my mom and I pull into a hotel driveway in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The doorman comes out to help us with our bags. He opens the hatchback while I reach into the backseat.
"Nope." He smiles. "Except this week!"
|A THOUSAND AMPUTEES...|
Think about it. When you're used to standing out in a crowd, and then suddenly you're surrounded by people who look like you... Well, it's NORMALIZING. That's what happens at the Amputee Coalition Conference.
The hotel is filled with amputees. We're in the lobby, the restaurant, the meeting rooms. In the "outside" world, we seem uncommon, but here we blend right in -- more or less anyway!
We're different, yet we share that uniqueness. The opening speaker sums it up like this: We're living with a body that's different from the one we were issued.
A spontaneous dinner turns into a storytelling extravaganza. Every devastating mishap -- every leg or arm malfunction -- becomes fodder for laughs. Each story is funnier than the last.
|And you should see the AmpuTeez!|
There are clinics on walking, running, swimming, rock climbing, resistance bands, yoga, dance, cross fit, and hula hooping. Maybe even more.
It's been a year since I've tried my running blade, but at the running clinic I give it a whirl. Miraculously, the socket fits! Picture a huge ballroom with more than 100 amputee runners. We leap. We land. We high-five. We somehow get from one side of the room to the other. Confidence builds. Gait belts come off. There's safety -- and empowerment -- in numbers!
I hesitate. "I don't try new things in front of an audience," I say. But Kelly insists. So I step into the circle, position my feet as she shows me, and start hooping. It works! (Turns out, foot placement is key!)
One uncomfortable morning, I limp down to the café. The man in front of me uses two prosthetic arms to pay for his coffee. He puts his money back in his wallet. Carries his breakfast to the table. He does it all matter-of-factly, like it's no big deal. But it is a big deal. All at once I realize... my "bad leg day" is really just another day.
|I discover my avatar too!|
But the most memorable lessons are the ones I learn, by example, from other amputees. Each one of us has a story. Something happened. Something went wrong. That's how we ended up here.
That story -- and its losses -- will always be part of who we are. But it doesn't have to define us.
It can't. We've got too much living to do.
See for yourself! Click here for a video.
Photos "stolen" from Kelly, Angela, Kristan, Carin, Sandra, Molly, Danika, Doug, Robin, Mabio, OPAF, AC, Ottobock, Ossur, and College Park. Thanks everybody!!
Hope to see you all next year in Louisville!