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.

platte half finish line

photo credit: Becky Popiel

Learn more about Emily here.

 

Active for a Cause – By Olivia M.

Not long after the bombing, my sister created a group called Team Livi’s Legs.

They participated in marathons, triathlons, and various events around Colorado and raised money to donate to The Challenged Athletes Foundation, an incredible organization that helped me become active again by providing funding for me to practice pool and continues to support thousands of athletes with disabilities around the globe.

I love the idea that there are ways for people to challenge themselves, be active, and healthy, and raise money and awareness at the same time.

Lookout Mountain Bike

Last year, I attended a few century rides to support my friends who were participants, and I was exposed to Team in Training for the first time.  On the morning of the first ride, the Denver Century, I set up on top of Lookout Mountain with my djembe drum, to cheer the riders up the steep climb.  It was just me and a friend sitting at the tranquil, wooded intersection outside the Buffalo Bill Museum, until an SUV crammed with people pulled in.  They were all clad in purple, decorated with shimmering purple and green beaded necklaces and feathers, carrying signs of support, and wearing huge smiles.  They were part of TNT.  They happily grabbed some shakers that I had brought and one even took a drum stick to bang on a chair and as the cyclists began crawling up the mountain, we made a cacophony of music.  Everyone was cheered for and encouraged, but as the TNT riders arrived, they were embraced by their entire team.  It was an incredible experience to be a part of.

My friend has been part of TNT as a participant and Mentor for multiple years and, this year, he is a Captain.  His story is heartwarming and inspirational, as are those of his fellow members and their Team Heroes, and it is extremely inspiring to see how much they are doing to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma society.

I am so excited to have been able to provide a small support of my own by designing a fund raising tee for this cause.

TNT Fundraising Tee

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 UPDATE:  The first run of shirts have come in and they look awesome!

Learn more about Olivia here.

talking with … Emily Harvey and Whitney Harris (part 2)

lim359:

Part 2 of the Bionic Blogger’s interview with LIM359 leaders Whitney & Emily

Originally posted on less is more:

Emily and Whitney

Last week I introduced you to Emily Harvey and Whitney Harris. This week, I continue my interview with them about growing up with congenital limb difference, their experience receiving prosthetic care from Shriners hospitals, and how they  wound up in/around the world of prosthetics as adults.

*   *   *

Dave: You both mentioned that you grew up going to Shriners hospitals. Most people don’t know a lot about them. How did you find your way to them and talk about your experience there.

Emily: My dad was military and my mom I’m sure is the one that found Shriners and started taking me there when we lived in Louisiana. Shriners was the reason I found out about the camp I went to for three summers.

It wasn’t like a place where you would go and see a bunch of other kids. You’d see them in the waiting room…

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AFOs for Shy – By Athena C.

These last couple of weeks have been crazy. Shyanne has gone from doing just speech and OT therapy to now having PT and have a play specialist.

I am going to start off with the good part of this last week. Part of Shyannes play therapy is going out in the community and doing different activities with other children close in age and all with special needs. Well, this week’s adventure was to attend a gymnastics open gym! Oh boy, both Izzy and Shy had so much fun! Izzy walked all 3 different levels of blance beams. They also had a big trampoline built into the floor. I have never seen my kids have as big of smiles on their faces for this long! Shy loved bouncing on the trampoline and Izzy would jump into the foam pit with her Aunt! They even convinced me to get onto the trampoline.

Well, Friday was a very emotional day for me. Shyanne has to have AFOs due to bad balance, needing extra ankle support, and because she walks a lot on her toes. She has done this since she started walking, but the OT was hoping that she would outgrow it. Friday was not emotional because I was scared of her having AFOs, or as I call them braces. Why would I be scared of them? I have had them since I was tiny. It wasn’t because of her AFO doctor. I will only let her see mine because I trust him.  It was emotional because as a parent you never want to see your child, especially as young as Shy, going through some of the medical issues you have faced. I mean my poor little girl who has already gone through so much and she’s not even two! As I sat there holding her tight so that she could be measured I couldn’t help but to cry. She was scared of the doctor and what was going on. Meanwhile I was worried about blisters and if they would hurt her. I never thought that I would have a child that would need leg braces. So now we wait two and a half weeks and go pick them up.

Shyanne has also been having a lot of asthma issues and not letting mommy leave her. Izzy has gotten her first school pictures! I can’t believe how fast she is growing up! They turned out amazing and they actually caught a real izzy smile! She also has aid her first really big sentence “daddy I asked my mommy to watch Snowman.” When she says Snowman, she’s referring to the movie Frozen. It’s amazing how much preschool is helping her with her speech!!!!

Well I must go. Please feel free to ask questions as always and thank you for reading my blog!!!!

Learn more about Athena here.

Amputees on Ice – by Olivia M.

Frozen Dead Guy

Two Saturdays ago, I was finally able to attend my first Frozen Dead Guy celebration in Nederland, Colorado. Unfortunately we couldn’t get up there until about 5pm and most of the events were over but I didn’t care, it was an adventure.  We tore down the winding mountain slopes and parked in front of a cute train carriage coffee shop.  Once we had some hot, caffeinated beverages, we started to stroll down the path towards the festival street and immediately hit some impediments.  The sidewalks were completely iced, so I did my usual *shuffle like a grandma* walk and kept going.  I figured that with so many people there, the pavements couldn’t possibly be that bad.

Boy was I wrong.

I watched as 3 people slipped on the same huge patch of ice.  One girl stopped to help a guy up and then slammed hard onto the ground herself.  I sloshed straight through a muddy puddle rather than even attempting the slippery surface.  We made our way under the bridge and up the hill and I almost fell myself.  I passed a girl sitting on a rock, holding a blood-soaked tissue to her face whilst explaining to the police that she had just face-planted into the concrete and that was when I started to get worried about being there at all.  With my arm still splinted and healing from surgery, I couldn’t risk a fall.  I shuffled across the street, looked around and saw nothing but a minefield of ice-encrusted surfaces.  We managed to hobble into a couple stores, take a peek at the Dead Shed, and then we decided to leave before the sun set and everything completely froze.

Walking on ice as an amputee can be extremely difficult.  It’s one of the only things I have found few ways to improve.  I have practiced walking, climbing, jumping, running, and I have gotten better, but the moment I step on ice, I am back to baby steps.  With no foot or ankle to stabilize pressure on a frosty surface, if you slip, you’re going down.  I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for above-knee or double amputees.

yaktrax to the rescue

Ice doesn’t just make me walk funny, it makes me feel incapable and dependent, and I hate that.  When I got home, I immediately started researching and found that many people have had similar experiences.  There don’t seem to be many ways to combat this but one product that came with tons of glowing reviews was the Yaktrax.  I had thought of using something like this in the past and didn’t like the idea of needing another device to help me, but after this last experience, I’m going to be giving it a shot!

Learn more about Olivia here.

talking with … Emily Harvey and Whitney Harris (part 1)

lim359:

Check out this interview with LIM359 leaders Whitney & Emily about growing up with limb loss/difference

Originally posted on less is more:

Emily & Whitney

Emily Harvey (back) & Whitney Harris (front)

I’ve known Emily Harvey and Whitney Harris for several years now. Interestingly, until this interview, I’d never spoken to both of them at the same time.

I first met Emily when she was deciding whether to apply to law school. A mutual friend connected us, presumably because the only person capable of giving this kind of advice to one amputee is another amputee. Whether that actually was the case or not, Emily happily (for her) just completed the Colorado Bar Exam.

I met Whitney when she became a patient model for the company that employs me. At the time, she was getting her undergraduate degree in prosthetics. Now she’s in the middle of her O&P residency in Denver. Among her many noteworthy achievements, she recently completed a climb of the Sears Tower in Chicago with her above-knee prosthesis. (To be clear: she took…

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Fear and Survival Traits – By Olivia M.

hospitals1

The only experiences I have had in hospital have been extremely traumatic.  I thought that was par for the course.  “No one wants to go to hospital,” I thought.  “To be incapacitated, drugged, cut into.”  Some people elect to, for various reasons.  I am not one of them.

 After I was injured in the bombing, I did everything I could to avoid any further surgery.  I grasped at every advancement in my recovery as though my life depended on it, which perhaps it did.  When I was able to raise myself up in bed alone, nothing was going to stop me from doing that again.  With my first shaky steps on my new prosthesis, I swore that nothing within my power would stop me from walking again.

Some doctors talked about cosmetic surgery, some talked about refining my stump, or taking tendons from my remaining leg and placing them in my shattered hand.  “Hell no!”  I thought.  ”I don’t care what I look like…I function.”  And, to be honest, I was scared stiff of being hurt again and incapacitated in any way.

I fought to walk so well that I hoped no-one could tell.  I practiced piano with my broken fingers.  I got a guitar from a friend and learnt to play with the two fingers I could move on my left hand.  I wrote songs with two strings and sang my heart out on the back steps of our house.  I loved my music.  It was one of my greatest joys.  I wrote about my thoughts and feelings.  Sang about my loves and losses.  It was my way of processing every experience.  I would jam with friends, perform in their bands and at open mic nights and after 10 years, I was feeling pretty comfortable with a guitar.

Acoustic Guitar

Everything was always difficult.  I was used to it.  Walking long distances would make my stump throb and give me excruciating cysts.  I’d struggle to play piano and guitar with 3 fingers that I could barely move and couldn’t straighten but I always thought that this was “par for the course”.  So when I started having more trouble pressing those fingers down on the strings, I thought “You’re out of practice, Liv, you need to work harder.”  I took up hand drumming and when my left hand started to develop some numbness, I thought “This is par for the course, your nerves are damaged and you’re banging on them.  Keep pushing through.” But when I started waking up in the night with my arm numb and in pain, I started to realize that perhaps this wasn’t just par for the course.  I had tests done, met with doctors and, to my horror, they announced that I needed surgery desperately but that the damage was already done.  My hand had atrophied terribly, the nerve damage was extensive and I could have avoided this if I had fixed it years ago.  I sobbed that day in their office.  I cried that it was my fault, that I could have avoided it, that I needed surgery, and that there was nothing that I alone could do to make it better.  I had thought I was doing the right thing. Ignoring the protests of my body and pushing through had been my survival trait and yet because of it I had pushed through something I shouldn’t have.

My terror of surgery and sadness at what I had done was immense and I wallowed in it for almost a year before scheduling the procedure that I had to have but that would do so little now.  The day before the surgery finally arrived and I was literally shaking with fear non-stop.  Then I got a call from the doctor to say that, because of another health issue, they would have to cancel.  I cried for 3 days.  The terror of surgery still loomed but there was no relief in sight.

I procrastinated for almost another year before scheduling again and when the time finally came, I was still terrified but so desperate to have it over and done with that I almost felt ready.  I couldn’t believe it when I was finally sitting in that hospital bed.  I wanted to run away screaming.  I cried and shivered and then they injected me with their calming cocktail and that’s the last thing I remember.  When I woke up, I felt great.  I chatted with the nurses and with my boyfriend and asked the same questions over and over and, after an hour, I tumbled into my clothes and walked out of the hospital.  I sank into the car seat and kept intoning “I can’t believe it’s done.”  Years of terror over surgery, over being incapacitated, and here I had just WALKED out of the hospital.  The relief was more immense than I can express and here I sit, just over a week later, writing this blog with two hands, no pain, feeling fully capable and strengthened by the knowledge that I can do this again.

From now on, I want to listen to my body.  I know there will be more scary surgeries in the future.  I know I will feel that fear again, but I want to remember this moment, the “after” when it is done and there is nothing left to do but recover and feel the pride of having faced a fear and won.

Learn more about Olivia here.