How do we move forward?

My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

I was critically injured in the accident. A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. I had a long road ahead of me, physically and emotionally, yet I was grateful to be alive.

An ending can be a beginning too. I started over.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Gradually I learned to walk again. So I began counting steps. Then miles.

Over time, that journey turned a corner. It became less about my own recovery and more about resilience -- the connection we all share.

Ten years later, I still take one step at a time. Yes, there are bumps in the road, but each step means rising to new challenges, adapting to change, and moving forward with hope.

Are you on your own journey?


Monday, November 28, 2011

ATG (All-Terrain Genium)

Mile Marker 190:

Ahhh!  Movement is freedom!

On a weekend when everyone seemed to be going places, I was thankful to be keeping pace – even if it meant pushing my own limits and those of my Genium.

Last March, when I first wrote the words "ride a bike" on my PT goal sheet, I figured I’d need physical therapy forever!

But on Friday morning -- tires pumped, bike shoes on, new pedal attached -- I was ready to go.  We were in the parking lot of the rehab gym, and my PTs were standing by for take-off.

Wait!  I wasn't going anywhere.

This new pedal was supposed to make it EASIER to lock in my foot.  Now I realized I wasn't strong enough to activate the clip with my prosthesis.

"A bump in the road,"  PT Julie said.  

I asked her if she'd borrowed that phrase from my doctors.  

After an hour of trying, we decided to re-install the old pedal -- with a harness, or "pedal cage," as I'd been calling it.  Paul cleverly mounted a weight to help me slip my shoe into the cage. (I don't call him MacGyver for nothing!)

That afternoon, I returned with my mom in tow.  She didn't want to miss this moment either.

Pedaling, balancing, turning.  It all felt awkward and clumsy.  That's what happens when your left side's different from your right.    

But I was RIDING!   And as strange as it felt, it looked pretty smooth!

What do you think?

You have to imagine my mom’s face – a slight smile, then a hand over her mouth, teary eyes filled with joy and fear.

And then imagine how her expression magnified when Julie asked me to ride AROUND THE BLOCK!

(I did it, with Julie running beside me!)

After that, I was pretty much ready to bike HOME.   But Mom vehemently vetoed that one. 

Anyhow, we still had 30 minutes of perfectly good PT time. 

I scrambled into my skate gear and did a few laps around the parking lot with Julie spotting me.  With all our work on balance, my strides have gotten more even.  I still look like a beginner, but maybe a promising one.

Julie even removed my gait belt at the end!  

Talk about SWEET FREEDOM!   There's nothing like a boost from your physical therapist to send you on your way!

Mile Marker 195:

Buoyed by our successes, my Genium and I decided to tackle the MALL on Saturday.

I am a shopper.  But the truth is I’d been avoiding malls since last winter.   Back then, on a sunny February day, my friends Jen and Polly took me to the local mall in a wheelchair.  Later, my brother Mark took me with my crutches.

Even with my prosthesis, those hard floors and long distances were just too much effort.

And with that, my passion for shopping was -- at least momentarily -- squelched.

But this weekend, my friend Marla was in town from Nashville.  We'd been shopping together since our “Mall Rat” teenage days.  If I was going to make this work, it would be with her!

We plotted in advance to mix standing, walking, and sitting.  We stopped for lunch, for coffee, for free samples of holiday treats. 

And we logged over a mile in those long store-filled corridors.  We walked to and from the car.  We tackled escalators, stairs, and ramps. We browsed and window shopped.   

A mild afternoon for the average holiday shopper became a marathon for me.

But again...that FREEDOM.  That privilege of doing what we used to do – even with modifications.  

It was more precious than the priciest purse in Michael Kors!

Finally, to top off the weekend, I embarked on a true test of physical skill and the Genium.   

Sunday morning, I HIKED the woods of the Wissahickon with my friend Bosco, my brother Mark, and his trusty dog Jack.

It was two miles of stepping over sticks, finding footing amidst the dried leaves, climbing rocks, and descending narrow trails.  I’d been there dozens of times over the years, but it never seemed quite so hazardous!

Just don't tell Mom...
said Mark
With every shaky step, my new skills launched to life.  

Down with the bad, up with the good, I heard my prosthetist Tim echo as I slipped downhill.   

Sidestep if you feel unstable, I heard PT Julie remind me.  

I navigated slopes and drop-offs with Mark and Bosco’s help (and a bit of Jack’s interference!). 

I mustered up my best heel-to-toe gait to cross the top of a huge water pipe!   The world's largest balance beam! 

(Thanks to Bosco for the expert spotting, and to PT Deb for all that practice on two-by-fours!)

As we emerged from the woods two hours later, I was sore, stumbling, and very sweaty.

But I was also sure I wanted to go back again!

Each step on that trail was a step toward FREEDOM!

Last night, I thought about movement that’s made of sweat and muscle -- and now titanium, too.

I thought about those little FREEDOMS I experience every day.

Last June, PT Julie came to my house and helped me puzzle out how to live there again.  How to lug groceries from the car to the front door, how to carry laundry to the basement, how to reach the kitchen cabinets.   How to get out in case of emergency.

My old environment was new.

Even back then, her confidence empowered me.  Kind of like removing a gait belt.

If there’s any thankfulness leftover from the weekend holiday, I’d like to put it out there.

For health.  For movement.  And for all those who continue to propel me forward.

No matter what the terrain.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

For Today

Mile Marker 187:

I am wearing a belt today.

Probably not the smartest thing to do on Thanksgiving.

But I've decided to be content, just for today.

It turns out that yoga class has been centering more than just my body.  Last night we talked about contentment and disattachment, two tenets of yoga practice.

I am grateful for so many things this year.  But for me, contentment lies ONE STEP beyond gratitude.

With gratitude, there's a wonderment at all I've been given.   With contentment, there’s acceptance.

Today I’ve decided not to worry about how my socket fits.  I’ve decided to take a walk without thinking about how far I’ve gone.  And despite the bumpy belly leftover from my abdominal scars, I’ve decided to WEAR A BELT.

Green Bean Casserole --
What's not to be HAPPY about??
It helps that my cousin is visiting.  Contentment lives INSIDE TRACY.

Tracy arrived last night in her new Toyota Corolla after a quick 10-hour road trip from Lexington, Kentucky.  While most of us would have been grumpy and tired (as I was at 10:30 last night!), Tray popped open a year-old beer from my fridge and pulled up a corner of my bed to watch Action News with me.

This morning, she was still smiling.  Then she went out for a run, of course.  Exercise is Tray’s M.O.  Her endorphins run constantly.  Maybe that’s the recipe for happiness.

But moving or not, Tray also lives in the NOW.  And that’s the second piece we discussed at yoga class – disattachment.

Letting go of yesterday and tomorrow, and shifting our focus to TODAY.  To this moment.

It doesn’t come easy to me.  The minute I get on the treadmill at PT, I make up my mind about how long I’ll walk, at what speed, and how far.  My goal of 1000 miles has me aiming for 2 ½ miles per day.  That’s a lot for me and my Genuim – it’s a goal I don’t meet most days.

So today we’re going to go for a walk, Tracy and I.  And instead of thinking about how far we’re going, I’m going to think about the sunshine.  I am going to enjoy Mile 187!

It’s not that I don’t think about the past.  I’m SO VERY THANKFUL for the people who’ve carried me to this point – my family, friends, doctors, nurses, prosthetists, and therapists.   To say I’m grateful is an understatement really – their support is the glue that holds me together every day.

But in thanksgiving, there’s also GIVING.

So my thank-you gift to them, and to myself today, is to be content with the way things are. 

I know it won’t last long.  But with Tracy by my side, I think I can do it.

Plus, I'm wearing my belt.  

(Or at least until dessert...)

Wishing all of you a day of thankfulness, contentment, and lots of fun!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Each One, Teach One

Mile Marker 178:

Each One, Teach One started out as a project I designed when I was teaching middle school.  The kids read an article and then figured out the best way to teach the information to a classmate.  In a world where students are so often told what to learn, I was trying to help them figure out HOW to learn.

The 170's have been my Each One, Teach One miles.

Last week I walked the campus of Temple University.  One of my PTs, Liz, had invited me to do a guest lecture in the class she was teaching.  Fifty PT students gathered at the long tables of their classroom to hear ME! 

The night before the lecture I faced a dilemma.  I was planning to tell them about my journey as an amputee.  I’d written pages and pages of notes.  I’d composed my first (ever!) Power Point.  And I planned to bring along lots of little green bracelets. 

But what could I possibly TEACH them?

Recently, I started a yoga class called “Brand New Beginners.”  And while I’m not exactly a brand new beginner, my Genium most definitely is.   In fact, along with my new leg, everything in yoga class seems brand new – the sensation of my body against the ground, the stabilizing strength of my legs, the ability to balance with my eyes closed --nothing is the same as it used to be.  

With every pose, my brain says, I know how to do this.

And my body says, No, you don’t.

This week, my prosthetist Tim programmed my Genium with a "yoga mode."  It gives the knee resistance so I can lean my weight on it.  I also tried out a new foot with more traction so I could stand barefoot on my yoga mat.

Luckily my teacher Nicole welcomes a challenge.  We're working on Sun Salutations.  What a perfect name.  Standing there in my new bare feet, I imagined the sunlight pouring down on my body.  This is it, I thought.  I can finally SEE!

What I couldn’t see was that the new foot wouldn’t last long.  While it was handy for yoga, it was too stiff for daily walking.  Back to the prosthetic drawing board, so to speak.

Yesterday Tim reinstalled my original foot but rigged up a new rubber sole that attaches with Velcro.  I'll try it out “barefoot” at yoga class this week.

Yes, with a new leg there’s never a shortage of learning experiences. 

At PT, I’m even back on my BIKE.

Julie and Paul -- always full of ideas!
My brother Stephen refabricated my old college Schwinn.   A mountain bike from the late 80’s, it’s retro now.

If I could just keep my foot on the pedal, I'd be totally stylin'!  

But as usual, a little problem-solving does not intimidate my team.  PT Julie ace-wrapped my foot to the pedal so I could cycle around the gym basement.  Paul (a.k.a. "MacGyver") has rigged up any number of weights, disks, and pedals to hold my foot in place.   And the rest of the staff – along with patients – starts cheering the minute I put on my helmet!

Where's my helmet, you ask??
It wasn't a real ride...
just trying to keep my foot on the pedal!
(Awesome photo by PT Jeff!)
To top it off, friends Davey and Carol set me up with some good-as-new biking shoes and a strong recommendation for new pedals.

On Friday, we're gonna RIDE OUTSIDE!

As a teacher, I've learned that the largest part of my students’ lives goes on outside my classroom.  The best I can do is give them the tools they need to handle whatever that big world sends their way.

My therapists, prosthestists, and teachers realize it, too.  

Most of my journey goes on when I’m not in their care.  But even so, I wouldn't want to face my life without them – or all they’ve taught me.

Which brings me back to those Temple PT students.   After putting together my notes and slides, I knew what message I had to share:

My therapists never tell me I can't do something.  They don't even think in terms of can or can’t.  They think in terms of HOW.

The best gift you can give your patients,  I said,  is the strength to figure out their own puzzles.

Of course, it was something my team TAUGHT me.

Each one, teach one. 

Happens every day on my journey.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Marchin' On

Mile Marker 165:

I can’t believe it’s taken me a week to write this blog post!   But Mile 165 was HUGE, and I wanted to get it just right.

How could I possibly capture the energy of Mile 165?

The pure POWER created by such a crowd!   The positive charge that emanated from our starting line!  The sidewalk, radiant with light! 

It drowned out any shadow of sadness that afternoon.   

5th and Washington didn’t even feel like the same place.

How many friends and family members came out to walk!  But even more awesome than their number was the distance they’d traveled.  How far they’d come across both SPACE and TIME. 

From Baltimore, D.C., and Vermont.  From college and elementary school.   From my earliest skating days.

And what’s more, there were parallel walks, and bike rides, and even SWIMS going on across the country!

My friend Marla walked down in Nashville.  And she sent me a card with this message:  Not only was your life changed on November 9, 2010, but your friends’ and families’ lives were forever changed, too.

I knew she missed walking in Philly on Saturday, but it was really her distance that made me realize something.

That this accident -- that one moment of impact last November -- had become a stone that created INFINITE RIPPLES across the water.

One year later, I’m still reeling from its effects.   But are my friends, too??

As we gathered on that street corner, a passing garbage truck stopped to ask what was going on.  It idled at the entrance to 5th Street, just yards from where the one had stopped last year. 

I watched as some of my skater friends spoke to the driver.  They explained what the crowd was all about and told him why we were here.  And then he drove off, as if washed away by our energy. 

But I wonder if that conversation pushed the RIPPLE out just a little bit farther.  If our experience has now become his, too.  And I wonder who it might touch next.

Mile 165 was a commemorative walk.  It began at the scene of the accident and ended at my home.  A route designed in reverse, as if it could somehow undo the events of the last year.

It couldn't, of course.

But as we left behind our shells and stones, I left behind a little bit of that spirit that haunts me.

Most days, I’m caught up in the roughness of my own sea.  I paddle through the waves with the help of family, friends and a whole team of professionals.   But in the evening, the tide always comes rolling in.   The undertow tugs at me.  Take a look at your body, it says.  Take a look at your life.  Your future.

Mile 165 was my FASTEST mile so far.  There was gravel in the road, a cracked sidewalk by the park, and a messy work zone on Front Street.  But none of it scared me or slowed me down.   

Instead I was buoyed along by a new current.  A lighter, friendlier, and HAPPIER one than my old whirling sea.   One created by all of our collective energy.

Afterward, we celebrated to the tune of my Dad’s hamburgers, drinks, and lots of cookies (but not the angry kind!).

We cheered on LIFE and LOVE and WALKING!  

When everyone went home, there was a pause in all the turbulence of celebration.   

I felt a strange mix of relief.  The year is over.

And disappointment.   I still have only one leg.

Yet also at that moment, I knew Mile 165 had carried me across some invisible line.  A divide between the Atlantic and Pacific, maybe.  Into new waters that might float me toward a different destination.

My thoughts drifted back to earlier that afternoon standing outside my house with friends.

“Do WATER MILES count?” my friend Gare-Mo asked.  He’s a paddler, and we were gauging whether or not I could log a few miles in his Dragon Boat on the Schuylkill.

“Of course they count!”  I said.  

You are my friends and my family.
Your ripples reach me, too.

And no matter how rough or how wide this ocean, we’re in it together.

Marchin' on!

Watch the video here:
or here.

(I mean, wherever you walked... from sea to shining sea!!!)

And thanks to Susan, Jen, Chase, Mark, and Dad for so many amazing photos and videos!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thank You Jefferson

Mile Marker 160:

A GREAT BIG THANK YOU goes out to all my doctors, nurses and friends at Jefferson Hospital who organized a first anniversary walk for me on November 9, 2011.

Thank you for your outstanding care this year.  For seeing me through the long months, weeks, and days -- through the biggest hours and the smallest ones.

For keeping me safe and holding me close with your skillful hands and wide open hearts.

And for walking with me EVERY STEP of the way!

Click here to view this video

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

About Time

Mile Marker 157:

People always say, Live each day as if it’s your last.   Or something like that.

One year ago today – November 8 – was the last day of my OLD life.

What did I do on that day?

I don’t remember.

It was a Monday.   So I was at work, for sure.   Aside from that, I can’t conjure up even a single moment.

Today, I noticed everything.  

I noticed how I left my desk  – papers piled and post-it notes lined up – ready for the next workday.  It felt strange leaving work today.  Last year, my piles were a lot higher.  And they didn't move for a long time.

I noticed the cars heading home.   An OTTO BOCK truck (the company that makes my Genium knee), a Magee Rehab van (with its bold-lettered slogan: BELIEVE!), and a car sporting a LIFE IS GOOD sticker.  Traffic, it seemed, was stacked up just for me.

Pulling up to my house, I noticed the long-awaited and freshly paved sidewalk!  And better yet, the unique opportunity to practice a favorite PT trick!  Hope I did my therapist Deb proud!

Later my brother Steve came over to rehang some backyard lights.  And my friend Jen dropped by with a little gift – a funny book about traveling in France. 

This year I remember EVERYTHING from November 8.  

Last year, nothing.

But the question weighing on my mind isn’t really what I DID last year on November 8.  It’s what I WOULD HAVE DONE.

I would have gone on a long, hard run.  Bounding up and down sidewalks and curbs, leaping over potholes, and splashing through puddles.  I would have pushed my body through the night air till my legs ached and my lungs burned.

Then I would have soaked my tired feet in the hot shower, slathered them with lavender body wash, massaged them with a cozy towel, and rubbed them with lemon-peppermint lotion...

...if I knew it was my last day with two legs. 

As I closed the front door tonight, my neighbor Michael walked by.  His mother Eleanor lived two houses down and spent the evenings sitting outside with her little dog Yoshi.  Eleanor passed away two weeks ago.

Michael held Yoshi's leash as the two of them checked out my new sidewalk.

“Finally finished,” I called from my doorway.

Michael nodded.  “Moving forward,” he said.

“How’s Yoshi doing?” I asked.

“He’s moving forward, too.”

I guess it’s about time.
For me too, I mean.

It’s hard to live each day like it’s our last because each day ISN’T our last. 

Most of the time, it’s just a Monday.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Circling Forward

Mile Marker 146:

To my surprise, the sun poured into my bedroom on Tuesday morning.

November’s door had opened, and all was well…so far.

The day went well at work, too.   So well that my friend Chase and I decided to round out Mile 146 at the Gap Outlet on our way home.  

As we're parking on Chestnut Street, we see an older man lying on the sidewalk.  A young guy with a backpack is trying to help him up.  Chase hops out of the car to lend a hand while I finish parking.   When I walk over, they’ve got the man propped precariously on some cement steps.  He’s wobbling back and forth.   The three of us ask his name, where he was going, what happened.   He mumbles incoherently.   The young guy calls 911.

“It’s ok,” we tell the old man.  “Don’t worry.  Someone’s coming to help you.”

I offer him some water.  Chase picks up his broken glasses from the sidewalk.  The young guy supports his back so he doesn’t fall over.

Passers-by look at us.  Some of them ask if we’re ok.  If WE need help.

I’m looking into the old man’s wandering eyes.  What is he thinking?   Is he scared?  Confused?  Hurt?

Already, on DAY ONE, November has me circling back.  

Last week, a friend asked me about the scene of MY accident.  So, I took her back to the beginning.

I described how a pedestrian on the sidewalk called 911.  And how I told him my mom's phone number, and he called her too.   I described how the driver and passenger of the truck got out and stood in the street a few feet away from my head.   And then I described how quiet it was as we all waited for help to arrive.   How my weak cries hung in the air like raspy moans.   And how my questions floated there, too.  “Where ARE they?” I asked.  “Is the ambulance coming?” “How much longer?”

“Didn’t anyone kneel down next to you or hold your hand?” my friend asked.  “Didn’t anyone tell you that you were going to be ok?”

No.   Everyone watched.  I guess they didn't know what to do.

In my mind, I go back to that scene way too often.  I feel the bystanders at a distance from me.  I feel every last ounce of power knocked out of me.  I feel the fright, helplessness, and loneliness of those long moments.  Waiting.


Chase and I stayed with that man on Chestnut Street until the fire-rescue truck arrived.  For those long  moments, he wasn't alone.
It may not be possible to change the past.  But if Mile 146 is any indication, it IS possible to change the future.

Next Wednesday is November 9.  The first anniversary of my accident.

On that day, I’ll be circling back to the hospital.  Again.

But not for medical reasons. 

My nurses and doctors are going to WALK WITH ME! 

A year ago, they rescued and reassembled me.  They carried me through surgeries and pain, through bandage changes and sleepless nights.

And this year, by their simple invitation to WALK, they are helping me through yet another difficult day.

I find myself looking FORWARD to celebrating with them!

After all, if there's one thing I learned this year, it’s that I'm part of something much bigger.

That I'm really NOT ALONE.

I want this to be a year of circling forward.  Of putting a new spin on things -- one step at a time.

Mile 146 was a good start.

Will YOU join me, too??

Walk forward with me.  One step at a time.