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.

A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. My body and life were forever changed.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

As I learned to walk again, I measured my recovery in steps and then miles. Over time that journey grew into something more -- a way of being in the world, wherever I go.

I am a person of ability and disability. I travel in the space between. These are my postcards.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Up, Up, and Away

Mile Marker 1800:


The sky is hot and blue.   Below it, my prosthetic liner fills with a puddle of sweat.

June starts off with a ride on the Zoo Balloon.  But first comes a long wait in the summer heat, with a 10-year-old who's much more patient than I am.

When my niece Brianna was little, we spent lots of time together.  I taught her to love water ice.  I played with her on the beach.  And once, on a sweltering day like this, we grabbed our mittens and headed to an indoor ice skating rink!

At the time of my accident, Brianna was 6 years old.  She colored me lots of pictures and asked me why my jeans were tied up "like a ponytail."  When I first showed her my prosthesis, she was minimally impressed.  "That's cool, but it would be cooler if you had TWO robot legs," she told me.

What she really wanted to know was when we'd go skating again.  But with leg and stomach troubles, I never felt dependable enough to take her out on my own.

Now that she's reached the double-digits, "Lil B" has surpassed me in both height and shoe size.   On the dawn of her 10th birthday, I realize just how much I miss her.   Instead of a present, I decide to give her a coupon book filled with 10 fun things to do together.  At Mile Marker 1800, she chooses the Zoo Balloon.

Of course, standing in a hot line does not rank as "fun" on my list.  After the first 10 minutes, my prosthesis is peeling away from my body.  With each step, it feels heavier and heavier.  My right ankle and knee ache from too much standing.  I'm convinced the entire coupon book was a big mistake.

"It's really hot, B.  Want to skip the balloon and go see the animals instead?"

The ends of Brianna's hair curl in the heat.  "Nope, I wanna ride the balloon," she says.

So I take a deep breath and readjust my stance.  I shift my weight and try to stay calm.   I run my finger along the edge of my waist harness, reassurance that my leg will stay put.

Then I do what most aunts do.   I put my own needs aside in favor of the birthday girl.

In the long balloon line, people cluster in the shade of a few small patio umbrellas.  About 45 minutes in, we welcome a light breeze.  It feels great, but the balloon guy informs us it's bad news.  Ride groups will now be reduced from 15 people to 5, to account for the wind.

The 30 Minute Wait From This Point  sign haunts us for more than an hour.  A restless 7-year-old gets tired of picking up leaves and starts to ask about my robot leg.  By the time we reach the front of the line, his mom invites us to ride for free on her family membership!

Two hours later, we climb with our new friends into the balloon's woven basket.
Lift off!

As helium carries us 400 feet up, I grip the metal handrail.  (Nonsense, I know... cause the handrail is 400 feet up too!)    Lil' B scrambles from one side of the balloon to the other.  We look out at the Philly skyline, the Schuylkill River, and the tiny cars on the expressway!

When they announce that our 10-minute ride is over, Brianna crouches down on her knees.  "Let's hide so we can stay on for the next ride!" she says.  The other kids agree.

I can't say I'm with them on that one.  But as we walk off in search of frozen lemonade, I've left some weight behind me.  My body -- sweaty leg and all -- feels lighter, like I'm still carried by the wind.

Mile Marker 1815:

UP again...

One week and 15 miles later,  I fasten my waist harness one more time.   No matter how many socket issues I have, I don't want to miss this adaptive climbing clinic!

At Philly Rock Gym, I meet up with Tommy and Kareemah, 2 rock stars I met back in the "Gunks" last October.

I'm not a risk-taker, but they encourage me to try something different -- a beginner bouldering route.   I feel like a canary flying into a coal mine.
Look Ma, no strings!

Strings attached this time!
Then comes the challenge of my first 5.6 climb.  And in case it's a fluke, I set out to conquer 3 more!

Part of the fun of adaptive climbing is experimenting with different foot and leg set-ups.  In a pinch (a.k.a. emergency), I watch Kareemah switch in and out of her prosthesis mid-wall.

And surprise, I find my SWIM LEG is quite the climber!  It's lighter than my Genium and much easier to bend!
Go Sandy!  Get ready for some bangs and bruises!

I meet Kai, an industrial design student who's created a climbing leg modeled after the foot of a mountain goat.  For now it's just for below-knee (BK) amputees, but I offer to be his AK tester when the next generation comes out.
Wanna trade??

I meet some new rock stars, too.  Like Mark, a prosthetist and photographer who coaches me up a wall with his camera between his teeth.

And Tom, a route setter who comes to the rescue just when we need it most.

Then there's Scooter, who volunteers with Peak Potential, a climbing program for kids with disabilities.

Steve, a BK amputee, climbing again for the first time with his prosthesis.

And Olivia, an awesome climber who just graduated from high school.

Finally comes Levi, the youngest and newest amputee climber.... With Tommy's help, he rocks the wall too!

Together, this team brings INSPIRATION, ADAPTATION, and of course, PERSPIRATION. Proving once again -- no matter what your hardware -- the sky's the limit!

Mile Marker 1830:

AND (finally) AWAY...

June's been a month of change.   At school, I put my supplies into crates.  At home, I pack everything into cardboard boxes.  And in the midst of it all, I grudgingly make plans for more prosthetic work this summer.  Stay tuned.

I'm not a fan of change.  When the signposts point to new starts, the road clogs up with unknowns.

Among all this craziness, I realize how an aerial point of view has actually helped keep my feet on the ground.  The last 30 miles have forced me to reach farther.  Stand taller.  Push through my own limits.  And in doing so, prepare myself to take that next leap into the future.

Good thing.  Because at Mile Marker 1830, it's MOVING DAY.   Luckily, I've got a great crew of helpers!

The new place is in the same neighborhood and has plenty of room for friends...
...and Game Night hi-jinx!

In keeping with the theme, it's a tad HIGHER than my last apartment.  Not quite above the clouds.  But from the third floor balcony, I can see the treetops.

And what a view!