Army Colonel Greg Gadson sits on a stool in the center of a huge ballroom. His hefty bionic legs and bulky motorized ankles match his body build. Colonel Gadson is BIG. Solid. Muscular like a bulldog.
At this year’s Amputee Coalition National Conference, three hundred amputees are packed together in chairs to hear Colonel Gadson speak. A few even find seats on the carpet to get a better view. If amputees are willing to sit on the floor, the show must be good!
Colonel Gadson speaks from the heart. Injured by an IED in Iraq, he walks us through his hospitalization, his rehab, and his recent role in the movie Battleship. He tells us that as an amputee, you’re never finished recovering. “Every time you get a new foot, it’s like pressing the reset button,” he says.
The audience cracks up because we know it’s true. Shoes, sidewalks, sockets – nothing is predictable!
But when he considers his own situation, he turns serious. “I don’t ask WHY,” he tells us. “I just ask WHAT’S NEXT.”
It’s the way I roll, too.
My first blog post was about skating because… well, I like to keep moving. I see the glass as half-full. I study problems only long enough to solve them. When depression creeps in, I submerge my mind in Netflix. When I’m angry, I beat the daylights out of a batch of cookie dough. (Angry Cookies are actually quite tasty!)
But in the rush to convey that energy, I realized you don’t know much about me yet. You don’t even know what happened — how I landed here on the Ottobock Momentum blog.
I can tell you the story because I remember everything. I never lost consciousness during the accident that took my left leg and almost took my life. Lying in the hospital, I relived that collision over and over again. It played like a “helmet cam” video whenever I closed my eyes. I watched it, and heard it, and felt it. How the truck edged into my bike lane and cornered me there. How I lifted my left hand from the handlebars. Reached out my arm as if I could stop it — as if I could push it away. I heard the thunderous tires, the roaring motor, the thudding, sickening bounce of the axles. I cried out. And then I realized there was no escape. I was GOING DOWN. The panic struck in my head and my heart. I was knocked off my bike.
I remember the long wait for the ambulance. How the paramedic gently lifted me onto the gurney. “Get ready sweetheart,” she said. “It’s gonna hurt like a #&%$!” And then in the bright lights of the Trauma Room, I remember my surgeon’s deep, soothing voice, like Superman. I remember it all.
“You’re going to be bionic.”
Those are the first words I remember upon waking in the ICU one week later. I don’t know who said them. My sister, maybe. I could barely move, but I understood exactly what they meant. I knew my leg was gone.
My family and medical team had already started the journey toward WHAT’S NEXT. And their momentum kept me going, too.
Moving forward doesn’t mean I don’t look back. I do. I’ve worked hard to organize those memories, to file them away so I can take them out when I want them, not when they want me. It’s not easy. They still haunt me, especially when I’m tired and in pain, or when life isn’t going my way.
At the Amputee Coalition Conference, I am awed by Colonel Gadson’s WHAT’S NEXT attitude. Those two simple words capture the indomitable spirit of every amputee I meet there. They are moms and dads, kids and adolescents, professionals and athletes. Sure, they’re missing limbs, but they’ve got resilience to spare!
They spur me forward like a booster rocket.
Step-by-step, I’ve been plugging away at this amputee business for two years now. Many days, it’s an uphill climb. But at the conference, I realize how many others are walking the journey with me.
So amputee to amputee, I ask you…
For more about the conference, and to join me on my mile-by-mile journey, visit my blog, A Thousand Miles.