I have been a part of the Amputee Coalition’s Youth Camp in varying levels for years now. I have been a counselor for about 5 years now, and I am not exaggerating when I say that each year I go, I’m changed for the better. Camp is what made me confident and accepting of myself not only on the inside but as an amputee too.
In my adolescent years, I pretty much thought I had everything figured out. (Didn’t we all?) I didn’t want to be “different” because I was an amputee, I played team sports with all of my friends who were conventionally-limbed, and I didn’t want to have anything that separated me from anyone else in my community.
I think in life all everyone really ever wants is to be accepted and appreciated for who they uniquely are.
I had all of that, the only problem was that I wasn’t accepting or appreciating a huge part of my life, something that “amp-camp” (as we have casually started calling it) taught me how to do. Of course, my first year as a camper I thought it would be stupid to go, because I didn’t need to be around a whole bunch of amputee strangers… (Can’t you feel my teen angst?) I had my own friends and thought I was fine without going to “handicapped camp.” My 13 year old outlook totally makes my 24 year old insides cringe, I learn so much about myself each year I attend, it’s kind of ridiculous. Each person that touches my life in those short four days, make me so grateful for everything that has ever happened in my life, which brought me to the place I am today.
I am a little neurotic by nature, and sometimes that makes me worry. A lot. About really silly things. I think about my cutie little campers every day, and I worry about them immediately after. I was just asked to give my opinion on a “limb loss resource guide” and besides my presentations, work with Ottobock’s clinical services, my own personal experience, what made me really feel emotional about it are the campers I get to see yearly.
We are in such an incredible time of history where prosthetic technology has gone from something to hide, to something to show off! Mobility and safety are the driving factors in new prosthetic developments, I get that, but when I think of my campers, or even when I was a sweet little baby camper, way back when, there are volumes that could be shared on the emotional health of everyone dealing not only with limb loss, but with their own unique battles in their daily lives.
Every year my mission to share with my kiddos, is that no longer is disability a scarlet letter we wear, walking down high schools or going to grocery stores. It’s not a life sentence where a part of our humanity is taken away. With the gift of mobility, we receive the gift of confidence, which transcends our physical bodies and hit us emotionally with daily interactions and also with how we treat ourselves.
Even as early as 20 years ago, above the knee prosthetics were widely seen as a barbaric excuse of a door hinge, and not a conversation to really bring up at any social function. The age of technology that we live in now not only accepts and appreciates these advancements but celebrates it. It’s almost like I’ve seen the transition of “scarlet letter” to the “sparkly flashy neon pink letter.” Which is pretty cool.
So looking back at all of my experiences growing up as an amputee, wearing (or not wearing) my prosthesis doesn’t make me different from anyone else, it just adds to all of the dynamic characteristics that make me uniquely who I am. And as Dr. Seuss reminds us:
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”