A Favorite Memory from 2014 – By Emily K.

e and s in water

My 2014 was filled with many moments of joy, accomplishment, love and happiness. It was a big year for me – I experienced some great successes that I am very proud of. Though marked with the occasional challenge (which I believe often make achievements that much sweeter), this trip around the sun was pretty exceptional.

One of my absolute favorite experiences in 2014 was the trip my husband and I took to Maui with our good friends, Stu and Jeanine. Stu was the best man at our wedding and is just the most kind, gentle person, and Jeanine is just fabulous, eccentric and fun beyond words. We’ve spent countless nights together, enjoying far too much wine, amazing meals and lots of laughter – putting distance in our friendship was one of the biggest drawbacks of moving to Denver from Arizona two years ago.

So! A trip to Hawaii together, six whole days – seemed just like perfection. And while I was very excited, I also felt quite a bit of hesitation surrounding this trip. Water based vacations have always presented issue and anxieties for me regarding my prosthesis. Where do I leave it when I go to the pool/ocean? How do I get to the pool/ocean if I can’t walk? What if someone steals it (I know… I know…)? How do I put my liner on with all this sand on the beach? What if people stare at me?

Since losing my leg in 2000 to bone cancer, I have never felt comfortable being “out” with it. And while I have made a lot of improvement with both accepting and embracing myself as an amputee in the past two years, all that seemed to vanish when I got to Hawaii.

The first night there, Stu, Jeanine, and my husband Shawn slipped in the pool at our resort, “oohing” and “ahhhing” and urging me to come in. I declined, and sat on a pool chair, fighting back tears. I wanted to get in the pool, but I was so scared to be seen without my leg on. I felt really angry also, angry at them for not understanding and for going swimming in front of me, and for clearly enjoying it. I realized that if I stayed angry and stayed sad, I was going to waste this incredible week, this incredible vacation – because let’s face it, Hawaii = water. I also ran the risk of ruining it for the three people who were so clearly enjoying themselves. And I really, really didn’t want to do that.

I made the decision, right then, to stop feeling sorry or angry or scared, and to let myself enjoy my trip. I slipped my leg off, then my liner, covered them with a pool towel, and slid in. It felt so good. I am proud to say that I went in the pool or the ocean, or both, every single day. Multiple times a day!

snorkling

I answered a lot of the questions and anxieties I had, which were fueled by fear. Here is what I learned:

Where do I leave my prosthesis when I go to the pool/ocean? Simple, right where you take it off! And you take it off as close to either body of water to make access easier. I would head to the pool early and find a good spot close to the edge, so I wouldn’t have to hop much to get to the pool. With the ocean, I brought extra towels so I could place my leg on one, and then cover it with another. I also covered my leg with a towel by the pool – it made me feel most comfortable.

How do I get to the pool/ocean if I can’t walk? This is where having good friends, or a good husband is really helpful. While I could get in the pool on my own, the ocean was pretty much out of the question. It was hard to get up to a point where I was buoyant enough that I could swim out. And balance is hard with waves crashing against you and sucking your footing out from under you. Shawn would carry me in to about my waist, and then I was good from there. We snorkeled for hours a day!

What if someone steals my leg? Thankfully, I didn’t learn the answer to this question through experience – but I do think it’s a bit irrational. That being said, I covered my leg with a towel whenever I took it off as not to draw any attention. I don’t expect someone to come along and grab a leg and run, but kids can do silly things, and I’d rather not be stranded.

How do I put my liner on the beach? This was definitely a challenge. Next time we do a beach trip, I will make sure to bring a beach chair. Putting my liner on (I am an above knee) while sitting on the ground is really hard. Not to mention, as hard as I tried. Things. Got. Sandy. My leg, my liner, my hands, my towel. There was no avoiding it.

What if people stare at me? This for me is my biggest fear. I know when people see Shawn carrying me into the water or up the beach, we get some stares. How romantic! Oh wait – did she hurt herself? Oh wait – she has one leg! Oh my god she has one leg! That is the dialogue I hear, and it makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. But you know what, that dialogue is one I am creating myself. I don’t know what other people are thinking. So instead of looking around and wondering, I simply took to looking at my husband – this amazing man who could care less, who thinks nothing of it, and who just wants me to enjoy myself. And you know what – I did, I really, truly did.

So – my favorite memory of 2014? Snorkeling in Maui, with my husband and two of our best friends beside us. I got to witness this incredible world below the surface of the ocean, while overcoming a giant battle within myself, and with it, perhaps unlocking a whole new world for myself. Who knows what 2015 will bring – but I am thrilled to go into it with less fear and more confidence! Happy 2015!

turtle

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