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!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Be Like Mike

Mile Marker 3800:

Back in February, on Superbowl Sunday, my mom and I attended a show at the Walnut Street Theater.

Who would see a show on Superbowl Sunday, right?

Wrong.  The theater was packed!

Ok, it was a small theater.  Maybe 6 rows front to back, arranged in a horseshoe shape around a floor-level stage.

On that stage sat a wooden shack.  And attached to that shack was a front porch.  And off that front porch ran a set of rickety stairs.

On those stairs was Michael.

He lumbered down them.  Paced back and forth across the stage.  Plopped himself down to sit on the edge of the porch.

I watched his every move.

Ten minutes into the play, I realized I was holding my breath.

Michael was a brand new amputee.

If you're from Philly, you may have heard of actor Michael Toner.  Last summer he was seriously injured in a hit-and-run while walking home from a rehearsal.  Coincidentally (and fortunately!) he was delivered into the hands of the very same trauma team that saved my life.

Click HERE for a great article!
When his show, Moon for the Misbegotten, opened just months later, Michael returned to the stage to play the part for which he'd been cast before his injury -- Irish farmer Phil Hogan.

He was perfect for it.

But I know a few things about being a new amputee.  (And if you've been following this blog, you probably know them too!)

To put it simply:

1.  Walking with a prosthesis takes balance, planning, practice, strength, courage, and a thousand other things.

2. When you're walking, it's nearly impossible to do anything else!

On his brand new leg, Michael not only walked.  He walked on stage!  He ACTED.  He dodged props.  He climbed rickety steps.  He hugged and slapped other characters.  He poured whiskey!

And he somehow made it all look completely natural!

After the show, my mom and I hovered in the lobby.  Introduced by email a few months before, I couldn't wait to meet Michael in person!

But before I could even congratulate him, he complimented my walking.  "Look at her!" he said to his friends.  "You can't even tell!"

"Are you kidding?"  I answered.  "You walk ON A STAGE!  I'm 5 years ahead of you, and I still avoid walking in front of an audience!"

He smiled with his whole being.  That's Michael's way.

With Michael and his friend,
another "Jefferson patient-alum," Martha!

Michael told me how his PTs helped him face those obstacles on the stage.  How they decided to lock his prosethetic knee for stability.  He wouldn't be able to bend his leg, but he'd be safer.  And luckily, the limp made it more authentic.  In the 1920's, prosthetics were basically wooden legs anyway!

As they say, the show must go on! 

It's taken me a while to write this blog post.  Somewhere in mid-February, my own show slowed to a crawl.  Let's just say I'm still getting used to how much all-consuming ENERGY it takes to be an amputee.

wanted to get this post up finally.   Because on my most exhausting days, Michael is the one who comes to mind.

Despite his arduous journey, Michael never lost sight of the theater and his own writing projects.  From our emails, I learned how taxing it was, performing for 3 hours nearly every night, sometimes in 2 shows per day.  All of this while struggling with the same issues as anyone who learns to walk on a prosthesis, or attempts to regain their new normal after a life-changing spill.

But I could also sense his excitement and enthusiasm.

Michael EMBRACES life.  He leans into it with all the MIGHT of a hearty Irish farmer.  With every step, he clings PASSIONATELY to the work he loves.

When the road gets rough, inspiration comes in handy.  And I'll share my newest one with you.

BE LIKE MIKE.

(Ok, maybe living in Chicago Bulls territory back in the '90's had its influence too!)

Give it a try...

What do you love? 
What kind of happiness renews your strength? 
What one thing -- however small -- makes getting out of bed worthwhile?

Whatever it is, don't let go of it.
Through hardship, rediscover your JOY.

Superbowl Sunday was 6 weeks ago.  And I should tell you that between then and now, Michael and the cast completed a month-long road tour.  (Yes, he travels too!)

I'm looking forward to details now that Michael's back in town.  But in the end, I'm pretty sure it'll all come down to that determined smile of his...

The show must go on -- the road!


(Thanks to Philly.com and the Walnut Street Theater for the show photos!)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Happy Walking Day 2016!

Mile Marker 3660(?):

It's been 5 YEARS since I took my first steps on a prosthesis!

On February 11, 2011, Prosthetist Tim propped me up between the parallel bars and uttered those words I'll never forget... Big step with the right.  Small step with the left.

I was off!

The road hasn't always been smooth, but I'm grateful every day to be moving.

Today, 5 years later, I'm away at a state educational conference in Hershey, PA.  It's an accomplishment -- traveling here on my own -- but it also means that I'm SITTING most of the day.

By 5 p.m., I'm itching to celebrate.  Just in time for a brilliant sunset, I escape outside TO WALK.

One mile.  24 degrees.  In the parking lot of the convention center.  (There are no sidewalks in sight!)

It's too cold to check my Fitbit, and my face nearly freezes off, but I'm determined to capture the day.  And to take you -- my friends, family, blog followers, support team, and pit crew -- along with me!

Here's what I come up with...

video

I'll never be a "vlogger," but I do have fun :)

Happy Walking Day!
Thanks for 5 years and so much more!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Overcoming

Mile Marker 3640:

At 4:35 a.m. I wake up bewildered.  Ripped from sleep.  My heart spasms with panic.

A loud horn blasts through my bedroom.  Flashing orange lights blink through the closed blinds.

Is it a fire alarm??  Do I have time to put my leg on??  Where is it coming from??

In a rush of adrenaline, my body knows the drill...

EMERGENCY!
FIGHT!  FLIGHT!
DANGER!
GO!!!

It's not the fire alarm.

Within seconds, I realize the noise is coming from the street outside, where a line of giant bulldozers idle like army tanks below my window.

I should have known.

For the past few months, my apartment has been surrounded by construction zones.  Dishes rattle in the kitchen cabinets.  My windows are coated with dust.

But in the predawn darkness, the piercing noise sends me careening into high alert.

I leave the light on, but I can't go back to sleep.  Gradually, my heartbeat slows to a dull flutter.  I curl under the covers, trying to relax my muscles.  Hours later, dressed and ready for work, I'm shaken and angry but not afraid anymore.

What does it mean to "overcome" a trauma?

To me, it's like bobbing in the middle of a vast ocean.  There are periods of calm water, spurts of confidence.  Stability.  Independence.  Direction.  Joy.

Then another wave hits.  The water gets rough, but I've learned what to do.  Aim forward.  Focus on the here and now.  Breathe.  Work my way through it.  From the outside, you might not even notice the struggle.  We might be walking together as a car turns in the street behind us.  Or talking as a truck thunders off a nearby curb.

There are waves everywhere, but I've become a decent swimmer.  Most of the time, I stay afloat.

I seek out predictable currents and stay on guard, yet some waves still take me by surprise -- when they're bigger, or stronger, or LOUDER than I'm ready for.  Their force pulls me under when I least expect it, like a line of bulldozers at 4 a.m.

Oversimplified, but you get the idea...
Trauma changes one's innermost workings.  There's something about that shock and pain, our own powerlessness in the face of adversity.  It runs so deep it rewires us from head to toe.

I wonder about that word I hear so often:  OVERCOMING.  We use it to mean "putting something difficult behind us," but does it really ever happen that way?

OVER can mean above or surpassed.  But it can also mean repeating, as in over and over again...

And COMING?  Well, I guess that implies we're not quite there yet.

(Interestingly, I almost never hear the word used in the past tense:  She overcame many obstacles.)

That's because overcoming is an ongoing, moment-to-moment process.  It takes purpose, and concentration, and lots and lots of energy.  Paddle hard and fast.  Keep your head up.  Plant your feet whenever you can.  Push through the next wave, and believe that calmer waters are ahead.

As a wise fish once learned...


And when all else fails, leave the bedroom light on.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

California Dreamin'

Mile Marker 3600:

I've dreamed of traveling freely like I used to.

At long last, I decide to give it a try.  In just 5 hours, I travel nearly 3,000 miles!

The trip is both a celebration and a challenge.

It's a celebration because I cashed in a flight credit from a trip I had to cancel last summer.  Remember Mile 2988?  (Broken foot, wheelchair, etc.)   After that ordeal, traveling on my own feels like a pretty big accomplishment.

It's also a challenge though.  As the trip approaches, I experience chest-squeezing anxiety.  Threatening abdominal pain.  A tiredness I can't seem to kick.  Socket rubs in the most miserable places.

A mini-vacation seems good in theory, but there are so many things to worry about... How will I survive such a long airplane flight?   What equipment should I bring?  What medications?  What emergency measures should I put in place, just in case?

I never dreamed the trip would go off without a hitch.

My flight departs Philly just minutes before a blizzard.  To add to the luck, I'm having an incredibly "good leg day."   It's rare for the forces to come together like that.  In my 5 years as an amputee, this is definitely the most well-timed trip ever!

When I land in Los Angeles, my college roommate Keats scoops me from the airport with hugs, chatter, and an iced coffee waiting in the car.  It's been 15 years since we've seen each other, yet watching us, you'd think we were just catching up after winter break!

Before we even hit the freeway, I know this trip will be worth the planning.

It is.

Courtesy of east coast jet lag!
The next morning, I watch the hazy sunrise from my hotel balcony.





That's West Hollywood for
all you non-locals!


We eat brunch at a French Cafe in WeHo.







Stroll through the gardens at the Getty.

Photos can't quite capture the beauty --
or the FUN!

Long time, no see!



Catch up with my cousin Adam in Playa Del Rey.




Ever see a sky like that??

And watch the evening roll on to Venice Beach.





We talk the whole time.  A lot.  Not about the world as it is, but about how it should be.  These are my friends and family, but they're also "idea" people.  Doers.  DREAMERS.  They start their own businesses.  They build and write.  They create new things where nothing was before.  And as the weekend goes on, I start to dream like that too.

Anything is possible in California!

Now that's a
well-designed shower!
The parts of this trip I imagined would be most difficult -- like the hotel bathroom and shower -- turn out to be easy.  There's still leg and digestive stuff to deal with, but I face it the same way I do at home.  As it comes.  I seem to have left my anxiety back east!

I feel energized.
Refreshed.
Encouraged.
Happy.
Victorious.

Traveling is different now, but I finally rediscover that long lost love.  It feels great.  I don't want to go home!

My return flight lands exactly on schedule amidst the snow drifts of Philly.  It's late at night and my leg has shifted awkwardly during the flight.  When I exit the plane, there's no wheelchair, so I limp past empty gates and pretzel stands toward the moving walkway.

On the escalator down to baggage claim, an airport employee strikes up conversation.

"Where are you coming in from?" he asks.

"California," I say, still smiling.

"Why're you here?"  he says.  The tone of his voice implies I might be crazy.

"I live here,"  I answer.  At this very moment, I agree with him.  Why do I live here anyway?

Then I reach the baggage carousel, and this is what I see:


It is such a warm (and hilarious!) welcome, that I forget about the snow and the ice and the weeks of winter ahead!

Why do I live here?

Well, these guys are a good start :)

My friends and neighbors are reason enough.  We laugh all the way home.

Truth be told, I kinda like it here.
Of course, it would be nice if the snow melted.

For now, I know California's out there, and I can return any time I want.  It never hurts to dream...


Great big thanks to Keats, Paul, Ed, Jonathan, and Adam for all the sun and fun, and for a short vacation I'll dream about for a very long time!  xo

Friday, January 1, 2016

Morning Light

When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
--Lao Tzu

Mile Marker 3500:

The morning after the fireworks, my neighborhood is quiet.

Birds chirp above 3rd Street, yet when I look up, all I can see are cast iron balconies.  The french doors are dark.  Shades are pulled closed.  The city's still asleep, but the birds wake up early.  It's a good way to start the year.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...

...I love my morning walks!

I treasure them.  Protect them.  Savor those steps over the cobblestone alleys, those glances upward into a just-lightening sky.

I set my alarm an hour earlier to have time to walk around the block.  It's a testing ground for comfort and fit.  Is my socket too tight or too loose?   Is my leg too turned-in or turned-out?  Is my liner chafing?   Do these shoes toss me forward?

It's a simple plan.  With one small step after another, I get ready to face the day.  Or week.  Or year.

Bet you didn't know she drives
a Honda Fit!
In those last moments before the sun,  I'm ahead of the game.  Museums and shops are closed.  Even Betsy Ross is still in bed.  A tiny car snores in her flagstone courtyard.


In morning light, the day holds potential.  Coffee brews.  Dogs wear sweaters.  Neighbors nod hello.

Paper snowflakes glow from within.  I don't care if it's rainy or cold.  At least it's not snowing!  Each walk means one day down.  One step closer to spring.


On morning walks, things aren't good or bad, they just ARE.  I don't worry, or hurry, or run behind.  I notice the sky.  I listen to the birds.  I stop to take photos.

A hydrant makes a good
coffee holder!

Of course there are missteps along the way.  Sometimes I trip on the sidewalk.  Sometimes I have to stop to rest.  Sometimes I spill coffee down my sleeve.  And sometimes I barely make it to the back gate of my building.

Still, each time I finish, it feels like a JOB WELL DONE.

It's New Year's Resolution time.  There are a lot of things I want to do this year.  I thrive on structure -- plans, promises, and lists.  But resolutions can stretch out like long days ahead.  So much to do, so little time.  Or...

So many obstacles, how will I ever make it through?

I think morning is key.  In the hustle of each day, I'm going to try to hold on to that small PEACE.   Those moments when I feel most courageous, and hopeful, and maybe even a tiny bit graceful.

Those first steps into the morning light, when birds chirp overhead.

From my neighborhood to yours, wishing you a NEW YEAR filled peace, potential, and all the moments you love.

Happy 2016!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cookie Apocalypse 2015

Mile Marker 3450:

It's our third Cookie Apocalypse, and we're getting really good at surviving!

The first apocalypse at Mile 1471 brought an unprecedented week of snowstorms.  The second at Mile 2309 encompassed three ovens and an entire floor of our apartment building.  This year brings new neighbors and spring-like weather.  Seems pretty easy, but you never know what's coming...

Let's just say we're prepared for anything!

BRING IT ON!

It's a good thing Donna's organized.  She turns one bedroom into a coat room and another into a cooling room.  She loads up an ingredient table with provisions.

We've got more people and fewer ovens this year.  So Donna creates a contingency plan.

Call it the 2015 Apocalyptic Challenge...
At least half our cookies must be NO BAKE recipes!

Here goes.  Click on your favorites to try them out!

I make a Philly standby, Chocolate Covered Pretzels with snowflakes and candy canes sprinkled on top.  (Technically not cookies, I know!)

With Sahil's help, they turn out awesome!

Sarah rolls spiked Fruitcake Balls while Helen wins for the most non-traditional Christmas treat -- Caramel Matzah Crunch.

Yum!  (Click to see recipe)
Donna puts aside her coconut aversion to make no-bake Peanut Butter Balls.  (And I put aside my peanut butter aversion to taste-test them!)

Jasmine creates Chocolate Haystacks using an unlikely ingredient, LaChoy Noodles!  We nickname them "Reindeer Poop."

For obvious reasons :)

As for oven-baked recipes, we've got those covered too.

Ben stirs together giant Molasses Chocolate Chip Cookies.   Helen mixes mini Anisette Cookies.

Yes, they really turn out like this!
I scoop Red Velvet batter and roll it in powdered sugar to make a crackled cookie.





Donna goes classic with Oatmeal Cranberry Chocolate Chip.

Rupesh jazzes up his usual biscotti with orange, lemon, and chocolate chips.  (It's his own secret recipe, but here's a link to something close!)

 Manali makes fluffy, light Lemon Ricotta Cookies.

With help from our littlest baker!

Kristin sticks with her successful Chocolate Hazelnut Spiced Cookies from last year.  Sarah chooses Gingersnaps with a marshmallow twist on top.

Jasmine bakes up Buttery Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies.  (Try saying that 10 times fast!)

And newbies Josh, Elah, and Adi roll some of the best Shortbread Cut-Outs I've ever tasted!

The end result?

Enough treats to feed the entire city of Philadelphia.
Or at least our neighborhood!

Not to mention a pretty good sugar rush!

No one knows what this season will bring...
But we do know how to make it sweet!

HAPPIEST HOLIDAYS and 
BEST WISHES FOR A HEALTHY 2016!
Enjoy the recipes!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Green Goblin

Mile Marker 3430:

What is the Heisman Trophy doing at a car dealership?

I have no idea.  But the salesman insists on taking a photo of us with it.

At Mile Marker 3430, I am shopping for a new car.   Dad is along for the ride.

The salesman, John, is a South Philly guy.  I like him immediately.  When he asks if I'll be trading in my old car, I tell him I'm not sure.

"I'm driving a very valuable 1998 Honda Civic," I say.  "Runs like new."

He agrees it's a great car.  But I already know that.  I've been driving the "Green Goblin" for a very long time!

"If you could assure me it'll go to a good home, I'd be more likely to trade it in,"  I tell him.  "And if you'd let me interview the new owners, that would seal the deal."

He chuckles.  We don't seal the deal.  Not today anyway.

If you haven't figured it out, giving up the Green Goblin is a little like giving up a piece of myself.  Over the years, she's become an extension of me.  When she gets a flat tire, it's a sure sign that I'm on the brink too.   She even predicted the downfall of my Genium last spring!

It makes sense.  Seventeen years hold a lot of history:  5:00 a.m. commutes, South Philly street parking, dirt roads of Vermont.  Trunk-fuls of biking and skating equipment.  Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and books on tape.   (The tape deck still works, by the way!)

Gotta love the 90's :)

She got me through some tough times too.  While I was in the hospital, the Green Goblin waited patiently in my parents' snow-covered driveway.  And when I finally started moving again, she escorted me and my brand new prosthetic leg on our first SOLO journey -- a nerve-racking, white-knuckle trip to Trader Joe's.

"I drive a 17-year-old Honda," I tell people proudly.  She takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.  It's a point of pride for both of us.

Maybe it sounds strange to focus on wheels when this blog is all about walking.  But as many amputees know, not all days are walkable.  My Honda and I have grown closer over the past 5 years.  I depend on her now more than ever.  (See #4 in The New Normal for details.)

So why replace her?

Still looks like new after a car wash!
She's getting up there in car years.  This year in particular has brought adventures above and beyond the typical flat tire.  She's got rust spots on the roof.  Oil and radiator leaks under the hood.  Her dashboard lights have dimmed so much that at night I adjust the radio and heat by touch only.

My brother Mark thinks I should get a car that's more reliable.  My mom says, "Call me when you get home."  My dad sends me e-mails about 2016 models.

And perhaps most convincingly, my friend and long time mechanic Jim agrees.  He's known my Honda since the very beginning.  He even named her the Green Goblin!  And he says it's time for a change now too.

They're right, of course.  But as usual, I have trouble letting go.


Mile Marker 3438:

On a sunny morning, the Green Goblin and I go from the rehab gym to a doctor's appointment.  We glide effortlessly into a parking spot at 17th and Walnut.  No shortage of parking karma here!

I get out to pay the meter.  Then, all of a sudden, BOOM!

THE GREEN GOBLIN IS ON FIRE!

I watch in horror as smoke whooshes out from under her hood.  She looks like a smoldering dragon.

Within seconds the smoke dissipates, and I realize it's not truly smoke but steam instead.  Still.  This is a problem.

Chest pounding, hands shaking, I dial AAA.  An hour later, a flatbed tow truck arrives.

"You probably have a busted hose," says Derrick, the kind tow truck driver.  He lifts the Green Goblin's hood and peers inside. "Yep, there it is."

I'm no car expert, but EVEN I can see the problem!

The radiator hose has split along a 6-inch seam, and fluorescent green antifreeze has spewed everywhere.

On the city street, Derrick can only pull his truck about 100 feet from my car.   So he tells me I'll have to start it up, busted hose and all.   He stands next to my car to block traffic.

"Come on," I whisper to the Green Goblin.  "You can do it."

She starts.  We drive up behind the flatbed.  I cut the engine off.  Quick.

Derrick hooks up chains and pulleys, and the Green Goblin gets her FIRST EVER tow truck ride!   So do I.

We arrive at the South Philly Pep Boys in minutes.

Mechanic Jim, if not completely overjoyed to see us, takes the Green Goblin into his capable, familiar hands.  He knows what's wrong and how to fix her.

She'll be good to go in a few hours.

I start up the sidewalk toward home past fiery roses, and gold leaves, and newly bared branches.  Layer upon layer of seasons.

It's beautiful, but rattling.  Change is uncomfortable.

With the Green Goblin in peril, I wonder what's next.  In the past, mechanical problems in my car have set the stage for mechanical problems in my body.  I think about Mile 553, when brake problems led to abdominal surgery.

But then I start thinking -- and hoping -- a different kind of change is in store....

Maybe the Green Goblin is just doing her part to make car shopping smoother for both of us.