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, June 30, 2016

Amputee Coalition Conference 2016

Mile Marker 4070:

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.

"I have to get my other legs,"  I tell him.  Then I laugh.  "Bet you don't hear that too often!"

"Nope."  He smiles.  "Except this week!"


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. 

Conversations spark everywhere.  We know what it's like to be us.  We get it.  In a mere 3 days, I meet friends I know I'll be in touch with for a very long time!

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!

It spreads.  In the hotel lobby one evening, I discover a group of hula hoopers.  "Try it!" my friend Kelly says.  Before I can refuse, she thrusts a hoop in my direction.

Go Kelly!

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 cafĂ©.  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!
I learn a lot at this conference.  I learn about osseointegration and new technology.  I participate in research studies on balance, eye movement, and step counters.  I even shop for a new foot to put on my wish list!

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!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Wish Wall

Mile Marker 4030:

I wish I could tell you I swim for exercise in the morning.

But really it's for the coffee.

I park along 9th Street.  My hair's still damp as the sun rises over the Italian Market.  In tiny Gleaner's Cafe, wedged between market stalls, I order a "small hot."  The coffee is rich, like dark cocoa.  At this time of day, it's pretty much all I could wish for.

I head back to the car to go home and start my day.   But as I start up the engine, colors catch the corner of my eye.

It's a collage of flyers, overlapped like a paper mosaic.

If I squint, I can read the title:


It's still early.  I have a minute or two.  I hop back out, coffee in hand.

Step closer.

Some have been smeared with rain, but most are legible.  They're people's wishes, penned on pastel index cards for posterity.

Click any photo
to enlarge and read...
I stand.  I sip.  I read.  I've never been much for meditation, but on this quiet morning, that's what it feels like.  I breathe in the wishes.  My eyes wander the board.

There are wishes for health, for family, and for forgiveness.  For small things like toys, and for big things like cures for cancer.

A handful are written in Spanish.  A few are crayoned by kids.

There are milestones celebrated.  Goals to be achieved.

And in many different words and ways, an overarching wish for PEACE.

It's like a thousand voices from this neighborhood mingled together under a sheet of Plexiglas.

Fascinating.  Especially to a wisher like me.

Is this real?  And how long has it been here?

I look around.  The lot is mostly deserted.  A few people walk by on their way to work -- earbuds in, eyes on their phones -- some sipping coffee like me.  I'm the only one looking at the Wish Wall.

I wonder if these neighbors realize how much they have in common?

Hope.  Intention.  Strength.  Life.  Community.  So much meaning in so little square footage.

Then I start thinking... maybe a wish is just the beginning.

What if we all had the courage to put our dreams out there?  If instead of building walls to keep people out, we built more walls like this one?

What if EVERY neighborhood had a Wish Wall? 

The ideas flow quickly, one into the next, spurred on by caffeine.  My coffee cup is half-empty.  Or wait -- maybe it's half-full!

Go ahead.  Make a wish.

Get it out there.

You never know who might find it.

Where'd this wall come from?  I did a bit of research! Click here for the story behind it.   For more information about the WISHWALL Foundation, click here.