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?


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Something to Chase

Mile Marker 812:

Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap

This is the sound of my Genium climbing stairs.  There’s a swipe against the floor as I pull back in my socket.  A whispery glide as I flex my hip to raise the leg.   A soft tap as my foot lands on the next step. 

Except when I miss.


That's the sound of my carbon fiber foot crashing into the stair riser.

The Genium is an intricate piece of machinery.  When I walk, it senses the angle of the ground.  It measures the speed of each step.  When I move from pavement to grass -- or step in a pothole -- it recalculates.  It even locks in place so I can bend at the sink to brush my teeth!

A stair-climbing mode sets the Genium apart from other microprocessor knees.  When most amputees ascend stairs, they drag their prosthetic leg up behind them.  The Genium allows the user to climb more naturally step-over-step.  The trick is telling it to.

That’s where the swipe comes in.  Or -- if you swipe too early, too late, too hard, or too light -- the clunk !

Swiping up stairs requires timing, strength, and skill.  You pull back in the socket, sweeping the ball of your foot against the floor.  (Imagine wiping dog poop from the bottom of your shoe.)  Then you lift your thigh high, as if pedaling a bike.

A good swipe gets your foot up to the next step.  A bad swipe is like jamming your toe into a block of cement.  Luckily it’s a prosthetic toe.

My progress with stairs is slow.  And discouraging.  My muscles aren't strong enough.  My legs are too short.  The swiping motion triggers my ankle blades.  I have enough excuses to build a stairway to the moon.

I can only do the shortest set of stairs, and even those, not very well.  By the second or third swipe, my adductor muscle just gives up.  My leg circumducts outward like I’m swinging it around a puddle.   To compensate, I use my arm to tug myself up the railing.  It’s the only way I can get enough height to make it to the next step.  And sometimes, I just miss the swipe all together.  Watch.  It's not exactly pretty...

To boost morale, PT Deb arranges a little healthy competition.  And, as it turns out, INSPIRATION.

When I enter the stairwell, Chase, an above-knee amputee, is halfway up a long flight of stairs.  I met Chase a while ago at Prosthetic Innovations.  At the time, he told me he was trying ice hockey.  (Yes, cool.)  I'm prepared to be impressed again.

And I am.  Chase advances his Genium to each step in a straight line, not with a squiggly dance like I do.  He uses the railing for balance, not as a tow rope.  When he goes up it looks effortless.  But his beads of sweat tell me it's not.  It's just designed to look that way.  Check it out...

"His legs are longer!" I joke to Deb.

"You'll do it," she says.

It's true.  Chase is physically stronger than I am.  Each step he takes is determined and skillful.  And -- short jokes aside -- he does have longer legs.  (He's got a prosthetic arm too, if you want to get technical.)

But above all, it's his COURAGE I admire most.

A former firefighter, Chase is now training to become an EMT.  While my goal is to climb step-over-step, his goal is to climb step-over-step carrying a 40-pound backpack of lifesaving equipment!

For several sessions, I swipe repeatedly onto a single low step.  To strengthen my adductor and hip flexor, Deb wraps a resistance band around my socket. 

“Ok, now swipe,” she says.

I pull back in the socket and hike my leg toward the stairs.  She pulls against me, holding the band taut.  We repeat the exercise several times.  When she finally releases the elastic, it’s like a sling shot – I get so much height, my foot lands three steps up!

Then she puts me on a rocker platform.  Like a surfer, I sway back and forth, bending alternating knees and trying to balance.  To straighten my Genium, I tighten my adductors and blast my glutes.

I can feel it.  Little by little, I’m getting stronger.  My balance is getting better.  I'm standing straighter.  I’m swiping with more precision and getting more height.

There are still clunks, but fewer of them.

At the end of today's session, I practice climbing up a set of 4 wooden stairs.   I swipe carefully, accurately.  There are railings on both sides, but I’m only using one – and trying not to tug on it.

“Chase better watch out,” I hear from behind.

I turn around.  Deb’s standing at the bottom of the steps.

She watches as I swipe again -- aiming for gentle strength and high lift.  My Genium’s foot lands squarely in the center of the next step.

“Good one,” she says.

 I come down and start over again.  And again.  And again.

A new amputee, Dane, stops by to watch.  It's his second day on his prosthesis.

Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.  
Swipe, whisper, tap.
Sw-- Clunk!

That's right, Dane.  There's always something to chase.

Cheers to Chase for showing me how to rock the stairs!
And to Deb for (among many other things) this post's catchy title :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

The View From Above

Mile Marker 792:

"Get the phone!"  Deb yells.

But nothing is ringing.  Unless you count my heart which, at this moment, sounds a lot like a fire alarm.

I glance down -- probably 30 feet -- to where my PT Deb stands, pointing upward.  On the wall above me, a rock juts out.  It's green and shaped like a telephone.

But between me and that rock, there's an arch-shaped scoop in the wall.  I have NO IDEA how to climb through it.

Hanging in the harness, I look down again.

"You can get up there!" Deb shouts.  "Use those glutes!"

So I tighten everything.  I lift my right leg higher, till it hits a rock closer to the indentation.  Then I swing my left arm up.  And finally, I hoist up my Genium.  Amazingly, it lands where it's supposed to.

With one more reach, I grab that green phone with my right hand!

Eight weeks have passed since my last surgery, and I'm ready to strengthen my abs again.  I've lost muscle but gained perspective.  It's like I'm peering out the window of an airplane.  The days are still dotted with socket rubs and fatigue, but I'm beginning to get my life back.

At the rehab gym, Deb rigs up a chest harness and I strap on my skates.  Attached to the ceiling, I slip and slide across the room like a puppy whose paws are too big for its body.  If nothing else, I hope I'm FUNNY enough to entertain my fellow patients!

A few days later, Prosthetic Innovations hosts a rock climbing clinic.  Can you believe the last one was back at Mile Marker 44?!

This time, I'm cheered on by pals


and Mischa.

PT Deb is there, too.  She knows what I can do and never lets me take the easy way out!

We watch in awe as two other above-knee amputees, Miles and Tom, climb the walls without their prostheses.

Talk about super-human strength!

Hey, who left their
leg over here?!

My own prosthesis stays firmly attached with an elastic power belt.

When it's my turn to climb, I pull with my arms and brace my abs.  I plant my Genium's foot on each rock and fire those glute muscles like crazy.

But that's only a small piece of what propels me upward.  Most of it rises from the ground BELOW -- encouragement from a team that boosts me with their voices!

At the end of the 700's, I feel HIGHER than when I started.  And my Genium has battle scars to prove it!

Mile Marker 800:

I launch the 800's on the set of Channel 10 News.

Next to me is Byron, a prosthetist from Ottobock, the company that created the Genium.  And on my other side sits Lori Wilson, a newscaster whose smile calms my nerves.

We're promoting an event called Ottobock Live, happening in Philly that evening.   I'm jittery but ready.  I've even smoothed the Genium's rock-climbing wounds with Vaseline!

I'm prepared to talk about my PT goals, how I'm trying to run and skate again.  I'm prepared to thank my therapists at Magee and my team at Prosthetic Innovations.  I'm even prepared to describe the health struggles and socket challenges that have plagued me these past 2 years.

But these are not the questions Lori Wilson asks.

Instead she asks what I was thinking when this all happened.  How I felt when I learned I lost my leg.

Even 2 years later, those words don't come easily.  The feelings won't fit in the space of a sentence or two.

Still, I'm glad she asks.

Lying on that cold pavement -- staring helplessly into the faces of paramedics and bystanders -- I could never have imagined the vantage point I have today.

How grateful I am to the doctors and nurses who gave me endless doses of compassion and skill.  How thankful to the therapists and prosthetists who day after day equip me with the steps for success.  How indebted to the family and friends who walk alongside me.

I could never have predicted how far I've come.  Or how far I still have to go.

On the ground, it's easy to miss.

But when I look down from above, I can see it all.  800 miles and I'm still reaching HIGHER.

Especially when my team shouts up from below!

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

THANKS for continuing to walk (and climb) with me!

To see the Channel 10 News clip, click here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Mile Marker 785:

It is 9:00 a.m. on November 9, 2012.

Exactly 2 years and 2 hours ago -- on a crisp fall morning just like this one -- I pedaled down the bike lane on Washington Avenue.

I wanted to end up here at school.

But I didn't.

That morning at school, there was a phone call from the hospital.  And then in the days and weeks and months that followed, there came prayers and pictures, cards and messages.   So much POSITIVE ENERGY emanated from that elementary school building.  It lit my path to recovery.

Today -- two years later -- it shines even brighter!

500 students crowd together on the gym floor, arms laced around one another, swaying back and forth, singing the school song.  Teachers tuck themselves among their classes.  Parents (including mine!) pack the aisles.  Trustees stand shoulder-to-shoulder along one wall.  I look down into a sea of blue cheering t-shirts.

We are going to WALK.

And unlike 2 years ago, I am here in the middle of it.  To celebrate the community that makes our school a TEAM.

As a group, we file outside through the backdoor of the school building.  Mr. Berman, our awesome gym teacher, leads us with his bright blue Byers Knights sweatshirt.  He maps out the course with our police escort, Officer Todd, and many parent volunteers.

Kindergartner David holds my left hand.  He walks, bounces, and skips along, tugging me from one side to the other.  (New dimensions in physical therapy!)  As we pass the Franklin Institute, I introduce him to my mom.  Right on cue, he asks her, "Do you have a robot leg, too?"

We're up front with a bouquet of green balloons.  But at each intersection, I glance behind us.  Our crowd reaches more than 5 city blocks end to end!

On the Parkway, my mom adopts a group of 1st graders -- or they adopt her.  Jada, in pigtails, chatters on about why it's important to wear a bike helmet.  "You can get a robot leg," she says, "but you can't get a robot brain."  Point well taken.

As we snake closer to the Art Museum, I hear a low rumble from behind.  The 5th and 6th graders suddenly erupt into a stampede -- racing "Rocky-style" up the Art Museum steps!

Does this mean I have to climb them, too?

The answer is YES.

It may be the second anniversary of the accident, but there are many FIRSTS on this part of the journey.

It's the first time I face those Art Museum steps -- up and down -- with my prosthesis.  (Thanks to 7th grader Rebecca, for being an excellent spotter!)

It's the first time I cover not one, but two, miles at a stretch.

And it's the first time I walk with the ENTIRE school community.

It is November 9, 2012.  And I did not complete 1000 miles by the 2-year anniversary of the accident.

But then, in a way I did.

500 students x 2 miles = 1000 miles

TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK -- This is what our bright blue t-shirts say.  And this is what keeps me going.

Thank you Russell Byers Charter School... for walking with me every step of the way!

Click here to watch our walk and hear our school song!

Special thanks to -- 
HSA for organizing the day, 
Randy B. for leading us, 
Chase and Dad for snapping these photos, 
Philly Police Dept for keeping us safe, 
Krista Y-B. for our beautiful school song, 
and everyone who joined in to make this my BIGGEST WALK EVER!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Better Things

Mile Marker 775:

The second anniversary is different.

Last year, the arrival of November haunted me.  The pain was still raw, anxiety-ridden.  I faced November 1st with disbelief.  Could life really go on?

This year I slip into November like the old Mizuno sneakers I put on each morning.  Their bright orange and silver stripes have faded into a wishy-washy gray.  (After all, they've walked almost 800 miles.)  They are not as strong or shiny as they once were.  The sole treads are flattened, and the inside lining is torn.  Still they take one step after another.

This is what the calendar change feels like to me this year.

November blows in with a hurricane and a nor'easter.  But it's wearing a happy disguise.  On November 4th, friends Jen and Polly organize a huge benefit party jam-packed with games, prizes, music, and of course WALKING!

For a solid 4 hours, I'm swept up into a reunion of family, camp friends, students, co-workers, and skaters.

They mingle with my pals from Prosthetic Innovations (who feel like family too!).

And just like that -- over cupcakes and cotton candy -- the gray November day turns into a carnival of color!

Best of all, we raise over $2,000 for Philadelphia Limb Foundation, with more donations still rolling in!

When Jen and Polly first told me their benefit idea, I loved it immediately.  Over the past 2 years, I've wanted to turn my focus outward -- to make this journey more than just my OWN.

But each time the momentum gets going, it seems there's another setback -- leg pain, surgery, more time in the hospital.  I pull into my shell like a turtle.  Seek shelter till the rough times pass.

"But what if I'm in the hospital?" I asked Polly when she called me back in September to discuss the party details.

"We'll have it anyway," she said, "in your honor."

It was little consolation.   I ended up in the Operating Room just 2 weeks later.

This journey's been wrought with hills and valleys.  Not the gentle rolling kind you see from the highways of Vermont.

The kind you feel when you ride an old wooden roller coaster.  They whip your head around and make your stomach lurch.  They leave you spinning long after the motion has ended.

But finally at this 2-year-mark, we hit the target Jen and Polly were aiming for.  This journey was finally going to reach OTHERS.

And there's something else:  As rickety and frightening as those roller coaster rides may be, they're not necessarily bad for the carnival.  In fact, they might be the part that you end up talking about years later.

Thanks to everyone who joined our carnival November 4th!   In walking with me or donating to the cause, you've given me more reasons to put those old sneakers back on.  (They've got at least 200 more miles in 'em!)  

Better things ahead!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Join The Journey!

Please join me in celebrating 2 YEARS on this journey!

We're having a benefit party!
This Sunday, November 4
Food, raffles, games, and WALKING -- all for a great cause -- Philadelphia Limb Foundation!

The party will be held at:
Garden City Fire Hall
412 Moore Road
Wallingford, PA 19086

1:00-5:00 p.m.
One-Mile Fun Walk at 3:00  (I need the miles!!!)

Tickets/donation:  $20/person or $45/family

Along this journey, I've learned that I'm very, very lucky.

I've had the best medical and prosthetic teams I could ever imagine.  My insurance gives me access to advanced prosthetics, such as the Genium, which enable me to walk skillfully and safely.  With the help of talented therapists and friends, I'm working toward biking, inline skating, and running -- all things I loved to do before the accident.

I've also learned that not everyone has such good fortune.

In the past 2 years, I've met amputees - young and old -- who have had to FIGHT for access to prosthetics.  Many people find themselves uninsured or underinsured for a lifetime of prosthetic needs -- a knee that will allow them to walk safely, an arm that will enable them to go back to work.

No one expects to have a traumatic injury like mine.  But life can change in a split-second.

PHILADELPHIA LIMB FOUNDATION is a local organization that helps amputees afford the prosthetics they need.  To live safely.  To be productive members of their community.  To push themselves beyond the limits of their amputation.

I hope you can join us for walking and fun on November 4th!
It's a celebration of my journey.  But it's also a way to help other amputees take their own journeys --  one step at a time.

If you can't attend the party but would like to contribute to the cause, donations are welcome!

Please mail them to:
Philadelphia Limb Foundation
c/o Prosthetic Innovations
10 Baldwin Creek
Eddystone, PA 19022

Please make checks out to PHILADELPHIA LIMB FOUNDATION.  Write "Rebecca's Journey" at the bottom of the check, so they'll know it's part of our fundraising!

Thank you for walking with me -- in person and in spirit!