Blessed with Amazing Friends – By Michelle S.

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I am Michelle. I am an able bodied member of LIM359.  Dr. Franklin invited me to assist herself, Emily H and Whitney in the beginning phases of LIM 359. It has been exciting to help them get the ball rolling because I knew what a great resource this would be. There have been many people in my life that would have benefited from this group.

One of my best friends growing up had Muscular Dystrophy. Troy had the best outlook on life.  With me in tow I walked and he drove his electric wheelchair, mile after mile in our own quest for the Holy Grail. Our Holy Grail was to fill the boot of one of the many firefighters who collect donations for MDA every Labor Day.  I never personally saw him walk but my sisters did.  My memories of him are in his manual wheelchair, then on to electric and finally one that fully reclined and had a controller that allowed him to operate his chair with his mouth. The disease ravaged his body but in all the years I knew Troy, there is not one time I can recall that he ever complained. He rejoiced when he went to camp and got to dance with his friends. I was always excited when he came home from camp to hear his stories. It was such a wonderful resource I remember always being happy he had that available to him. 

Troy never had the opportunity to achieve his goal which was simply to live until a cure for Muscular Dystrophy was found. His “expiration date” was the age of 17. He lived until he was 24. The support of his family was amazing. Not many people will ever endure what they had to do to support him in living beyond his expectation. “Disabilities” affect more than just the individual that is physically challenged. They require the love, assistance and support of their families and friends. To this day I still make sure to deposit what I can in the boot for MDA and collect my sticker from the Firefighters. Each year they not only come closer to a cure, but the money raised also assists in sending children to camp.

Kelly lived across the street. She was run over by a tractor by her father. Even though she was paralyzed from the waist down, she was a powerful force. She would ride her wheelchair up and down a city block in a wheelie. Then, plop out of her chair and into the grass and watch the neighborhood boys take her chair and attempt to ride a wheelie in her chair at all.  Nobody ever beat her record. Kelly was married and she and her husband started “Bear Steam Cleaning” which is still a successful business in Colorado.  Every time I have hired them, they have had employees who care about their job and the service they provide. Kelly would be proud.

Neither Troy nor Kelly ever complained about their situations. They embraced life… I was so young in knowing them that I did not appreciate the gift they provided me but in my adult life I understand what remarkable individuals they were and how fortunate I was to know them. 

My Uncle Harry and Aunt Helen were also very important foundations in my life that inspired me. My Uncle Harry was in WWII.  He lost his right leg by stepping on a land mine. He never discussed his injury and I never knew his full story until he was in his 80’s. He had his prosthetic leg for so long that he had to have reconstructive surgery on his left ankle due to “wear and tear”. My mother, sister and I went out to Arizona for the surgery. That is when we found his scrapbook.  My uncle was awarded the Purple Heart because he would not allow his troop to come to his aid. He knew they were at risk so he carefully backed himself out of the mine field to safety.  The communication of the time was telegraph. My aunt was informed that he was in a hospital “stop”. No other detail. She waited for over a month before she knew where he was and if he was alive or dead. Had he allowed his troop to get him more quickly he would have only lost his foot. He ended up being a below the knee amputee because of the time it took him to retreat from the mine field. He recovered and went on about their lives only to discover that my aunt was unable to bear children. Due to the laws of the time, they were unable to adopt because of his “disability” (it did not matter that he was disabled due to serving our country). My aunt and uncle’s misfortune happened to be a benefit to my sisters and myself. They were an integral part of our lives as we grew up. They had a cabin in Netherland, Colorado. When we went to visit them, as children of a single parent household, we had the opportunity to be children. We played many games during our stay and their cabin was always filled with laughter.  We were able to enjoy the black starlit sky and the sounds of the river flowing alongside the cabin. Skip rocks, hike and run around without a care.  Again, never to hear a complaint from the problems they endured, but always praise at our manners and encouragement to follow our dreams and never doubt our intelligence and talents.

Throughout the year I have served on the board, I have had the opportunity to be a part of a group that is available to enrich people’s lives. I have met amazing individuals through the group and I am proud that I have been able to be a part since inception.  I have heard the many stories that have brought our members together. Once again, I find I am so blessed to have so many amazing friends.

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Learn more about Michelle here.

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The Sisters – By Lynn G.

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When I first became an amputee, I was tended to by my 2 sisters, both of whom live in other states, dropped everything to be with me, and were the moral and physical support I needed. As I healed and found that life truly does go on and that activities are really only limited by my mind, I developed a strange sense of humor, although I never was totally normal–how could I be as a high school teacher for over 30 years?

One day early in my prosthesis adventure, my sister Donna decided that we should go shopping at Kohl’s. Unfortunately, Donna has bad knees and was hobbling around when I suggested that I push her in the store wheelchair; she was in such pain that she agreed. Pushing her around the store, I pictured what we must look like and started laughing hysterically; she started to giggle, too. Then, I thought, “We’re laughing so hard that the salespeople will think that we’re stealing something.” So, I explained to the clerk at the fitting rooms why we were laughing and she just gave us a blank stare. So much for thinking that we were a spectacle!

Then, a few months later, I was visiting my other sister for her birthday when her back was giving her real problems. She, also, took me up on my offer to push her in a wheelchair around a hardware store. I said to her, “You know I’m going to get good mileage out of this.” She said to tell anyone I wanted, so I’m sharing the story with all of you!

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Confessions of a “Closet Amputee” – by Emily W

The summer before my transition into middle school was the first time the word “cancer” belonged to me. The dull aching in my right shin had become a dizzying, double-vision inducing pain, that could no longer be attributed to the rate at which I was growing. But while deep down I knew it was something more than growing pangs, I was blindsided when they handed me the diagnosis of osteosarcoma – bone cancer. Though I wasn’t aware of this in that moment, this diagnosis would create a new narrative for me, one in which I defined myself as both ‘cancer survivor’ and ‘amputee’.

 Though neither of those truths were easy to swallow as my own, being a cancer survivor sure went down easier than being an amputee. Overcoming cancer made me a hero, an inspiration, a survivor.   But being an amputee? That put me in the dark and shameful place of being a cripple, disabled, broken.  “Oh you can do anything, you’re alive” adults rejoiced, “She only has one leg” peers whispered. And for the over a decade after my amputation, the only thing I heard were those whispers, which very quickly became my own. And so, I became a ‘closet amputee’.

Being a ‘closet amputee’ is just how it sounds. I didn’t talk about it, I wished for it to be different every single day, I refused to accept it as my reality or to associate with any type of culture related to it. (Which, in retrospect, pretty difficult to do when like, 18% of you is robot…) It was unhealthy; it was limiting, and man, was it bad for my head and my heart.

The change started slowly, and while I know it started in me, it had a lot to do with a very special person who came into my life. He made me talk about it, he joked about it, put me on a motorcycle, a bicycle, pushed me past my point of comfort. I loved him for it, and sometimes I really, really didn’t like him for it. But either way, the door to my dark secret had been cracked, and someone actually loved me despite it, maybe even for it.

Pretty soon my internal narrative started to change, “Emily, you are an amputee. “ And while this shift in self-awareness felt less heavy, I still found myself wishing desperately that it wasn’t my reality. I could be a cancer survivor, but I why did I have to lose my leg?

And then all at once, over the period of the past two years, I fell comfortably and confidentially into acceptance. I moved to Denver, Colorado with that boy who filled me with confidence, and there I found an outpouring of resources and community for amputees. But in order to embrace and benefit from those resources and that community, I needed to face it: I was an amputee. And by that point, I was truly tired of limiting myself because I didn’t want to look different, I was ready to figure out how to start experiencing and enjoying all those activities my friends and family had the fortune of participating in.

I started with adaptive yoga under the instruction of Liza Morgan at PH7 Collective in The Highlands. It was mind-blowing, life-changing. I couldn’t believe something that made my mind and body feel this good existed, and that I had access to it! My lower back pain was quickly gone, my heart felt lighter and my stress levels flat lined.

A few months later, I accepted a position working in fundraising at a nonprofit called The Limb Preservation Foundation. I remember seeing the post for the position, reading through the requirements and thinking, “oh yeah, I’m definitely qualified for this” (I had received my undergraduate in nonprofit management and done fundraising and event planning in my past positions). But then, I visited their website and learned that the community they supported included cancer survivors and amputees. Woah, serendipitous.

I love my job for many reasons. I love fundraising. I love events. I love people. But I also love my job because every day I have the opportunity to connect with patients whose journeys I know on an intimate level, whose journeys I have lived as my own. And for them, they don’t see me being an amputee as a failure, as I did for so long. Being an amputee can make me a hero or an inspiration in their eyes, traits I thought only came with the cancer survivor side of things. I love my job because it makes me face, acknowledge and accept, every day, who I am. I am a cancer survivor. I lost my leg to save my life. I am an amputee.

Coming on with The Foundation also presented me with the opportunity to meet a lot of incredible people who were affiliated with orthopedics, bone cancer and amputees. One of those amazing people invited me to my first LIM359 event, and so I became involved with this incredible group of very secure, very capable individuals. A group I am proud to be a part of.

So a few months ago, when one my absolute favorite people from this group, jokingly and lovingly called me a closet amputee, I found myself thinking “girlfriend, you have no idea”. I have come so far since I lost my leg at the age of 11, but I am also truly excited to see what the future has in store for me. In the past two years I have learned to ride a bike, yoga and rock climbing – I can’t wait to see what else is out there that I haven’t discovered.

I am Emily Williams. At the age of 10 I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. After three months of chemotherapy, my leg was amputated to remove the tumor and increase my likelihood for survival. After 8 more months of chemotherapy, I entered remission. I have been cancer free for 15 years. I am alive, I am a cancer survivor, I am an amputee, and I am a bad-ass. And so are you!

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Learn more about Emily here.

 

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Hopfest 2014

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You’ll Never Know Unless You TRI – By Emily H.

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When Zach and I first started dating in 2009, he was vigorously training for and competing in triathlons. I was extremely impressed when I went to cheer him on at a sprint-distance triathlon, which consisted of a 750 meter open-water swim, a 12 mile bike, and a 3.1 mile run. My aunt and uncle were always very into the sport, so I knew about it and thought it was impressive, but I also found it extremely intimidating. In 2009, I knew I could handle the biking, but was intimidated by both the run and the swim.

Then, in March of 2013, I started running with the Colorado Chapter of Achilles International. You can read more about my journey towards becoming a “runner” here. Through this group, I gained confidence in my running ability & even completed a half marathon in early 2014. Thus, my fear of the run was eliminated… but there was still that pesky & somewhat terrifying swim to contend with.

However, in March of 2014, I attended a swimming clinic in Boulder that was hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. To be completely honest, I didn’t even really want to participate, but I had designated it as our March event for LIM359 & had to set an example for the rest of our members. After all, part of the greatness of our group is that we push people a little outside their comfort zones, so I couldn’t let my own fears stop me! Each person was slotted 1 hour in the pool, but wouldn’t you know I ended up spending 2 hours in there learning the freestyle, the back stroke, the breaststroke, and even the butterfly! I wasn’t starting from ground zero considering I had swimming lessons while I was growing up, but I hadn’t really been swimming since I was a teenager. As soon as I got out of that pool, my mind was set – I would do a triathlon!!

I completed the TriRock Colorado on July 20, 2014 in 1 hour 51 minutes and 9 seconds, well under my goal of 2 hours. I swam in 74 degree water in the Aurora Reservoir, tackled a very hilly bike ride on a heavy hybrid bike that is definitely not designed for racing, and ran under the hot sun of Colorado. Triathlon is a sport that forces me to accept that I do, in fact, have a disability that requires some accommodations. For example, I swim without my leg so I need my leg, towels, and a chair waiting for me when I got out of the water so I can get up to the transition area. I also need a chair in the transition area so I can sit down to switch from running leg to biking leg and then back to my running leg. Triathlon forces me to fully accept that having a limb amputated does mean life is harder sometimes, but it also helps me accept my true self and makes me realize how amazing our bodies are at adapting.

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I can now call myself a triathlete. It’s something I’m very proud of & it never would have been possible if I let my fear keep me from trying. It just goes to show that you’ll never know what you’re capable of unless you TRI!

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Learn more about Emily here.

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Working in Construction – By Tyler C.

I’m an electrician and have been for many years, before and after my amputation.  While looking for a new job (first one after my accident) when I moved to Denver, I wasn’t really sure if it was a good idea to go back into the construction trade or not.  I wasn’t even sure if anyone would hire a guy missing a limb.  I knew of the safety hazards and concerns, but also knew I could adapt like I had in many other areas of my life. Being a realist, I knew not everyone might realize that.

So I decided not to mention it when I went in for an interview with the electrical company I had sought after.  After I got the job, it took about two or three months before someone actually noticed and that was after my pant leg was raised to reveal my “lack of an ankle.”  I’ve been with the same company for well over three years now and there are still people that I’ve worked with that don’t know I’m an amputee.  I look back at being worried if I would get hired or not if they knew about it and just laugh.  The only real down side to working in the construction trade is that when some people find out about my leg, they tend to treat me a little different, from giving me easier tasks (which really ticks me off) to checking up on me entirely too often.  But, it is always fun to prove people wrong even if they are just ignorant.  The biggest difference from people with all four limbs and amputees and people with limb difference is that we just have to find different ways to do certain tasks.

. . . And who doesn’t like a challenge!?

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Learn more about Tyler here.

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Running in Heels – By Emily H.

“You’re an inspiration.”

I heard this phrase no less than 7 times during the Running o’ the Green this year.  That’s one time for each kilometer I ran (which equates to almost 2 times per mile).

Those of us with physical disabilities who participate in athletic activities often have to grapple with the whole idea of “being an inspiration.”  When we go out and run road races or climb mountains, other people believe us to be inspirational just because we’re able to do these things that millions of other people do “in spite of” our disabilities.  To us, this can sometimes translate to feeling as though we’re defined by our disability.  It makes it seem as though our disability is something we’ve had to overcome in order to achieve our goals.  I think this is part of why being called an inspiration by a total stranger has often bothered me in the past.  I’m just living my life in a way that’s normal for me and I don’t deserve to be called an inspiration just because of that.

… and yet I can’t deny the fact that my disability impacts me.

People often ask me what it feels like to wear a prosthetic leg.  The best analogy I’ve been able to come up with is that it’s similar to wearing high-heeled shoes.  Regardless of how well your heels fit, or how comfortable they seem when you put them on in the morning, you’re absolutely ready to get them off your feet at the end of the day.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone run a distance race in heels.  Can you imagine how your feet would be screaming at you after 13.1 miles of that?  After all, there’s a reason bridesmaids always end up barefoot at weddings.

Two days ago, I participated in my first half marathon.  I’d spent months training for it and my goal was to do it in under 2 ½ hours.  I got to mile 6 in 1 hour and 2 minutes – I was on pace to finish well under my goal.

Soon after the halfway point, however, I realized the rest of my race was going to be less than optimal.  My prosthesis was rubbing my knee and it was taking a pounding each time my carbon fiber foot hit the pavement.  I ended up having to walk quite a bit during the last 5 miles of the race.  All I wanted to do for the last 3 miles was sit down and take my leg off, but I fought the need and always kept moving towards the finish line.  Right before we reached the water station at mile 12, I turned to my friend Becky, who was running as my guide, and said, “You know what… I am a freaking inspiration.”

I crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 35 minutes, and 20 seconds.  I made a beeline to the nearest clear patch of pavement, sat down, and ripped my prosthesis off as quickly as I could.  My residual limb shook uncontrollably and my knee was red, but I did it.  I finished a half marathon.

My disability does not define me, but it can make some activities more difficult.  It took struggling through a half marathon and a shoe analogy, but I think I’m finally at peace with being called an inspiration solely on the basis of the fact that I’m a runner who also happens to be missing a limb.

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photo credit: Becky Popiel

Learn more about Emily here.

 

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