Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Sweetness of Sweat

Mile Marker 2582:

Spring is as sweet as a juicy peach.

And as moist too.

I make my way along 2nd Street, boots splashing over mucky puddles.  A drainpipe, encased in ice, runs like a faucet onto the sidewalk.

I peel off my gloves.  I tuck the hat I've been wearing all winter into my backpack.

Everyone I pass smiles at me.  I smile back.

It's our first warm weekend in months, and I'm heading south to tutor at a coffee shop in Queen Village.

The sidewalks are better than
the parking spaces anyway!
But here's the biggest news... I've left the car at home.

I'm actually WALKING!!

Predictably, about 6 blocks into the journey, there's trouble.  My socket comes loose.  I can feel it slip a fraction of an inch with each step.  The prosthetic liner glides against my skin.  The sidewalk isn't the only thing that's wet today!

By the time I reach Philly Java, my steps are loping and exaggerated.   I hike my hip higher.  Tighten up my quads and glutes in an effort to keep the socket in place.  I'm a soggy mess.

Hello, old friend!


SWEAT SEASON is here.

It's so good to be out, I don't even care!


Of course, it quickly gets tiresome.  Within days, I'm searching out public restrooms.  Peeling off my damp harness and liner.  Balancing on one leg and grabbing grab bars.  Juggling socket components in one hand when there's no clean place to set things down.  I start stuffing extra towels in my backpack.  And sock-ply.  And vacuum seals.

Stopping to fix my leg is a pain-in-the-you-know-what.  Sweat makes me clumsy, but it's a project to dry everything off.

Still, most of the time I fly under the radar.  Nobody even notices.

Mile Marker 2607:

Until the day I'm caught with my pants down.

Literally.

I can't exactly blame the weather for this one.  Exercise makes me sweaty in any season.

After rock climbing at Go Vertical, I sit in the locker room peeling off my sweaty liner and drying off my leg.  My Genium's propped against the bench, waiting for me to put it back on.

The locker room's empty.  I've positioned myself in a corner between a wall and a row of lockers.  I might even get this whole process done before anyone walks in.

That's when the door opens.  And in walks a pair of little eyes.

I glance over my shoulder.  A young girl, maybe 8 years old, parks herself on the opposite bench.  Her eyes meet mine.

I smile.  Then I turn back toward the wall, apply Adaptskin to my leg, spray the seals of the liner, and roll it on.  I tug on the extra vacuum seal.  I do all this with my back to her.

But there's no way around the next step.  I have to stand up to don the prosthesis.  This will not be discrete.

Ok... Go.  I take a deep breath and do it all in one motion.

I push up from the bench, aim my leg into the top of the socket, and press down.  Shift my weight back and forth from foot to foot.  My jeans hover somewhere around my knees.

The girl's eyes grow larger by the minute.  Her lips form a surprised "O," revealing two crooked front teeth.

I tug up my jeans, haphazardly tucking everything in.

"I bet you've never seen someone put on a prosthetic leg before!"  I say, hoping to turn this awkwardness into a teachable moment.

Silence.  Her hair's pulled into a messy ponytail.  Her climbing harness bunches up over her green sweatsuit.  Her feet swing inches above the floor.  She doesn't blink.

So I start again.  "Have you ever seen the movie Dolphin Tale?  It's about a dolphin that has a prosthetic fin--"

"--I'm not allowed to talk to STRANGERS." she interrupts.

"Oh ok," I say. "You don't have to talk to me.  I just wanted to tell you what I was doing because you probably haven't seen anything like that--"

But before I can finish, she interrupts again.

"--Is that a FAKE LEG?!!!"

(Apparently, she's not allowed to talk to strangers unless they're really, really interesting....)

I tell her it's like a robot leg.  I show her the leg I use for climbing, and then I yank up the bottom of my jeans to show her the one I use for walking.  She asks if she can touch it.  I hand her the climbing leg.

"Where's your REAL LEG?" she asks.

Luckily, she accepts the simple version.  "It got hurt.  The doctors couldn't fix it, so they gave me a robot leg."

Then she rattles off everything she knows about prosthetics...

"I saw this guy on American Ninja Warrior who got run-over by a tractor, and he has a robot leg too.  And hey, did you ever see How to Train Your Dragon?  There's a guy named Hiccup, and he got his leg cut off too!  He even has a robot leg!"

As I'm pondering all that, another kid walks in.

"Look, she has a robot leg!"  the girl tells her.   "You can touch it if you want!"

Then she turns back to me.  "Show her your walking leg!"  she commands.

I tug up the left side of my jeans again.  Show and tell.

The conversation shifts.  In a flash, they move on.  "Ok, now you close your eyes and count, and I'm gonna go hide," one girl says to the other.

They both scamper out of the locker room.  I realize I may go down as nothing more than a cool Hide & Seek location.

I gather up my leg stuff and put on my jacket.

Yep, it's Sweat Season... funny, inconvenient, awkward, and challenging...

...but all in all, pretty sweet!

Bring on the HEAT!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

CrossFit

Mile Marker 2540:

You want me to cross WHAT?

Wet floors, icy sidewalks, slushy streets...

The PPA should pay ME
to cross that!!
I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  This time of year, everything seems tough to cross!

Last week, I was fortunate enough to discover a shoveled-out parking space.  But, alas, the parking kiosk was another story.



At Mile Marker 2540, I try out CrossFit.  Luckily, it's INSIDE the gym.

But the luck ends there.  This is the craziest workout I've ever seen!

CrossFit's Workout of the Day (WOD) is a series of exercises done repeatedly, at high intensity, until your body's about to give out.  Or at least that's how it feels to a beginner like me!

Today's WOD consists of Muscle-Ups, Box Jumps, Thrusters, Toes-to-Bar, and Burpees.  If it sounds like a fancy circus act, don't be fooled.  It's more like American Ninja Warrior.   Here's a demo.

video

 Go Chris!!!  (Yep, that's me yelling in the background!)

Today's event is a fundraiser for Global Abilities, a foundation that helps people with disabilities get into sports and recreation.  Adaptive athletes are welcome, and I'm one of them.

My friend Todd's here too.  He's brave enough to try the first heat.

The exercises are adapted, but they're still quite a challenge!



As the timer ticks down from 15 minutes, Todd works through Pull-Ups, Thrusters, and all the rest.  I can feel his sweat and determination even from my spot behind the caution tape.   No wonder they call it a HEAT!

You rock, Todd!!!

When the buzzer goes off, he's beat... but VICTORIOUS!


I'm signed up for Heat 6.  That means about 2 more hours to wait.  Chris and I go into a back workout room to practice with a coach named Micah.

We work on adapting my exercises.  I attempt the rings (epic fail!) but it turns out I have a pretty good grip on the bar.  Guess all that rock climbing has paid off.  We decide to build on it.

My workout will include:

Dips
Pull-Ups

Step-Ups

Toes-to-Bar
(See my toes?)
Thrusters
a.k.a. "squat lifts"

...and Burpees
(I'm pretty good at falling on the floor!)

We work on the moves for a while, but we've still got an hour before our heat comes up.  So when I find a wall of jump ropes, I take one for a spin.   I have a feeling it might be my best performance of the day...

video

Then I join the crowd to cheer on athletes in the other heats.  And that's when it dawns on me.

This is going to be like WORKING OUT ON STAGE.  I panic.

Squatting is hard.  Burpees are unfamiliar.  And my toes never quite reach that bar.   If you know anything about me, you know I don't do things in public until I can do them well.  For that, I'd need many, many more weeks of practice!

I tell Chris I don't think I can go through with this.

He says that's ok.  He says, "We can leave if you want to."

But we both know that's not going to happen.

When Heat 6 is finally announced, I take my place at the workout station.  Micah sets up the equipment, and Chris moves in to spot me.  The giant digital timer is set for 15 minutes.

And GO!

(Thanks to CrossFit athlete Mikaelyn for capturing it on this awesome video!!)

video


It's a 15-minute frenzy!
BYO PT :)

I can't remember the sequence of exercises, so Chris cues me at every turn.  He hands me the bar for squats, loops the band for pull-ups, and offers a hand for step-ups.  He even comes to my defense when Micah says to dip lower on my dips.  Now that's a great spotter :)

My heart is beating so fast I could use an extra lung.  But with challenge comes ADRENALINE!

The tougher stuff you cross, the sweeter the success.  There's something about making it past an obstacle that seemed insurmountable.  And coming out the other side.

When we leave the gym, it's snowing again.  I grab Chris's hand as we step into the slippery street.

I could probably cross it myself.
But why take the chance?


Thanks to Chris, Todd, Anna, Mikaelyn, Micah, A.J. and Global Abilities for the motivation, encouragement, and all-around amazing day!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feb Five

Mile Marker 2525:

I'm not sure anyone likes February.

We even beat Chicago!
Yesterday, temps dipped to 3 degrees.  Today, we got 3 inches of snow.   That adds up to 6 more reasons to stay inside!

This weather makes it difficult to walk on my own.  The pavement is icy and unpredictable.  Wind gusts whip around the corners of buildings.  This month alone, I've racked up more money in parking garages than I care to admit, just to avoid city sidewalks!

Ironically, at the heart of February is my WALKING ANNIVERSARY:  February 11th.

From that moment on,
I had 2 feet again!
February 11, 2011 was the day I put on my prosthesis, gripped the parallel bars, and took those life-changing "second" first steps.

"Small step with the left.  Big step with the right."  Prosthetist's Tim's guiding words became my version of Neil Armstrong's message from the moon.  They marked the edge of a new frontier.

The race was on.

You've seen the replay before, but I never get tired of showing it...

video

Happy Walking Day!  

Balcony Cam
I'm celebrating 4 years of being back on my feet!   February 11th means freedom, but each year it falls inside the season that's most limiting.  The time when I feel least free to move about as I please.

So what are February's redeeming factors?  In the midst of this dismal, gray, windy, snowy, will-winter-ever-end month, I'm making a list:

I call it the FEB FIVE.

To kick off my 5th year of walking, I've compiled the Top 5 Reasons for Setting Foot (or Feet) Outside in February...

Reason #1:  FOOD.   Like any scavenger during the long, cold months, we're all in need of some comfort.  For me, that's found in Philly's shoveled-out corner cafés.  When my friend Jen lands unexpectedly in the city, I ford the dicey sidewalks and slushy tire tracks to meet her at Café L'Aube.  As I tiptoe through slippery remnants of the last snow, a tiny lady plows by, pushing a walker as big as she is.  (What was I complaining about again??)   We exchange smiles, resigned to be 2 fall risks who should have probably stayed home.  But inside, hot chocolate awaits.  Jen and I warm up and catch up.  I'm refueled!

Happy Whatever!
Reason #2:  FAMILY.   If you haven't yet heard of our family tradition, we celebrate Hanukkah during the Superbowl.   We're liberal with the religious stuff -- bypassing latkes in favor of pizza, meatballs, and spinach dip -- but still, every February we TRY to get together as a family.  This year, I'm not the only one held back by the winter doldrums.  The flu runs rampant through my sister's house in Vermont, so they're unable to make the trip.  We swear that next year we'll move our celebration closer to spring.   Phillies Opening Day?  Passover?  I'll keep you posted....

Reason #3:  FITNESS.  No, I'm not quite in training for an Icy Ironman.  But I am working on some new skills this winter, and they're worth leaving the house for.  At the rock climbing gym, I just got certified to belay, so that's a prime destination on my February map.  I can now pull my own weight -- and yours! -- to keep you safe while you climb.  Plus, I've found my water leg to be quite versatile on the wall.  It's flexible and easy to maneuver, and locks straight for sturdy belaying.  Let me know if you want to climb sometime!

Worth the walk!
Reason #4:  FUN.   How about a two-mile walk in 15 degrees and 40 m.p.h. winds??  Apparently I have an odd concept of fun, but when I'm with friends even the most challenging goals seem attainable!  My friend Chris and I embark on a brisk jaunt -- somewhere between a Sunday stroll and an Arctic voyage.  Three frozen feet, 2 runny noses, and 1.83 miles later, we arrive at our destination, Morning Glory Diner.  Finally... brunch!  Was it worth it?  Yes.  (See Reason #1.)   It's too cold for even a selfie, but my mouth is frozen into a permanent smile :)

Reason #5:  FIRE (IN THE SKY).   Ok, so maybe that's a stretch.  It doesn't require stepping outside; you can view it from any west-facing window.  But February sunsets are like fresh icing on a stale cupcake.  No matter how bitter the days are, they often finish brilliantly.  I spy orange beyond the trees of the Swarthmore woods and lavender seeping out from behind the city skyscrapers.  Best of all, showtime moves one minute later each evening.  It's true, February fans, the days are getting longer!  Any way you look at it, those fiery skies bring hope.

For a short month of short days, February lingers long past its welcome.  But for me, it's also a time to be thankful and mindful of all I have.  Food to warm my belly.  Family to fill me with joy.  A fit set of legs to hold me up.  Fun adventures to keep me going.  And fantastic friends to guide me over the inevitable icy patches.

It's easy to be brave with these guys around!

So what if schools are closed today, or if I'm staying inside to write this blog post?  Warmer days are just around the next windy corner.

Take that, evil sidewalks!
Only 11 days till March...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sneaky Spring

Mile Marker 2486:

It's sneaky spring!

Today's one of those days that pops up in the dead center of winter.  Out of nowhere, the biting wind turns into a cool breeze.  The sky lifts up high, an airy blue with the thinnest layer of cotton clouds.

It's a perfect walking day.

There's only one problem -- this little blister on my leg.  Yesterday, I admit I ignored the warning signs.  But winter clothes and school bathrooms aren't the best combination for making leg adjustments.  Plus there's always Murphy's Law (the prosthetic version):  A readjustment might make it worse.

So today, I'm spending a legless afternoon at home.  Insert sigh here.  At least the windows are open!

It's been a long, heavy winter, and it's only half over.  Earlier this week, that darn groundhog somehow saw his shadow.  (It must have been from the TV spotlights because on that dark rainy day, I sure couldn't see mine!)

Last night, when I watched the national news, I texted my brother Andy in Chicago.  "How are you guys doing in the snow?"  I asked.
..."Not bad."

He sent me back this photo, with a side of sarcasm...

We should take a lesson from Chicagoans, who have a funny, sunny way of facing winter.

Snow lips!
My friend Wendy shoveled out her family's backyard hockey rink, leaving a Valentine "kiss" for her husband Jim to find -- and finish!

...Don't mess with the Bumble!

And the weather may be abominable, but my friend Annie makes the most of it too...

With all the heart in that windy city, you'd think the snow would just melt already!

Despite the weight of the season -- and all the dismal things it brings with it -- Mother Nature still delivers a few surprises.

Here in Philly, we had our own snow day last week.  They'd predicted up to 22 inches with blizzard conditions, high winds, and deep drifts.  Schools were closed.  Appointments were cancelled.  The trains went on a Saturday schedule.

So I headed out, of course :)
Yet when I woke up in the morning to peer out the window, there was no snow on the ground.

By amputee standards, it was the BEST SNOW DAY ever!

I found the best parking space on the street.  I trekked the city on dry, empty sidewalks.  I tutored at Starbucks instead of the school library.  (Turns out, math is much easier to swallow with a Frappuccino!)

The dusting of snow stayed on the grass, and the crowds stayed at home.  It wasn't exactly spring -- temps hovered around 25 -- but the openness of it all felt refreshing.  There was space to breathe.

Winter's a season of confinement.  I usually stand at my windows and look skeptically at the white sidewalks.  I grind my teeth when I hear the whistling wind.  I don't dare set foot outside alone.

And instead, on our first snow day, I got a brisk walk under a hopeful pink sky.  It was my own sneaky spring.


So today, at Mile Marker 2486,  I don't mind staying in.  The windows are open.  The sun is shining.  Like winter, this leg stuff too shall pass.

Anyway, there's more snow predicted for tomorrow.  And probably for this weekend as well.  Go ahead, meteorologists.  Bring on the doom and gloom.  Because behind those weather forecasts is just the tiniest sliver of doubt.

If a blizzard can drift pass Philly with barely a dusting...
If the groundhog only sees his shadow in the light of TV crews..
If we just keep looking toward the sun...

Can spring be far away?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

One Moment More

Mile Marker 2424:

Just after the holidays, a package arrives.

It's postmarked from Chicago and has the cheerful, curly printing of my good friend Shelley.

Inside is an assortment of little treasures:  a card with a dove of clouds, magnets that say "Yay! Chicago" and "Yay! Bacon," and a wooden bird that fits on the side of a flower pot.

There's also a Buddha Board -- a magic slate of sorts -- on which you paint water and then watch as your design slowly evaporates into peaceful oblivion.  On the box, it says "Master the Art of Letting Go."

Like all Shelley's packages, this one is full of joy, jokes, and the long-lasting bond of our friendship.  We see each other maybe once a year, but we are still as close as ever.

I arrange the presents into a small pile with a post-it note on top.  The note says, "Call Shelley."

Then things get busy.  I don't call.  I don't e-mail.  I don't text.  I promise myself I will find a moment soon.  But the pile sits there for more than a week.

And then it is too late.


Mile Marker 2440:

I am buying a plane ticket on a moment's notice.

This is not like me at all.  As an amputee, I've surrendered to the complexity of travel.  I do not just hop on a plane.

But now, I book a flight, hotel, and rental car in less than 10 minutes.  I do it without considering crutches or legs or shower chairs.

Shelley has passed away.

The news is sudden and unexpected.   Sad and unjust.  More tragic than words can explain.

I hop on a plane.


It's Shelley who usually hops on a plane.

In the bleak winter of 2010, she flew in from Chicago the day after my hospital discharge.  I was curled up on my parents' couch, doubled over with abdominal pain.  Suddenly the garage door opened, and a burst of sunshine -- a best friend from Chicago -- walked in!

"I wanted to celebrate New Year's with you!" she said.  It was New Year's Eve.

We did celebrate.  The pain subsided.  I took tentative bites of pizza.  I hobbled around on my new crutches.  We watched the ball drop as the year flipped over to 2011.  We swore it would be better than 2010.

She flew to Philly for my thousandth mile too.  Shelley never missed a milestone!

When she couldn't be there in person, Shelley sent packages and cards.

Her "paper hug" hung on my hospital wall.  Her battery-operated candles lit up my room.   Her Chicago socks marked a path to my recovery.

Celebrating Hanukkah
with Shelley's candles!
One day, just before surgery, a package from Shelley arrived.  I was headed down to the OR, but this little box couldn't wait.

"It's from Shelley!"  I said.  "I have to open it now!"

The nurses stopped my gurney mid-roll.  They gave me scissors to open the box.  We learned early on that a gift from Shelley always contained exactly the support I needed.


When I finally started walking again, Shelley sent this photo of her own feet, stepping out in Chicago.  Even long distance, she found a way to pack joy into the littlest moments.


Mile Marker 2448:

My plane lands in Chicago.

I hitch a wheelchair ride through 2 terminals to meet up with my friend Linda, who arrives a half-hour later from Omaha.

That evening, we meet up with friends Wendy and Jennie.  We telephone Alexa, who's still in Washington, D.C.  Elaine flies in around midnight.

We miss our 4th Musketeer
It's like the reunion we always wanted but never quite got around to planning.  Shelley always had a knack for bringing people together.

Over the next 2 days, I manage 2 showers in 2 different hotels.  I pack and repack.  I eat on the fly.  I stay up late and get up early.  My little leg is as moody as ever.  My socket is too tight, then too loose.  It itches and rubs and burns.

Elaine, Linda, and I toast Shelley
at one of her favorites,
Harry Caray's
But this trip is not about me.

It's about Shelley, who faced plenty of obstacles, but always rolled with them.

On this trip, I conjure up her strength, courage, and humor.   I borrow a bit of them for myself.

And like Shelley, I try to live in the moment.


Mile Marker 2450:

The funeral home is filled with friends and family.

On a side table sits a stuffed Super Grover guarding a basket of biking socks shaped like roses.

Shelley's friend Dawn sports a Bert sweatshirt, celebrating Shelley's love for the Muppets.  Another friend wears a Kermit pin.  I wear a scarf with bicycles.  And there's a whole contingency of cycling friends wearing rainbow-colored "Shagadelic" jerseys.

There's even a dorm reunion

We are like a collage of "Shelley moments."  We smile and share stories.  We laugh gently.  And we keep echoing the same words:  I can't believe she's gone.

It is inconceivable to lose someone so brimming with life.

I can still see Shelley waving from her bike along Lake Shore Drive, a pair of Cubs fuzzy dice swinging from her handlebars.

I can still hear her laughter when I first dipped my water leg into Lake Michigan.   And her adoring pride in Chicago no matter what the weather!

I can still smell her banana chocolate chip muffins baking in the oven before every final exam.

We've been friends for more than 20 years.  I could fill a thousand blog posts with our moments.

Still, they're not enough.


Mile Marker 2465:

When I finally head home, one memory resonates more than any other.

Shelley turned broken bike helmets into garden planters.

Even in the toughest moments, she always rode on the sunny side of the street.  She cheered for garlic shoots that pushed up through the snowy soil.  She celebrated when the Polar Vortex finally reached the single digits.   And she never missed a chance to help others do the same.

Shelley made the most of each moment.

She was an organ donor too.  And so, when all hope faded, her family spent many more hours at the hospital to make sure her wishes could be fulfilled.  In the end, Shelley passed on her gift of life to multiple people in the surrounding states.

Her heart -- I've heard -- lives on in Chicago.


I've been back from Chicago for one week and 15 miles so far.

The magnets from Shelley's package are hanging on my fridge.  The wooden bird perches on a plant in my bedroom.  Her dove card is displayed on my kitchen counter.

I still haven't opened the Buddha Board.   I don't think I'm ready to "Master the Art of Letting Go."

Yet these last few miles, I've found unusual comfort in each moment.

I take pleasure in dry sidewalks before the snow falls.  I wander in and out of stores, shopping for friends and family.  I enjoy my work with students.  I make time to stop for coffee.  I text friends while I'm thinking of it, before the moment passes me by.

Plus, my Christmas Cactus is in bloom.  It hasn't had a single bud in years, but now a huge pink flower is opening.  I can only imagine this is Shelley's doing.

On my way to the Jefferson garden this week, I pass a sign on the wall of a church:


Every moment counts.
I just wish we had more of them.

Thank you Shell, for bringing your love, light, and laughter into my life.  For riding with me through the fun times and the most challenging.  You are a true best friend, and I'll miss you everyday.

To see and hear some of our moments, click here for a video.